Sunday, December 23, 2012


Humor of Botanical Nomenclature

Joseph Wood Krutch (1898-1970), The Forgotten Peninsula: A Naturalist in Baja California (1961; rpt. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1986), p. 67:
But by far the most famous herb among the native population in Baja is the highly aromatic shrub called damiana (Turnera diffusa) reputed to be highly effective as an aphrodisiac and drunk either as a tea or as a liqueur coyly labeled "Especially recommended to lovers." Unfortunately, or fortunately, its reputation, like that of most reputed aphrodisiacs, is probably undeserved but it ought to be better known as an example of the humor, sometimes intentional and sometimes unintentional, of botanical nomenclature. The mostly tropical genus to which damiana belongs was named in honor of the sixteenth-century English botanist William Turner who compiled the best of the early English herbals. So far, that is appropriate enough. But Turner was also an Anglican dean whose leanings towards puritanism got him into ecclesiastical trouble and it hardly seems right that his name should be attached to a plant reputed to promote a sin which the puritans particularly abhorred. 
Ann-Mari Jönsson, The Reception of Linnæus's Works in Germany with Particular Reference to his Conflict with Siegesbeck:
Initially Linnæus and Siegesbeck had been on friendly terms. There are four very ingratiating letters from Siegesbeck to Linnæus between 1735-1737. But there seems to have been some irritation under the surface. In Hortus Cliffortianus, printed as early as in the summer of 1737, Linnæus had named a newly found plant Siegesbeckia! Now, what sort of a plant is this? It is a small, stinking European weed (Sw. Klibbfrö). Linnæus had probably been warned about Siegesbeck's attack and thus sought to castigate him. One of Linnæus's ideas in Critica botanica (1737, pp. 78-81) is that there should be a link between the plant and the botanist whom it was named after. For example, Magnolia, Linnæus says, has very handsome leaves and flowers, which recall the splendid botanist Magnol. But Dorstenia has insignificant flowers, faded and past their prime, like the works of Dorsten!

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