Coleus Jade

The label on a plant that a friend gave me yesterday. Note the head-first word order, standard in botanical naming, in this case with the (supposed) genus name Coleus before the variety name ‘Jade’; the species name, not given on the label, is scutellariodes (that is, the plant is named Coleus scutelliodes ‘Jade’), or possibly the plant is a hybrid of several species, in which case it makes sense to leave out a species name.

Coleus plants are old friends of mine — wonderfully colorful ornamentals (for garden or house) illustrated in photos in this posting on the compound annual labiate, of which the coleus is one.

Notice that I just lowercased coleus, treating it as a common name rather than a term of botanical taxonomy. In my earlier posting, I reported, in fact, that my Sunset New Western Garden Book gives Solenostemon as the genus name for coleuses. Most seed and plant companies agree with that usage. But the relevant Wikipedia entry gives the genus name Plectranthus instead. We are in deep terminological waters here.

Before I explore the terminology, I’ll give a couple of pretty pictures. Alas, I need to supply two further notes on naming. First, seed and plant companies often use common names, and when they do this, they use ordinary English word order, with the head last. So you can buy seeds and plants labeled Jade Coleus (rather than Coleus Jade)

Second, the world of hybrid coleuses is huge, with the plants grouped into strains, each encompassing a number of varieties. ‘Jade’ is such a strain. Here are two varieties of Jade coleuses, Wizard® Jade (white or ivory center, green margin), and Florida Sun Jade (rosy pink or greenish yellow center, burgundy margin):



(The strains differ from one another in characteristics other than color, by the way.: leaf size, depth of notching, height of plant, etc. And, yes, there are subvarieties.)

My gift coleus is the reverse of Florida Sun Jade: burgundy center, green margin.

On to names. Let’s start with Coleus. From Wikipedia:

Coleus was a genus of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae [formerly Labiatae]. In recent classifications, the genus is no longer recognized, and the formerly included species are instead placed in the genera Plectranthus and Solenostemon. Because the type species, Coleus amboinicus (Plectranthus amboinicus) is now placed in Plectranthus, Coleus is regarded as a synonym of Plectranthus. The term “coleus” is often used as a common name for species formerly placed in the genus Coleus that are cultivated as ornamental plants, particularly Coleus blumei (Plectranthus scutellarioides), which is popular as a garden plant for its brightly colored foliage.

And overlapping this:

Plectranthus scutellarioides (coleus) is a species of flowering plant in the family Lamiaceae, native to south east Asia and Malaysia. Growing to 60–75 cm (24–30 in) tall and wide, it is a bushy, woody-based evergreen perennial, widely grown for its highly decorative variegated leaves. Another common name is painted nettle, reflecting the deadnettle family to which it belongs.

The name “coleus”, still widely used by horticulturalists and gardeners, refers to a defunct genus, and may be regarded as a common name for this species in particular. The name Solenostemon scutellarioides is similarly widely used for this species [as in the usage of most seed and plant companies].

The specific epithet scutellarioides means “resembling the genus Scutellaria” [the skullcaps], whose name is itself derived from the Latin scutella, meaning a small dish or bowl [referring to the shape of the calyx, the ring of sepals at the base of the petals]. (link)

I hope that’s all clear now.

One Response to “Coleus Jade”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    This kind of taxonomic rearrangement seems not uncommon. I assume that’s how we get annuals that everyone calls “geraniums” but are actually in the genus Pelargonium.

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