What is in a name? The need for accurate scientific nomenclature for plants

J Ethnopharmacol. 2014 Mar 28;152(3):393-402. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.12.022. Epub 2013 Dec 25.


Ethnopharmacological relevance: To avoid ambiguities and error, ethnopharmacological and any other research on plants requires precise and appropriate use of botanical scientific nomenclature.

Aims: This paper explores problems and impacts of ambiguous or erroneous use of botanical scientific nomenclature in ethnopharmacological studies. It suggests how the frequency and impact of such errors can be reduced.

Approach and methods: We assessed 214 articles published in the three first volumes of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2012: 140(1) to 141 (3) and 214 articles in Phytomedicine (2012-2013): 19 (5) to 20 (7).

Results: Amongst the articles reviewed 308 articles cited plant names incorrectly. Among the articles studied 9178 Latin scientific names were cited and 3445 were incorrect in some respect. Simple principles applied in a systematic way and used together with open-access reference resources could help authors, referees and editors of ethnopharmacological, phytochemical, toxicological and clinical studies to reduce ambiguity about the identity and name of the species involved and thus significantly improve the quality of the final publication.

Conclusions: We have identified a series of key steps needed to solve the taxonomic ambiguities and errors. Aside from reinforcing existing policies, journals will have to implement better tools to ensure the proper authentication of materials. The new electronic publishing environments offer novel ways to develop such botanical-taxonomic tools.

Keywords: Botanical nomenclature; Nomenclature; Plant authentication; Taxonomy Latin binomials; Traditional medicine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / methods
  • Classification / methods
  • Ethnopharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Plants, Medicinal / classification*
  • Terminology as Topic*