You are on page 1of 5

Scientific Names of Plants HOW TO SAY THEM AND WHAT THEY MEAN Pronunciation Meaning References I. PRONUNCIATION 1.

Latin has no "silent letters." Pronounce every letter. 2. In the United States there are two main systems of pronouncing Latin scientif ic names, a traditional English system and an academic system that tries to approximate ho w the ancient Romans spoke. The traditional system is more common. The following table lists the main features of each system. Letters not listed are pronounced as in Englis h. LETTER TRADITIONAL ACADEMIC long a as in fate as in father short a as in fat as the first a in apart ae as i in machine as ai in aisle au as aw in bawl as ou in house c before a, o, u: as in cat before e, i, y: as in center always as in cat ch as c in cat or ch in church as ckh in blockhead long e as in me as in they short e as in pet as in pet ei as in height as in rein eu at beginning of word: as in Europe within word: as in rheumatism as Latin e + u, run together rapidly g before a, o, u: as in get always as in getbefore e, i, y: as in gem long i as in ice as in machine short i as in pin as in pin consonant i (j) as j in jam as y in yes long o as in clover as in clover short o as in not as in off oe as i in machine as oi in oil ph as in philosophy as in up hill r as in English trilled as in Spanish t as in table before i: as in nation always as in table th as in theater as in hothouse long u as in rude as in rude short u as in tub as in put ui as w in we as in ruin v as in English as w in we long y as in my as u in French pur short y as in cynical as in French du or ü in German über Examples: Julius Caesar in the traditional English system is pronounced JOO-leeus SEE-zer. In the academic system, the name is pronounced YOO-lee-us KAI-sar. Cyperus papyr us, papyrus, in the traditional system is si-PEE-rus pa-PIE-rus; academically, it is kü-PAY-rus pah-Pà -rus. 3. A Latin word has as many syllables as it has vowels. To divide a word into sy

the silverbell tree. Otherwise the accent is on the syll able third from the end. Example: michauxii. Halesia. MEANING 1. not meeKHO WK-see-ee. flo-ri-Dà -na. the accent and pronunciation are adjusted so as not to mangle the person's name completely. t. 2. Mag-NO-li-a. al-ba. . me-sem-bry-an-the-mi-FO-li-a. and qu count as a single consonant. The two word-functions you will see in scientific plant names are the nominat ive or subject function (or case) and the genitive or possessive function (case). Chi-o-nan-thus. A single consonant between two vowels goes with the following syllable: Ro-sa . Pi-sum. a no-no in Latin. Only the word order is different. Linnaeus. and g with either l or r. p. even though t his makes the "e" silent. See the last syllables in Li-ri-oden-dron. c. The next-to-last syllable of mi-cro-phyl-la is long because its vowel is followed by two consonants (ll). a rose (subject). Rho-do-DEN-dron." is pronounced mee-SHOW-ee-eye (or -ee-ee). However. When two or more consonants stand between vowels. When a name comes from the name of a person. The nominative ending shows that the word is the subject of a sentence. and f. ch. pa-lus-tris. neuter Nominative -us -a -um -is -e Genitive -i -ae -i -is -is 3. ph. Examples: leu-co-PHYL-la. or a vowel followed by two or more consonants. The accent in a Latin word falls on the syllable second from the end if that syllable is long (or if the word is two syllables long). and th. is often pronounced ha-LEE-see-a. but s ince it is named for Stephen Hales. Otherwise it is short. the last consonant goes with the following syllable: phyl-lum. Linnaeus (su bject). it may be better to say HALE-see-a. The g enitive ending shows possession. b. of a rose. For exam ple: Canis mordet puerum is the same as puerum mordet canis or puerum canis mordet. LU-te-a. meaning "of (André) Michaux. like the English word "of" or word ending "'s. English indicates the function of words by word order: Compare The dog bites the boy with the boy bites the dog. "TYPE I" WORDS "TYPE II" WORDS masculine feminine neuter m. Examples: the first syllable of Pî-nus is long because it ha s a long vowel. b. but the se ntences have different meanings. II." Example s of "Type I" words: Rosa. A syllable is long if it has a long vowel. note the following: a. rosae. 4. 5. d.llables. Latin indicates the function of words in a sentence by word endings. This table shows the most common endings for nominative and genitive words in the singular. T he word endings tell you which word is the subject (canis) and which word is the ob ject (puerum). 6.

"swamp pine" (longleaf pi ne). The genus name is a noun. b. Myrsine (myrsine). Generic names are nouns that can come from any source whatsoever." to commemorate Cow Creek. a. Lilium (lily). Pinus (pine). Croomia pauciflora. bayberry). Names from Latin and Greek myths. "white oak."Minuartia of (Robert) Godfrey. "few-flowered croomia. "pavia buckeye" (red buckeye)." Hymenocallis henryae. Melia (chinaberry). Cornus (dogwoo d). Myrica (wax myrtle. Ilex (holly). Specific names consist of two words: the name of the genus followed by the sp ecific epithet." Hasteola robertiorum. godfreyi. of (Robert) Godfrey. Adiantum capillusveneris. "Apalachicola n boltonia. a noun in the genitive case meanin g "of x" (where x is the noun that forms the epithet). Styrax (snowbell). Aesculus pavia. and Diospyros kaki. they tend to come from a few main sources. Fagus (beech). taken over by recent botanists for plant na mes: . Apalachicolan (subject). of Linnaeus. The specific epithet plays one of three gramm atical roles: an adjective modifying the genus name. "Hymenocallis of the river of cows. b. " Type II" words: apalachicolense. I created the name Hymenocallis rivi-bovum. Zea (corn). sometimes transferred by modern botanists to oth er plants: Quercus (oak). Minuartia godfreyi. who works on spider-lilies. "Virginian magnolia" (sweet bay) . Narcissus (daffodil). Smilax (greenbriar). "Negundo maple" (box elder). "Venus 's-hair adiantum. a. "pine of (Stephen) Elliott" (slash pi ne). hair of Venus. 4. Classical Greek plant names. sometimes transferred by modern botanists to oth er plants: Rhododendron (rhododendron. "atamasco zephyranthes" (atamasco lily). T ypha (cattail). My friend Ge rald Smith." Quercus alba. Examples of adjectives: Magnolia virginiana. Carya (hickory). Zephyranthes atamasco." These genitives often commemorate the first collector of a species. for Franklin County." Pinus palustris." These adjectives must match the genus name in gender. "Hymenocallis of (Mary) Henry. but Gerald took so much abuse about this name that he has changed it to Hymenocallis frankliniensis. Camellia japonica. and case. henryae." Boltonia apalachicolensis. Many of these names in apposition are names for the plant in other languages taken over as specific epithets. "Hasteola of the Roberts." Acer negundo. c. the second word in capillus-Ven eris. Classical Latin plant names." Capparis cynophallophora. "kaki diospyros" (Japanese persimmon). 5. c. Rosa (rose). Malus (apple). Warrior Princess. azalea). Acer (maple). number. "Japanese camellia. Anemone (anemone). Examples of nouns in apposition: Xena. Thuja (arbor vitae). or a noun in apposition to the gen eric name. Hieracium (hawkweed). Examples of genitives: Pinus elliottii. In practice .Linnaei. asked me to suggest a name for a spider-lily that was first noticed at Cow Creek Landing on the Ochlockonee River in northern Flor ida. of (Mary) Henry. "dog-penis bearing caper.

http://members. 1994. Sabatia (marsh pink). 8th edition. This is probably the largest category of plant generic names. speaking Latin words is not forgotten easily.a traditional and a n academic. is that each country seems to have its own dialect. Portland. but it gives the meaning of every genus and species name and indicates the accent. 1950. There are two systems of pronunciation using English Latin . Cynodon (Bermuda grass). Hymenocallis (spider lily). Guaiacum (lignum vitae). Camellia (camellia. Fernald. Oregon: Timber Press. Cladium (sawgrass). and mixtures of Latin and Greek names like Taxodium (bald cypress). many beginners find them quite hard to pronoun ce (or remember. This is a technical book about the flora of the northeastern United States. and many others. once Harperocallis (Harper's beauty). This site provides some formalized guidance on spoken Latin an d its meaning. e. REFERENCES Good guides to pronunciation and meaning of Latin plant names are: Stearn. Names from other sources. Names from languages other than Latin and Greek: Sabal (cabbage palmetto). Stenotaphrum (St. Helianthus (sunflower). put into Latin form: Linnaea (twinflower). Hevea (rubber). 1996. Marks the accented syllable for each name. One warning. Thelypteris (woods fern). Woodwardia (chain fern). for that matter). Philodendron (philodendron). A. Wisteria (wisteria). granddaddy greybeard). Augustine grass). gum). Nandina (nandina. J. Eriobotrya (loquat). Podocarpus (podocarpus). Lycopersicon (tomato). Rhapidophyllum (needle palm). Croomia (croomia). various medieval and modern Latin names like Aquilegia (columbine). Chapmann ia (alicia). Serenoa (saw palmetto). Poinsettia (poinsettia). for in stance Italian Latin. Nonetheless. Sorghum (sorghum). III. Torreya (torreya). Chrysanthemum (chrysanthemum). Musa (banana). Nuphar (spatterdock). I would suspect that Italians have a home court adv . d. Liriope (monkey grass). Gardenia (gardenia). g. Iris (iris). Calypso (calypso). Pyracantha (pyracantha).Nyssa (tupelo. Magnolia (magno lia). Pittosporum (pittosporum). Dirca (leatherwood). Modern names made from one or more Greek words: Liriodendron (tulip poplar). and many others. Catalpa (catalpa). Eremochloa (centipede grass). however. Gray's manual of botany. M. Dictionary of plant names. Still in print. Lycopodium (clubmoss). Andromeda (andromeda). Stearn's dictionary of plant names for gardeners. This book seems to recommend a weird combination of the academic and traditional pronunciations of names. heavenly bamboo). L. Probably the second largest category of generic names. f. Forsyth ia (forsythia). Sequoia (redwood). Although Latin is theoretically dead. Albizia ("mimosa. tea). The best book in English for origins of plant names. W. New York: American Bo ok Company. Chionanthus (fringe tree. Nelumbo (lotus).htm Since scientific names are Coombes. This grab bag includes names of unknown origin like Liatris (blazing star) and cute names like Trilisa (deer's tongue--an anagram of Liatris)." silk tree). Kalmia (mountain laurel). London: Ca ssell. T. Names of famous botanis ts and other people. Cunninghamia (chinese evergreen). Hippeastrum (amaryllis). Halesia (silverbell tree).

Meanings of epithets and the appropriate endings to the words are also useful to know. (*** 1/2) -SR .antage. This is a useful s ite for learning how to say the proper names of plants--a skill for scientists and learned gardeners alike.