Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Taxonomic Vocabulary / Book Review

Last week I made a stop into a book store and spent some time looking at every title in the gardening section.  One book I stumbled upon, caught my fancy.  It was right up my alley - and also discounted because it was used.  [Who would return this book?]

The book is Gardener's Latin: A Lexicon by Bill Neal.  It is a dictionary of words used in plant taxonomy.  It is a very informative book (in the classical dictionary sense), as well as having some entertaining  sidenotes and stories about plants.  Being a collector of books, plants and plant books, I naturally bought this book.

The book primarily contains common species names (the second name in a binomial scientific name).  In a general sense, the first name (Genus) is a noun and the second name (species) is an adjective.  In the simplest case, a plant name translated to English is something like "skinny grass" or "blue canna."  Of course, the more distinctly desciptive a name can be, the better.  Most of the names help describe the appearance of the plant.  Other names describe the smell of the plant, the uses of the plant or even the location of the plant.  Some of the names seem pretty obvious, and you don't need to know latin to know that filamentosa means "filament-like."  I was surprised to find that a number of the names were in reference to other plant names.  For instance, agavoides means "Like the Agaves."

Words that end in -flora deal with the bloom of the plant, while words that end in -phyllum or -folia/-folium deal with the foliage or leaves of the plant.  Words that end with -cladia/-cladium deal with the branch of the plant. Not surprisingly, words ending in -petalum deal with the petal of the plant.

There is an online dictionary of latin plant names here.

Here is a random collection of vocabulary that is somewhat common for describing Aroids - although not always in name.

cordate/cordatum - heart-shaped
fenestrations - holes
hemiepiphyte - a plant that can start in the soil and grow up a tree trunk, or start on a tree and grow to the surface where it roots in soil
pinnate - divided
- shaped like a human hand (ex/ Japanese maple = Acer palmatum)
pinnatifid - palm (as in palm tree) shapedscototrophism -condition where a plant seeks dark rather than light, presumably to find the trunk of a tree which can be climbed

You can see the book here. By the way, LibraryThing.com is a really cool site.

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