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Definition of Terms

Catalog Code

We use a nine-letter code consisting of the first three letters of the Family, the first three letters of the Genus and the first three letters of the Specific Epithet. This combination is usually easy to say and to remember. When the taxon is at subgeneric rank, a variety (var.) or subspecies (ssp.), or a cultivar (cv.), or a morph different than usual, a tenth letter is added which is usually the first letter of that rank.

One problem comes when any of the four components changes due to the continuing progress in recognizing evolutionary relationships at all ranks and the revisions in the positions or names that should be recognized. We are conservative in changing the name of a taxon, but when we do, its code will change as well. If this happens, you will still be directed to the appropriate page from which to order it.

As an aid in quickly discovering the characteristics of each plant that we sell, in this column of the Seed Catalog we provide a link to our SBS Plant Profile page and below it a link to the appropriate USDA Plant Profile page in the USDA PLANTS Database that we believe most closely matches the taxon that we sell. Do not be upset if the scientific name or common name of the plant that we use for a taxon is different than that used by USDA PLANTS. These differences are explained below.

To ensure that you order only what you intend to order, ordering can only be done from a SBS Plant Profile page where the identity of the taxon is fully described and any cautions of which we are aware are listed. We do not have an easy-to-use list of plants on which you can just check off boxes of those taxa of which you want to order seed. We may lose potential clients by making ordering somewhat more difficult, but we believe our clients and our habitats are better served this way.

USDA PLANTS is a remarkable resource and is the first place we look for information about a plant whose name we think we know. Everything you should know about a plant except how to grow it and what eats it. Do not be upset by so many plants being listed by USDA as invasive; their criteria is usually related to agriculture, lawns and golf courses, not habitats. But if your candidate is listed, take it as good reason to learn how it may behave in your location. Some of the plants we sell are known or suspected thugs in certain situations. The database also sometimes provides a rough idea of species that are at high risk in particular States. It is not comprehensive, but a place to start learning about these species, especially if you have ideas of collecting them yourself or of establishing them from any source, especially from us.

In 2006, Allan Armitage, of the Horticulture Department of the University of Georgia, published Armitage's Native Plants for North American Gardens, Timber Press. An excellent reference for some of the civil or civilized United States natives. Some 630 taxa with nice pictures and how and where to grow them. If he mentions a taxon we sell, our Profiles reference the name he uses and the page where he gives more practical information than for which we have space or experience.

Scientific Name

The scientific name is always in italics unless it is in an italic sentence. The first word is the genus name and it is usually a Latin or Latinized noun. The first letter must be in upper case. The second word is the specific epithet and is usually a Latin or Latinized adjective describing a peculiar characteristic of the species relative to all the other species in the genus. The specific epithet must all be in lower case. The rules for an epithet for a variety or subspecies are similar to those for a specific epithet.

You will note that many scientific names are enclosed by parentheses. These names are known as Synonyms, earlier names describing the same taxon that are widely agreed for arcane but valid reasons of priority, spelling, violations of nomenclature or violations of reality are not now valid. Go to the Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Florida for an exhaustive list of nearly all the synonyms of each species known in Florida. An eye opener, and documentation that plant taxonomy is still a dynamic science even though arguably the oldest science. It also documents the challenges faced by a discipline, and errors made in meeting them, which tries to make systematic sense of the diversity of genotypes and phenotypes that exist in the real world.

So what name do we use? It is almost always the name used in the January 2006 and later Editions of Flora of the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia, and Surrounding Areas by Alan S. Weakley. Exceptions are limited to our occasional recognition of subgeneric taxa not recognized, or not recognized in the SouthEast, by Weakley but described by him or recognized by UDSA PLANTS. When we can place an accession into a subgeneric rank, we usually do so to emphasize that the genotypes of our accession may be different from those collected elsewhere. We recognize that by doing so we may be using a name that is not now valid because others have concluded that the subgeneric ranks are not really unique taxa. But they are still likely to describe taxa that have genotypes different than typical that may be important to some of our clients.

To aid those clients who want to know exactly which taxon we are selling, in our SBS Plant Profile pages we include the Authorities in the scientific names. These are nonitalic Proper Names which follow the specific epithet and a subgeneric epithet if it is different than the the specific epithet. These are the last names of those who composed and/or published the name. They can be used to identity the scientific names attributed to the taxon at any time in its history. They should be in the same size font as the rest of the scientific name, but we reduce it to make it less intrusive for the majority of our clients. We report the Authorities as defined by Weakley.

So it is not surprising, although it is irritating, that Synonyms defined by Weakley are for some taxa considered to be valid names by USDA PLANTS which in turn consider names used by Weakley to be Synonyms. Where we believe the issue is not yet resolved, we list each as a potentially valid name and use an asterisk to indicate which one we provisionally use.

Use the scientific name where possible, but be warned that it can still be ambiguous. For many species, its local common name remains constant while its scientific name changes. This is due to a valid uncertainty about what should be the correct scientific name for a long-recognized taxon. The other extreme is when it is still unclear what should be recognized as a taxon, and if so, what this taxon was named by others who were unaware of distinctions only made later. When a taxon is split into several taxa, or when several taxa are combined into a single taxon, all sorts of rules must be consulted to discover what the new taxa or taxon should be called. Sometimes a legal name cannot be constructed (all logical names have been incorrectly used and cannot be used again) and the change is in limbo until a Court cuts the Gordian Knot of Illegal Names and declares one of them Legal.

Our SBS Plant Profiles include a reference to how the taxon is treated (as reported by Weakley) in A.E. Radford et al., (1968) Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill. It is still in print and has been used by generations of plant biologists in the SouthEast. It has errors, but its line drawings are excellent as are its family, genus, and species descriptions that include information beyond that discovered in its Keys. This is were I start when confronted with something new. Until the Weakley Flora is complete, there is no substitute for Radford et al. (1968).

Common Name
Most of us know plants by a common name. There are usually many common names and we list as many of the frequent names that are practical to aid in searching the Seed Catalog when only a common name is known. The one we choose to use for the accession is indicated by an asterisk and is one we think best describes it and best relates it to its scientific name or family. We admit to cheating by adding an additional adjective of our own creation to a common name, or recombining different common names, in order to more clearly denote which species or variety or subspecies we are describing. Our criteria include using, where possible, the common name of the genus in which the taxon currently resides. In short, many of our preferred common names are not at all common because they were invented here.

You may note that even if the same common name is reported by different authors, its format may be wildly different. USDA PLANTS and Armitage (2006) report them entirely in lower case and do not use hyphens in what otherwise should be a compound word (they unnecessarily give up trying to convey more information) while others capitalize at least the first part of the common name and use hyphens in the oddest places. There is at least one Nomenclature for common names and we try to follow it; Duncan and Duncan (1987) are explicit when they are informing their readers how to find a common name in their index:
For the common names of plants, decisions to hyphenate compound names were made on the basis of taxonomy. For example, Arrow-grass is not a grass [not a member of the Family Poaceae] and Butterfly-weed is not classified by the word 'weed,' so the names are hyphenated [or could be collapsed into Arrowgrass and Butterflyweed]. By contrast, because Smooth Alder is an 'Alder' and Trailing Bluet a 'Bluet,' the hyphen in each case is omitted [and they cannot be collapsed into one word] and the names are indexed under the last [taxonimically-informative] word.
So we have to know what is a proper common name of the genus and sometimes the family before we can format the common name of a lower taxon such as a species in that genus or family. What to do when the taxon moves from one genus or family into a different one? Versions of common names of genera are reported in Radford et al. (1968), Weakley (2006), Armitage (2006) and other scholarly publications. Hyphenate it or collapse it if required by the above rules. Convert 'Arrow Grass' (a taxonomically incorrect common name for Triglochin), and unfortunately for the Family in which it resides (Juncaginaceae), into 'Arrow-grass' or 'Arrowgrass' and then capitalize all of its species-specific modifiers such as 'Southern Arrow-grass' for Triglochin striata. If the modifier is itself taxonomically incorrect, convert it as well; for instance, 'Southern-sedge' Arrow-grass/Arrowgrass or 'Southernsedge' Arrow-grass/Arrowgrass for an imaginary Triglochin species. All parts of the common name are capitalized so that one can clearly distinquish between taxa and populations or characteristics of taxa. If this convention is used and one avoids using common names of Families, then there is no doubt as to the meanings of 'southern Juncaginaceae' (southern plants of the Juncaginaceae/Arrowgrass Family), 'southern Arrowgrass' (southern plants in the Arrowgrass genus), and 'Southern Arrowgrass' (members of the Southern Arrowgrass species). Compare this with the total ambiguity of using just 'southern arrowgrass' especially if 'arrowgrass' also describes the family, because it can also mean southern genera of the family. In an index, there should be no ambiguity of where to find a taxon, or what an entry in the index means. Such as possible entries under 'Arrow-grass': Floating, floating, Floating Southern, floating Southern, southern, Southern, Southern Southern-sedge, southern Southern-sedge. All have different yet clear meanings if the Duncan and Duncan (1987) nomenclature is used.

Had enough yet? So in the Seed Catalog and the Plant Profiles, we reformat the common names provided by USDA PLANTS, Radford, Armitage, and occasionally, Weakley. We have not yet decided on a convention for common names containing 'grass' for genera in the Grass Family and until then are using the most common formats. If you know a reasonable part of its common name, use the 'Search Profile' function on the top right of most pages to return SBS Plant Profiles containing those names.


Related genera are grouped together into a Family. Ongoing evolutionary studies have found that some relationships which were recognized earlier are no longer correct. Some families have been moved in their entirety into another family. We call these moved families Obsolete Families and they are indicated in the Seed Catalog with ^. Some families have seen most of their members distributed into one or more other families. We follow the interpretation of this ongoing work presented in P.F. Stevens' Angiosperm Phylogeny Website Version 6, May 2005 (and more or less continuously updated since). With very few exceptions, Weakley follows the results of this continuing reorganization of taxonomy to reflect newly-discovered evolutionary relationships. The USDA PLANTS Database usually does not, using family memberships as they were understood decades ago.

This is an opportunity to say that Stevens' website is remarkable. Scholarship in its best form. Consult it for evolutionary relationships, characters present in each taxon, or the evolution of characters in the Angiosperms.


Annual (A), Biennial (B), and Perennial (P). There are true annuals and (weather permitting) true perennials. Biennial behavior requires germination early in year one for flowering and death in year two. Our limited experience suggests claims for an annual life history for many species are just wrong when grown in our location. Knowing about the type of roots/underground shoots the species develops is probably the most reliable indicator of what kind of life history it has had in its evolutionary history.

Be optimistic. Extra mulch may help a perennial survive during winter or a hot summer. Digging up a plant and storing it for the winter sounds extreme, but having it in a pot that can be moved into a lit area with even limited protection during winter may give a perennial its chance. But don't bother for a true annual plant. Nothing can be done to prevent its death after flowering. One can only try to delay its flowering.


Forbs, grasses, rushes, sedges and vines are non-woody plants that usually die back to the root stock over winter. They will be listed as Evergreen if they retain some leaves through the winter. Woody perennial plants are described as a shrub, woody vine, or tree. They are deciduous unless listed as being Evergreen. So that is one taxonomy of plant growth habits. Reality often confounds our taxonomies and this one is no exception. A habit common to members of the Asteraceae, and seen in some members of the Poaceae, Cyperaceae, Juncaceae and other families does not have a name known to us. Before or, more often after the above-ground plant dies after flowering, there is the regrowth of basal rossette leaves. Not really evergreen, but the plant has a presence virtually the year round. Suggestions, or known nomenclatures, for this behavior are very welcome! The closest is the adjective Suffructescent.


There is more visual interest in a plant than the color or size of its flowers. Some of what we find visually interesting is described in our Plant Profiles, but we also try to list special features in the Seed Catalog where practical. Our Plant Profiles also try to describe other reasons why you might be interested in the plant.


Be skeptical. Of course most plants do better (grow larger, more compact, more flowers) in full sun unless they or their soil gets fried. Started in pots from seed, young transplants are often quite adaptable to their environment. Plant seedlings in several spots where you might want them. Do not limit your choice of a plant or where to plant it based on claims of where it is found in the wild or where it does best in cultivation. Experience helps, but it is likely your conditions have not been tested.


Well, be skeptical again. Even plants that are found only in wetlands, outcrops, or dunes are often only there for reasons other than that they can only grow there. This is probably the fundamental general question in ecology, physiology, and evolutionary biology. Why is this plant growing here and not over there?

Consider amending packed clay soils with peatmoss. Perhaps you can redirect drainage to make spots somewhat drier or wetter. Experience helps, but it is likely your conditions have not been tested.


An interesting term for the native range of a species. USDA PLANTS gives the current range of each species and a yes or no as to its nativity anywhere in the United States and territories. Unless we find information to the contrary, we report their summary of range in Plant Profiles.

We define the SouthEast as including Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, but like most authors, exclude Florida because of its semi-tropical flora. Much of Florida is also likely to be a saline desert or underwater in the not-too-distant future depending on the relative rates of population growth versus global warming. We have enough to learn locally.

We use the following definition of Nativity in the SouthEast: it is present somewhere in the SouthEast; it is likely to be native somewhere in the SouthEast; and is not believed to be a thug if carefully introduced elsewhere within the region. Weakley comments if it is thought that a species has moved from its native range into the SouthEast. We skeptically warn of possible or known invasiveness, but expect our clients to be responsible in learning more about what they want to plant and where to plant it. We will help, though, so please ask.


When made by an outcrossing species, each seed has a unique genotype and this genetic variation is desirable to maintain in the seed we sell. It may result in observable differences between seed-derived plants, but that may be required for the survival of some members of a population if these differences (or others unseen) have a selective value in a variable or marginal environment. In the SBS Plant Profiles we indicate the original source of the seed we sell. Unless indicated otherwise, these are plants discovered in the wild. If abundant in the wild, several plants may be transplanted back to Sparkleberry Springs and seed from them, or their progeny, are collected for sale. Seed from even a single wild plant, even if that plant is self-pollinated at Sparkleberry Springs (because it is the only plant of its species here), is likely to have some genetic variation (two different alleles) at many loci and the total assemblage of loci are uniquely recombined in each of its seed. But we try to harvest seed from several plants in several populations and maintain several of their derivatives to produce seed with a reasonable sample of the genetic variation present in the original populations. Plants with the genetic variation typical of local populations should usually be used for reintroductions or restorations or for range extensions. And many clients enjoy seeing differences in their plants even if grown only in their own yards. They can then select for phenotypes that they prefer, and if these are genetically based, have an opportunity to establish a new cultivar.

For most species in which we are interested, this discipline of population genetics and population biology cannot hope to determine the breeding system (extent of outcrossing, pollinators) and genetic structure (quantitative and qualitative measures of genetic variation) within a population and across all populations. But others have studied these in many plants. This database of representative species is slowly expanding and some generalizations have been proposed and these are being tested by looking at additional species with particular combinations of life history, habit and breeding system for which there are now specific and testable predictions of their effects on genetic variation. From this literature we may be able to make a reasonable guess about a particular species. Send us a query if this is important to you. If you are interested in reintroductions or creation of a large-scale habitat, please let us know. We may be able to give some advice (and caution) and provide appropriate seed, or starter seed, if given some lead time.

Unique to plants, what the plant does in the field is the result of its genotype and how that affects the ability of the plant to alter its phenotype (developmental and environmental plasticity) in response to local conditions. For cultivation in relatively controlled conditions, the immediate goal of most of our clients, genetic variation is usually not that important and for some it is unwanted. Witness the extensive sale of cuttings from sterile cultivars, each cutting having the same genotype as that of the plant from which it came. OK until a new blight or other stress appears and all cutting-derived plants are affected while some fraction of seed-derived plants may thrive. Breeding in the Hort industry is much like that in the Crop industry. Goals are usually for uniformity in germination rates and growth rates (for easy and predictable mass propagation just in time for sale), short upright habit (dwarf forms do not fall over), flowering time (lovely in mass plantings) and plant quality (no ugly ducklings). Also for sterility (get rid of those nasty unattractive fruits and possibly increase the number of flowers and time the plant is in flower) and for an annual life style (flowering the first - but only - season). The combination of these latter two characters requires that the customer has to buy again each season, employing more people in the trade. To be fair, the industry is responding to the valid needs of the average customer. And because many plants in the trade are exotics, it is comforting to know that some of them cannot reproduce by seed and are thus less likely to escape.

This long introduction hopefully explains why we try to collect and maintain the existing genetic variation in a species. But as we sample and learn about local native plants, we are aware that we will fall short of that goal for a variety of reasons. Until we discover local populations, we may sell seed from plants derived from seed bought from other suppliers. Though we attempt to learn the history of this seed, this is often not possible. We alert you to this in the SBS Plant Profiles, that the seed we sell, though from plants that grow well at Sparkleberry Springs, may have genotypes peculiar to plants from other locations than the SouthEast. How important that is depends on your goals.

A word about our collecting seed from wild populations. We do not impact populations of any taxon by collecting its seed. Besides using common caution, we follow conservative best-practice guidelines we have assembled from a conflicting literature. Furthermore, seed of many taxa are collected on our own property, or from small numbers of plants transplanted to it or grown there from seed collected elsewhere. Other taxa whose seed we collect elsewhere for sale we know from experience to be common, locally common, or at least infrequent. These terms are not exact. For instance, although outcrops are not common, many species endemic to them are very common in them. The major limitation in the abundance of these species is the abundance of outcrops, not the population dynamics of the species within them. Even so, we try to establish those taxa on our own property as source of its seed.