Pronunciation of botanical names
Sun, 08 Dec 2002 21:28:10 PST
An excellent TOW (Topic Of Week) and excellent discussion on this all-important topic.

 The topic is important because we all feel unsure, or possibly embarrassed at times, trying to pronounce botanical names in the company of others, possibly those thought to be more knowledgeable that one's self.

 Jane McGary's fine primer on pronunciation hits the nail on the head, although there is one other major thing to look for when attempting to pronounce botanical names; those names that are commemorative in derivation; genus or species epithets named in honor of this person or that, thus the person's proper name dictates the pronunciation principles.

Embarrassingly I learned this rule years ago at an American Rock Garden Society meeting in Seattle Washington, USA.

 At a picnic lunch at one such "garden-visit" meeting, I sat next to Brian Mulligan, the eminent director of the arboretum in Seattle.

 Mr. Mulligan was an elderly British gent in his early 90s, and was rather dry if not terse in his botanical "reprimands".

 I was "talking plants" and mentioned Halesia, a lovely genus of southeastern USA small trees (+ couple species in China) with white pendulous flowers similar to Styrax, when he sternly corrected my pronunciation. I was saying "Ha - LEE - see - ah". Mr. Mullligan pointed out that the genus is named after Dr. Stephen Hales, thus the pronunciation should be "Hales - EE - ah.

 I was embarrassed at the time, but now look for the possibility that plant names are derived from people's proper names commemorated in latinized form.There are more of these than you might think. The hard part is when those commemorative names are based on some country of original very different than what one is familiar with, such as Russin or Chinese.

But even when aware of such proper pronunciations, I think it is still important to be aware of impropriety, and possibly avoid being "technically correct" in favor of being politically correct in special instances.

 At a recent NARGS meeting (New England Chapter, of the North American Rock Garden Society), the speaker discussed some dwarf pine (Pinus) species, and repetitively used the interpretation of "Pi" pronounced a "Pee", and it was uncomfortably endured at best.

 Whether correct or not, I will always publicly pronounce the genus name for pines as "Pie - nus" or "Pye nus"; never as "Pee - nus" for the obvious embarrassing coincidence with male anatomy.

Mark McDonough
 Pepperell, Massachusetts, United States

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