There is quite a lot on
this page and it's all about how to write the names of mint so that it is of
use to someone else as well as yourself. All mint naming on this website, as
with the records of my Collection, is done in accordance with the Codes, the practical
side of which follows below.
Writing it down
This page will I hope help
you to understanding exactly what is being "said" to you by the way the mint name
Unfortunately some nursery folk, label makers, publishers and even TV programme editors are
apparently not as aware of the correct way to write plant names as they should be.
There may be some degree of difference of opinion as to the origins of a
variety, form, hybrid or cultivar, even whether the name has been superceded or
changed, but the way each opinion is written is laid
out in Codes agreed internationally, to be sure that everyone is using the
same "language". So I'm afraid we start off with not only what is
being written being possibly wrong, but also the way it is written being wrong,
which could be describing a different mint or even a plant that isn't a mint. But
don't give up now, buy your plant, just keep an open mind and learn through disappointment.
Very occasionally you'll get a new plant to you, that might take years of
enjoyment before you identify it.
What's your name?
can, of course, call a plant anything you like for your own reference - I do - or even when you
talk to another person that knows
what you are on about. But when you are talking to someone you don't know, or when
writing something for publication, or giving a talk to a horticultural
Society, or even creating a
National Plant Collection, there is really no latitude
for personal idiosyncrasies. The rules for the naming of plants are there to avoid misinformation,
misunderstanding and disappointment.
If, as a plant nursery owner, you sell your "apple mint" as Mentha
suaveolens, when in fact it is Mentha x villosa alopecuroides ,
and should better be called Bowles' mint, then
to a mint collector it's like the "DVD" you want for your young daughter
turning out to be "Die Hard" when you wanted an episode of "Pingu".
To someone wanting some
mint to go with their new potatoes, that are then covered in gravy, it may not
matter which form of Mentha suaveolens, or Mentha x villosa,
or Mentha spicata, or maybe even Mentha x smithiana you
use. How many people could tell the difference anyway? Well the point is if
the wholesaler, retailer or gardener doesn't definitely know what it is, they should only
write what they
do know. "Garden
mint" is not a specific common name, and doesn't guarantee the plant
apart from implying a reasonable flavour.
"Mint" is often used as a shorthand for the same sort of plant, but could of
course legitimately be used for any Mentha species or cultivar.
Mint is sometimes used for both spearmint and peppermint, even though they
both have individual common names and botanical/horticultural names. The common name spearmint
should only be applied to Mentha spicata, but there are variations even
within this species, with named cultivars, subspecies, varieties and yet-unnamed
variants. How many of these really warrant being included in the common name
spearmint is open to question, but not clear-cut.
Where are you from?
In the last decade a
number of "new" mints have come to the UK from various parts of
Europe, and from Canada or the USA. Sometimes the "new" part is just the name,
as we have had the plant in the UK for a long time, and maybe the import even originally
came from the UK, although not being
sold or listed in the current RHS Plant Finder. (As helpful as it is the RHS Plant Finder is
only a list of those commercially available plants actually notified to the
RHS in the winter of the previous year.) When I started growing mints in the
early 1980s there was less variety available from Herb Farms, but you could
find them, and went round them all, and compared the variety of plants to
names, there was many pleasant surprises. These days we have the RHS Plant
Finder online, and nurseries with websites, but still unfortunately not good
accompanying pictures. (This website no exception!)
Plants go in and out of fashion, so
maybe 200 years ago Mentha arvensis 'Banana' was growing in the UK, in
a Monastery or in the wild. The plant being sold under that name in the UK now
was new to me when it was introduced by Janet Elliott of
Old Hall Plants, from Richters in Canada, at the time the nursery imported a lot of herbs to the UK, and
then the unusual banana mint got taken up by many other UK herb growers.
Chocolate mint, Mentha x arvensis 'Chocolate' was introduced
by, amongst others, Arne Herbs who got their plant from Well Sweep in the USA,
but I know there were similar or identical plants in the UK, but again not
actually commercially available at the time, so in this case some of the
chocolate mint you will buy today will be from non-USA origin. Other
mints have appeared in catalogues or the nursery benches, within a few years
and it isn't possibly to find who brought it to the UK, or who noticed it in
the wild or in a garden and bulked it up in such a short time.
A large number of the
different mints that you will find actually for sale are different forms of
hybrids between species, e.g. Mentha
x piperita f. citrata 'Chocolate', Mentha
x piperita f. citrata 'Lime', Mentha
x piperita piperita and Mentha
x piperita 'Swiss Ricola'. But you can also get
varieties of single species, e.g. Mentha
arvensis var. piperascens & Mentha
arvensis var. piperascens 'Sayakaze'. Long names, but that's the way it is. Common names can sometimes help,
x piperita f. citrata 'Chocolate' is known at
chocolate mint, but Mentha
arvensis var. piperascens 'Sayakaze' is not Japanese mint,
which is Mentha
arvensis var. piperascens, but a further variant without a common
name. If the cultivar name is ever used by nurseries to describe the plant I
hope they also give you the long name so you know it is a cultivar name and
not a common name.
The reality is that the name listed by
a nursery cannot be relied on completely. Common sense would indicate the larger the list of mints,
the more likely the name is to be accurate, however a small nursery owner may
know his plants far better than a nursery with many mints if they are only
part of a vast list of
plants. The Plant Finder started and established by Chris Phillips'
(originally published by The Hardy Plant Society) and eventually given to the
RHS to maintain, has helped considerably and I would say that over half the
nurseries in the UK have been improved by this reference work to plant names available
elsewhere in the UK. But there are still nurseries out there using botanical
names that were incorrectly applied before I bought my first mint plant. You will need to accept a percentage of purchases will be duplicates
of what you have bought or acquired under another name. Knowledge comes with
time and experience, even if it is of disappointment.
Naming of Plants
Wild plants are given names in a
specific language, a
botanical form of Latin, which also includes some Greek and Latinised personal
names from all countries. The naming is done by botanists and so as gardeners we
just accept what they say. Sometimes a earlier description of the plant is
found in a reference somewhere and then the plant appears to change it's name, and our acceptance gives way to
annoyance. But the rule is the first naming of a particular plant that has a
description that conclusively identifies the plant, takes priority, even if
all the world knows it by a name given by a more popular botanist, 2 years
later on the other side of the world. These names should always be
written in italic type, eg Mentha
suaveolens, unless this is impossible, such as when written by hand, when
they should be underlined, eg Mentha suaveolens. Any other words in the
name but not strictly part of the name should not be in italic or not underlined, eg Mentha suaveolens var.
timija or eg Mentha suaveolens var. timija.
(plural Genera) name, eg Mentha,
should begin with a capital letter. The species
(plural species) (sometimes described as the specific
epithet) names, eg suaveolens, should always begin
with a small letter. Sometimes growing species vary slightly, due to isolation or
situation and these differences are stable enough in the wild population for
botanists to describe them as subspecies, varietas
(in English, variety) or forma
(in English, form), in decreasing degrees or
differences. These names are to be written the same way as the species name
the abbreviation of what sub-category it is given, in normal type, if
known! For example, Mentha
longifolia subsp. schimperi,
arvensis var. piperascens &
x piperita f. citrata.
The last name contains an "x" which indicates a natural hybrid
between two species, and this should not be in italics either. In type the specific
symbol used for multiplication should be used, if this isn't available then a
small letter x can be used but not in italic.
(Sometimes there is an
additional letter, abbreviation or full name after the species name and/or the
full name. It should not be in italic and it should really be in a different
font or slightly smaller. This is to identify the botanist that applied the
name to the plant. In many cases this additional information is of no
particular help in identification, but occasionally with mints it could be.
There is an annoying amount of duplicate naming with mints because so many
botanists have described the species and hybrids, before the days of mass
information. This doesn't usually intrude into the average mint collectors
life, but with a larger collection and deeper study, botanist abbreviations
may need to be noted. You will see this to a very limited extent in the RHS
Plant Finder, notably with Mentha angustifolia. Botanist names are
rarely given on plant labels.)
That's the easiest bit!
Plants that have been specifically breed or that breed naturally but are discovered in cultivation come under a different Code for the naming of
plants. The person who breed the plant, or discovered it, can name this plant,
providing this has not ever been done before.
They must publish in some way a description of the plant, that would enable it
to be distinguished from similar forms already named. The code on naming of
plants says for it to be given a valid name, it must be distinct from other
forms already named. There are some limits as
to what is now acceptable, such as no latinised names, a name of only three
the latest Code for these.
However just because the owner hasn't seen this particular form before,
doesn't mean it has not appeared before and quite possibly been named before!
The first name again has priority, but because of the nature of the
horticultural trade an invalid name can end up being used to sell the same
plant to an unsuspecting public. Communication is the best way to avoid
this, and with present day technology this is easier. However the disadvantage
of the masses of wonderful small nurseries we have in the UK, keeping a
greater variety of plants going, is that the owners are very busy growing the
plants with little time for researching every genera.
Plant arising only in
cultivation, or wild plants maintained solely in cultivation, are named as a Cultivar. This description came from
joining the two words Cultivated
It should always be written in normal type and enclosed by single quotation
marks, e.g. Mentha
suaveolens 'Mobillei' or Mentha
x smithiana 'Capel Ulo'. In the Garden Centre you
may well see names written without the single quotation marks. This could
easily be sloppiness or ignorance of the label makers or label writers. But it
could also be that the name is a Trade Mark name, used for marketing purposes.
These plants do have a cultivar name as well and it's often there on the label
somewhere, although it could (but not always) be just letters and numbers. So
far I have not found any mints that come into this category. A third possibility is
that this is a common name someone has mixed in with the
Botanical/Horticultural name, e.g. Mentha x piperita citrata Eau
de Cologne mint, or, Mentha x villosa alopecuroides Bowles' mint
(as appears incorrectly in the RHS Plant Finder!). This is understandable where there appears to be no
known species or cultivar name e.g. Mentha lavender mint.
Common names, e.g. peppermint, corn
mint or water mint, are
often, but not always, very old and helpful. But they are by their nature unregulated
and "new" common names are often pushed by wholesalers or nurseries
to help marketing irrespective of any need for it or any complications that
the use of their specific idea may cause. Recently the very well known name and plant, Bowles' mint (Mentha x villosa alopecuriodes) appeared under a
"new" common name "Epicure mint". In 2099 the labels from
this wholesaler went
back to Bowles' mint. I notice that North American sources,
even more than British sources, find it essential to give a
"common name" alternative to the botanical/horticultural
name. In the UK the use of the Cultivar name alone is often used - to my mind
this is far more helpful, if an alternative is felt to be essential, but would
be helped with the retention of the single quotation marks. But it is
not without it's own problems - Japanese mint is a mint, but Korean mint and
Oregan mint are not, they are Korean mint and Oregan mint!
should be written in normal type with a small first letter, unless it is a Place
name or Person's name, e.g. spearmint, Japanese mint
& Bowles' mint, or the word begins a sentence of course.
The last naming variation you may see
on this website, and in lists of the National Mentha Collection, in
Wales, is the
use of double quotation marks. I use these in conjunction with a name that is
in common usage, if I have any doubt as to whether this is a valid name (under
the relevant Code) - true identification of the plant may not have been validated or the name may not be valid under the
International Naming Codes. It is me quoting the name from the original source, e.g. Mentha
"angustifolia", Mentha "lavender" & Mentha
"Welsh Green Heart Mint". It doesn't necessarily mean that it is not
correct. (NB. If you then want to quote that name from my website, lists or
book, remember to still
use the double quotation marks! )
The Codes on naming
plants say that when writing only about one genus, like mint plants there is no need to write Mentha every
time you write a name, if you don't
want to. But if there are other genera within the book, article or website, Mentha must be written each time, unless there are no other genera starting
with an "M", in which case M. can be used after the first
time when Mentha should be written in full. You will find that I always
do include Mentha when writing anything to be published. It helps in
web searches, but more importantly if any names are copied in isolation there
is no chance of misunderstanding which Genus is meant.
A last word on how to
say the names correctly. Plant naming originated and continues as a written system
of identification. The botanical part is based on a language that is not
used by any nation today (except maybe the Vatican City), and Botanical Latin
is unique and so international. Being a "Dead" language, primarily
written, but spoken
by all peoples any country, it would be difficult to say what is the correct pronunciation
of any word. There are recommendations in some books, and there is probably a preferred
(botanical) pronunciation. Most people in the
UK will say species names more or less the same way, but when it comes to the practicalities of
speaking to people from other countries there will be always be differences to work