Friday, August 6, 2010

More names - I hate Linnaeus, I love Linnaeus

Linnaeus was an eighteenth century academic and adventurer who is often regarded as the ‘Father of Botany’ as we know it today.

There are times when I hate botanists. Example: the Cocos Palm Tree. First, it was called Cocos plumosa. Simple. Easy to remember, but Botanists don’t do ‘simple’ and they certainly don’t do ‘easy to remember’ either so it became:

Arecastrum romansoffianum. Right, so I remembered that, but then it became…

Syagrus romansoffiana. Sigh. So I remembered that too. I suppose botanists need to earn a living, even though everyone else is still calling the blessed thing Cocos plumosa . I gave up on that one and I’m not sure what its latest name might be.

But of course, there is more than one botanist on this planet, so while that lot was going on, some of them got hold of the genus Cassine and divided it into no less than five new Genera: Lauridia, Mystroxylon, Elaeadendron , Maytenus and I-forget-what, with the result that I never can remember which of the saffronwoods are which these days. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

The plants remain unchanged, but the names keep changing. Why? There already were perfectly acceptable, internationally recognized names. Of course, botanists can tell you why the old names aren’t perfectly acceptable and why new ones are absolutely necessary (their lives depend on it), but you’ll go to sleep just as you’re doing now. Bloody Linnaeus.

Be that as it may, I’m quite fond of Linnaeus, even though there is evidence that he was a pretentious git (he even gave himself a Latin name). He invented the concept of botanical gardens (nice places that they are) and popularized the ‘power nap’ - probably as a result of thinking up Latin names for plants and then changing them until he was exhausted.

Yawn. I’m off to have a nap under an Afrocarpus falcatus (which used to be Podocarpus falcatus, but still remains a Yellow wood tree) in the garden. Fifteen minutes will do.


  1. Kind of like a cougar they are also called Pumas, mountain lion, & panthers just depending on where they live

  2. HA!! I remember having the same reaction in botany class... what?! You've done way better than I in remembering names. For me- it's in one ear, out the other. Names for drugs are as confusing, a generic name and then a host of trade names depending on how many drug companies make the same thing.
    I bet you botanists have great conferences! :-))

  3. I've had the same sort of problem with names of some birds. :)

  4. I know literally thousands of plant names, but I have the greatest difficulty in remembering them at times! I'm even worse at remembering people, so I'll avoid cougars, medicines and birds for now!