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Tuesday, 06 December 2016 16:15

Having Trouble with Plant Names?

Knowledge of some of the common endings of scientific names can help to make names less forbidding. It is well worthwhile learning some of them.

A plant named after a person may end in ‘i’, ‘ii’, ‘iae’ or ‘ana’:

  • -iae indicates that the plant was named in honour of a female, e.g. Acacia kettlewelliae from the subalpine areas of Victoria was named in honour of Mrs A Kettlewell, who was one of the founders of the Wattle-day League in 1909
  • -i or -ii indicates that the plant was named after a male, e.g. Acacia beckleri was named in honour of the German born Dr Hermann Beckler, and Acacia williamsonii after Herbert Williamson, a teacher and botanist – usually (but not always) an i or ii ending means that the person named was the first to find the plant
  • -ana indicates that the plant was named in honour of someone other than the finder. Acacia baileyana was named after FM Bailey, a prominent Queensland botanist. Sometimes the -ana ending is used after a place name, e.g. Eucalyptus papuana, the Ghost Gum of Central Australia
  • -ensis indicates a native of the area named, e.g. Eucalyptus delegatensis is from the town of Delegate in south-eastern NSW. Note that austalis means southern and australiensis means inhabiting the south
  • -oides means ‘resembling’, e.g. Acacia asparagoides is asparagus-like
  • -cola means ‘native of’, e.g. Acacia saxicola is an inhabitant of rocky places
  • -ella means ‘diminutive’, e.g. Dianella is the diminutive form of Diana
  • -escens means ‘becoming’, e.g. Acacia glaucescens means becoming glaucous (powdery white)
  • -osus or -osa indicates ‘abounding in’, e.g. the Common Fringe-lily Thysanotus tuberosus is abounding in tubers, and Acacia dentulosa is abounding in teeth
  • -folia or -phylla refers to the leaves, e.g. Acacia brevifolia has short leaves, Acacia juncifolia has juncus (rush like) leaves, Acacia aciphylla has sharp, needle-like leaves, while Acacia aphylla is leafless. Acacia genistfolia has leaves resembling those of Genista (the brooms)
  • -issima means ‘very’, e.g. Acacia aculeatissima is very prickly, and Acacia elegantissima is very elegant
  • -ata indicates ‘a little’, e.g. Acacia crenulata has leaves a little bit crenulated (toothed) and Prostanthera denticulate has little teeth on its leaves
  • -dentata means ‘toothed’, e.g. Acacia bidentata means two toothed

So next time you see Eucalyptus balladoniensis you will know that there is a town or district called Balladonia, and because there is a eucalypt called Eucalyptus burracoppinensis, there must be a place called Burracoppin.

And Eucalyptus brockwayi was named after Mt Brockway. One of the plants in the local bushland is the Bedstraw, Gallum gaudichaudii, so there must have been a Mt Gaudichaudi. And Acacia victoriae was named after a female, actually a queen. If it was named after Victoria, it would have been called Acacia victoriensis.

But some names are a simple giveaway, such as Persoonia hirsuta, the hairy geebung.

This article has been reproduced with permission from an item in Blandfordia, the magazine of the Australian Plant Society NSW Ltd, North Shore Group

Published in STEP Matters 188

Wander through the bushland of Wahroonga Estate and you will see the delicate heads of native orchids peeping out from between Sarsparilla (Smilax glyciphylla) and Old Man’s Beard (Clematis aristata). The first indications that orchid flowers are about to emerge are the tiny leaves – heart-shaped, ovular, arrow-headed – solitary leaves of a variety of shapes that carpet the ground.

Published in STEP Matters 183