Friday, May 27, 2005


Woolly Knees

In a world full of bad news, here's a bit of good news. Botanist Michael Parks has rediscovered a wild flower, Eriogonum truncatum, the Mount Diablo buckwheat, long thought extinct.

Eriogonum truncatum is from Greek erion (wool), Greek gonu (knee, joint), and Latin truncatum (cut off, shortened, perfect passive participle of trunco).

We see the same element -gonum in polygonum, the knotweed species, so called because its stem has many joints. Cf. polygon. Greek gonu is related to Latin genu, also meaning knee, whence English genuflect (bend the knee).

I'm grateful to James L. Reveal for a correction:
I saw your posting about Eriogonum truncatum ... and thought you might be interested in the meanings of Polygonum versus Eriogonum. The problem is the conversion of the Greek into Latin. In the case of Polygonum this is tricky as the early authors of the name did not always indicate if they were using the Greek gone which means "seed" or gony which is Greek for "knee." The traditional interpretation is that Polygonum means "many knee joints." But, this is gramatically incorrect because we now know that the original use of Polygonum referred to "many seeds." Eriogonum, on the other hand, was clearly given by the French botanist Andre Michaux as "wooly knees," so that he used gony instead of gone.

You will find this mentioned in the just published volume 4 of Flora of North America.

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