Make perfect sense of confusing lavender names!

Stalks of lavender flowers with a white background.

Lavender has been around for millennia. In today’s deeply networked world, what was simple and clear suddenly gets very confusing, like the many names of the lavender plant! English, French, Spanish, Italian…

An easy trick to remember which name to use when talking flowers to an Englishman, a Frenchman or a proud Spaniard:

The best lavender is *always* named after their own country!

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Lavandula angustifolia, the pride of all nations

Lavandula angustifolia is the species most extensively cultivated. Together with its Lavandin hybrids, this species is the one most planted in the world.

Past scientific names for this species are Lavandula officinalis (hinting at the medicinal value of lavender) and Lavandula vera (which gave the common name “true lavender”).

The most prized lavender

Large panicles of flowers and the most intense while delicate fragrance give this species the highest value.

It’s also the easiest to cultivate, since it’s the hardiest variety and resists cold weather down to 5°F or -15°C. Drought-resistant as the others are, as well!

French lavender… for the French!

Long fields of striking violet rows in French Provence are iconic. Over there, it’s called “Lavande de Provence” or “Lavande Française“, or simply Lavandin…

The French are famous for their perfume industry which relies, among others, on Lavandula angustifolia. That’s why, for people in the trade in France, this superior lavender is called “French lavender”.

The second most common lavender in the area, Lavandula stoechas, is slightly inferior in terms of perfume.

  • Out of pure spite, the French call this one English lavender!

English lavender… for the English!

Being spiteful isn’t reserved for the French, and the English share that vice as well, especially when referring to the French…

So in England, the superior Lavandula angustifolia is commonly called English lavender, whereas the cute but less valuable L. stoechas is called French lavender!

It really twists your mind upside-down when you also add names of cultivars and varieties. The lavender cultivar ‘Provence’ – the Lavender ‘Provence’ – has absolutely nothing to do with the French region! Breeders chose the name for the symbolic, appealing idea it brings to mind. But truth be said, it’s a cultivar of English lavender: Lavandula angustifolia!

In other European countries

In other parts, such as Spain, Portugal and Italy, occasionally L. angustifolia is referred to with their own country name attached to it.

  • However, this is more in a generic way, to simply state that this lavender is grown and cultivated in the country.

These countries tend to squabble more about Lavandula stoechas and who gets to claim it’s native to their country!

Lavandula stoechas, the cutesy fragrant dancer

(Sometimes misspelled Lavendula stoecas).

Spanish and Italians stake a claim on L. stoechas

This wonderful flower, fragrant with cute petals waving out of the top of each flower cluster, also is prized by countries directly touching the Mediterranean Ocean.

Both in Spain and in Italy, litterature cites Lavandula stoechas as commonly called “Spanish lavender” or “Italian lavender”.

English lavender… for the French! And Vice-Versa, of course

Since this smaller flower with a less delicate fragrance was sold for cheaper, people used the name of their historical opponent to qualify it.

  • They would boast about their own being fit for kings while leaving the lower-quality leftovers to their fiends and enemies.

This deeply entrenched practice stemmed from the fighting that occurred for centuries, from all-out war such as the Hundred Years War, to political elbowing still practiced to this day.

Lavandula dentata, where foliage makes the case

Lovely leaves with soft, round teeth along the rims. Also a smaller flower, with a sharper fragrance that feels slightly off compared to that of Lavandula angustifolia.

  • And, just like Lavandula stoechas, it was disparagingly named after the opponent in common layman’s terms: “Lavande anglaise” for the French, and “French lavender” for the English.

Today, Lavandula dentata is almost universally referred to as “French lavender” or “fringed lavender” all over the world. Except for the French, of course, who remain the only ones to stubbornly call it English lavender.

Conclusion on the three main lavenders

Now that you’ve put a latin name to the plant you’re expecting to discover more about, why not learn more about how to tell them apart?

Smart tip to remember the right lavender names

Latin names – or botanical names – were developed precisely to overcome this quibbling and get straight to the point. Using them makes admiring nature a truly universal joy.

Knowing the background of who you are talking to helps clear misunderstandings and even poke playful fun at each other!

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Lavender stems with flowers by Doris Jungo under Pixabay license