Spanish bluebells

Jim McKenney
Thu, 08 May 2008 06:23:17 PDT
Here's the rest of the story.

Actually, I didn't point out anything to John; I asked him when it had

Every time I hear some horticultural maven dun the gardening public about
learning botanical names "because they don't change", I grit my teeth. Of
course they change, and since the proceedings which result in those changes
take place in a venue or format, if not exactly sub rosa, at least not
easily monitored or accessed by the gardening public, it all tends to have
an aura of mystery about it. Or it does for me. 

This word hyacinthoides is grammatically gender ambiguous. Thus, although I
know a bit of Greek, that does not help me with the use of this word in a
botanical context. If I were writing a letter in Latin, Hyacinthoides
hispanicus would be grammatically correct. If, in that same letter, I had
been describing the Spanish bluebell, it would be botanically incorrect. 

During my lifetime alone the specific epithets of this group have gone from
feminine (when they were members of Scilla) to masculine (when they were
Endymion) and now back to feminine again in Hyacinthoides. And with the
recent re-working of Scilla, there are more new combinations and gender
changes to learn.

And who is to say that some botanist will not hit on some reason to change
the name formally to masculine? It happened with Panax, didn't it? 

If any of you are thinking "how does Jim remember all this stuff?", the
answer might surprise you: I don't remember any of it. That's what books are
for. When I mentioned Hyacinthoides hispanica in a recent post or by line,
you'd better believe I checked my references before posting. 

Ask me next month about the gender of Hyacinthoides: I'll probably give you
a blank stare and mumble something like "I'll have to check..."

Jim McKenney

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