If I said I planted a Bird of Paradise in my garden what image would come to mind? The plant shown below, Strelitzia reginae, with the beautiful orange bloom, aka Bird of Paradise?
Strelitzia reginae

 
Or maybe this, Strelitzia Nicolai (aka White Bird of Paradise) with it’s striking black and white flower?
Strelitzia Nicolai

 
Or maybe this, Caesalpinia pulcherrima, commonly called Pride of Barbados, but also referred to as Red Bird of Paradise?
Caesalpinia pulcherrima

 
Based on the common names you’d be correct if you thought of any of those options, and more, and that’s why botanical names are so important. Common names can be misleading. On my personal blog, danger garden, I get comments from readers asking me to please refer to plants by their common names. Or as one person said “Eek gads woman, speak English…your cornucopia of flora elicitation is causing my acers to hurt” (Don’t you just love that? I really wish I could meet her in person). Whenever possible I try to include both names, although at times it simply is not possible. Sometimes there’s not a common name, and that’s okay. Botanical names are much more informative.

 
So back to the question…which one of the examples did I plant? None of them. I planted the one shown at the very top, by the title, Caesalpinia gilliesii – common name Desert Bird of Paradise. And I am in love with it, so much so I just bought another. Here’s the one I’ve planted, just a couple of weeks ago…
Caesalpinia gilliesii my front garden

 
It’s not blooming yet (hopefully next year), but it didn’t miss a beat being planted in the heat of August, you’ve got to love that. Here’s my newest, and not yet planted. Love that airy foliage…
Caesalpinia gilliesii new

 
Just how hardy is this guy? Well it’s hardy to at least USDA Zone 8 (10F) and survived last winter in Portland in three area gardens that I know of, one very close to my own which reached 12F. It’s blooming itself crazy right now too…
Caesalpinia gilliesii at Paul's

 
As are the two in other area gardens.
Caesalpinia gilliesii at Greg's

 
Caesalpinia gilliesii at John's

 
So that’s my Bird of Paradise crush, which is so much easier than saying my Caesalpinia gilliesii crush. What about you? I’d love to know your thoughts on common names vs. botanical names. And just in case you find botanical Latin intimidating you should have been there when I was talking with a very well known local plantsman and my mouth opened and out came the words California Lilac when even I knew I wanted to say Ceanothus…what was I thinking?