What’s in a Name?
Eleanor Handreck, Netherby, S.A.
‘What’s in a name?’ That was the question that Juliet Capulet asked herself before her tryst with family enemy Romeo Montague. Her answer — ‘That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.’ — suggests that she thought that there wasn’t much.
Let’s now imagine that, for some inexplicable reason, Juliet had asked, ‘What’s in a grass name?’ The answer would have been: ‘Quite a lot at times!’ Unlike most of the names that are given to humans, many grass names actually tell us something about the plants to which they belong.
The scientific name of a grass is made up of two parts. The first part is the genus e.g. Neurachne. The second part (the specific epithet) identifies the individual species in a genus. So Neurachne alopecuroidea is the species alopecuroidea in the genus Neurachne.
If we are being really accurate, the scientific name of the plant also includes the name of the botanist who first officially described the plant. This person’s name is used in an accepted and usually abbreviated form. For example, Neurachne alopecuroidea, which was described by Robert Brown, is Neurachne alopecuroidea R. Br.
NOTE: The word ‘species’ is both singular and plural. That means that we talk about ‘one species’ or ‘twenty species’, just as we say ‘one sheep’ or ‘twenty sheep’. The plural of ‘genus’ is ‘genera’.
The generic and specific names are often each made up of elements which come from Latin (L.) or Greek (Gk). For example, the generic name Setaria comes from Latin: seta, a bristle + aria, having a connection with or pertaining to. The element seta is also used in the specific name setifolia. Eriachne comes from Greek: erion, wool + achne, glume or lemma. In this genus, the lemma (and sometimes the glumes) are hairy. The element erion is also part of the specific names eriantha and eriopoda.
Other ‘achne’ names also tell us something about the glumes or lemma. Both Dichelachne and Diplachne have two-lobed lemmas. In Isachne (Gk, isos, equal), glumes and lemmas are nearly equal. Neurachne (Gk, neuron, nerve) has many-nerved glumes. In Brachyachne (Gk, brachys, short), the lemma is shorter than the glumes. Plectrachne (Gk, plectron, a spur) has stiff awns on its lemma. Anthosachne (the current name for the genus Elymus) has two elements: ‘anthos’, meaning flower, and ‘achne’ (but I don’t know how the two meanings connect).
Another common element in grass names is pogon (Gk, beard). In Amphipogon (Gk, amphi, both, double), both lemma and palea have awns which are bordered by eyelash-like hairs. Echinopogon (Gk, echinos, spiny like a hedgehog) has a bristly flower-head, and Pentapogon (Gk, pente, five) has a lemma with five awns. Other ‘pogon’ generic names are Enneapogon (Gk, ennea, nine), which has nine awns on the lemma, and Chrysopogon (Gk, chrysos, gold), which has golden hairs at the base of the groups of spikelets. In Cymbopogon (Gk, cymbos, hollow), the flower is enclosed in the hollow made by a spathe or bract.
Two other recurring elements are –agrostis and –chloa, both of which are Greek words for ‘grass’. Eragrostis may be derived from Gk, eros, love + agrostis, grass, the probable origin of the common name ‘lovegrass’. Another possible derivation is from eri, (Gk), a prefix that strengthens a word in the sense of ‘very much’, to mean ‘a many-floreted Agrostis’. Lachnagrostis (Gk, lachne, soft wool) is like the genus Agrostis, but with hairs on the lemma. Bothriochloa comes from Gk, bothrion, a little pit (alluding to the pitted glumes) + chloa. In Echinochloa (Gk, echinos + chloa), the spikelets are often bristly. Zygochloa (Gk, zygon, yoke or pair + chloa) is dioecious (having male and female plants). Eriochloa (Gk, erion + chloa) literally means ‘woolly grass’, and Leptochloa (Gk, leptos, slender + chloa) means ‘slender grass’. Poa is yet another Greek word for grass. Bromus (Gk, bromos) comes from the ancient Greek name for oats, which is now the separate but related genus, Avena.
Some generic names have a suffix that comes from Latin. An example is aria (L. aris, pertaining to, having a connection with). Glyceria (Gk, glykeros, sweet + aria) refers to the sweetness of the herbage and seeds of the Glyceria ‘type specimen’. (Think of the term ‘glycaemic index’.) Brachiaria (L., brachium, forearm + aria) refers to the racemes or spikelets that stand out like arms along the main axis. (Think of the ‘brachial artery’ in your arm). Digitaria (L. digitus, finger + aria) refers to the hand-like form of the inflorescence. Setaria (L., seta, a bristle + aria) refers to the fact that the spikelet is enclosed by stiff bristles.
WHAT IS A ‘TYPE SPECIMEN’?
A ‘type specimen’ is the specimen of the individual plant from which a species was first formally described.
Another Latin element (this time a prefix) is austro, south. Austrofestuca and Austrostipa are literally the ‘southern Festuca’ and the ‘southern Stipa’.
Some generic names can’t be neatly grouped. Triodia (Gk, treis, three + odous, a tooth) refers to the lemma which is divided into three teeth or lobes. Aristida (L., arista, an awn) has spectacular three-cleft awns. Triraphis (Gk, treis + raphis, needle) is another three-awned grass. Sporobolus (Gk, spora, seed + bolos, throwing) alludes to the seed which is readily released. The name Microlaena (Gk, mikros, small + laina or chlaine, cloak) alludes to the two minute glumes. Chloris (Gk, chloris, green) refers to the leaf-colour. (Think of ‘chlorophyll’.) Hemarthria (Gk, hemi, half + arthron, joint) literally ‘half-jointed’, refers to the resistance of the raceme internodes to breaking up.
The origin of Themeda is obscure. Black (1943) said that it meant “a depression where water lies after rain, and dries up in summer”. Other suggestions (and the last one is perhaps the more likely one) are that it comes from Arabic, thaemed, little water, possibly referring to water storage cells on the upper surface of the leaves or to the habitat in Yemen where the Themeda ‘type specimen’ was collected.
Occasionally, the generic name shows that the botanist who named the plant had some imagination! The name of the reed-like grass Phragmites means ‘growing in hedges’ (Gk): the plants grow crowded together in a row along the water’s edge. Spinifex comes from Latin, and it means ‘thorn-maker’!
We’ve now looked at the meaning and origin of the generic names of quite a few of South Australia’s native grasses. Of the generic names that haven’t been explained, many commemorate people, so the names don’t give any descriptive information about the grass. I’ve also left out some uncommon genera.
In South Australia, just over 200 specific epithets are used in the naming of our native grasses. There are more than that number of native grass species in our state, but some words (perhaps with a different ending, though we don’t need to worry about the reasons for this) have been used to name a species in more than one genus. A complete list of these specific names (correct in 2014) is given here.
acicularis (L. acus, needle + –ulus [dimin.] + –are, pertaining to) leaf-blades are sharply pointed: Enteropogon.
acrociliata (Gk acro, at the end + L. cilium, hair + –ata, possessing) glume apices hairy: Austrostipa.
actinocladus (Gk aktinos, ray [i.e., spokes of a wheel] + clados, young shoot) inflorescence branches arranged in a whorl: Sporobolus.
acuminata (L. acumen, sharp point + –ata, possessing) lemmas, glumes or leaf-blades drawn out to a long, narrow point: Tetrarrhena.
aemula (L. aemulor, more or less equalling) glumes more or less equal: Lachnagrostis.
alopecuroidea (Gk alopex, fox + oura, tail + oidea, -like) similar to genus Alopecuros, especially in respect of the appearance of the inflorescence: Neurachne.
ambiguus (L. uncertain) may be confused with other species: Cymbopogon.
ammophila (Gk ammos, sand + phileo, to love) growing in sandy habitats: Digitaria.
anthoxanthoides, like the exotic grass genus Anthoxanthum: Aristida.
archeri, for Tasmanian botanist William Archer (1820-74): Amphibromus.
arenarius (L. arena, sandy place + –aria pertaining to) growing in sandy habitat: Bromus.
arida (L. aridus, dry, withered) growing in arid places: Aristida.
aristidea, resembling Aristida: Eriachne.
aurea (L. golden-yellow) with spikelets, pedicels or other parts having golden-yellow hairs: Eulalia.
auriculatum (L. auris, ear or lobe of ear + –ula [dimin.] + –atum, possessing) with a tiny ‘ear’ of tissue on edge of lemma lobe: Rytidosperma.
australasica, –ianus, –iensis, Australian: Eragrostis, Eriochloa, Sporobolus, Tragus, Yakirra.
australis (L. southern): Aristida, Glyceria, Phragmites.
avenacea, –eus, with inflorescences and/or spikelets similar to those of the genus Avena (oats): Enneapogon, Themeda.
basedowii, for Herbert Basedow (1881-1933), explorer and geologist, but professionally a medical practitioner: Eragrostis, Triodia.
basiclada (Gk basis, base or ground + clados, young shoot) culms much branched from lower nodes: Setaria.
behriana, for Hans Hermann Behr (1818-1904), German botanist, and friend of von Mueller: Aristida.
benthamiana, for George Bentham (1800-84), English botanist: Festuca.
biglandulosa (L. bis, twice + glans, acorn + –ula [dimin.] + osa, possessing) having two swellings at pedicel base: Aristida.
billardieri, for Jacques Julien de la Billardière (1755-1834), French botanist: Lachnagrostis.
blackii, for John McConnell Black (1855-1951), a Scottish-born South Australian journalist and botanist, and author of the first editions of the Flora of South Australia: Austrostipa.
bladhii, for Pehr Johann Bladh, an eighteenth century Finnish collector in China: Bothriochloa.
blakei, for Stanley Thatcher Blake (1911-73), a Queensland botanist: Sporobolus.
breviglumis (L. brevis, short + gluma, husk) glumes short compared with those of other Austrostipa species: Austrostipa.
brownii, for Robert Brown (1773-1858), a British botanist on Flinders’ expedition, and first botanical collector in South Australia: Digitaria, Eragrostis.
bunicola (Gk bounos, hill + –icola, -dweller) grows on hills: Triodia.
caerulescens (L. caerulesco, turning blue + –escens, -ish, somewhat) foliage glaucous: Enneapogon.
caespitosum, –us (L. caespes, a tuft or sod of turf ) tufted habit: Echinopogon, Rytidosperma..
capillifolia (L. capillus, hair + folium, -leaved) filiform or hair-like leaf blades: Aristida.
caricinus (L. carex, rush + –inus, like) similar to the sedge genus Carex: Amphipogon.
caroli, for Jean Martin François Carolus (1808-63) a Belgian botanist who travelled in Brazil in 1848: Sporobolus.
carphoides (Gk –oides, like) habit like the genus Carpha, an alpine sedge: Rytidosperma.
ciliaris (L. cilium, eye-lash + –are, pertaining to) glumes or lemmas fringed with hairs on nerves or margins: Brachyachne.
clelandii, for John Burton Cleland (1870-1971), Professor of Pathology at Adelaide University, and botanist after whom the Conservation Park is named: Joycea, Poa.
clementii, for Emile Clement of Carshalton, Surrey, who made a substantial collection of plants in the NW of WA: Setaria.
coenicola (L. coenum, dirt or mud + icola, -dweller) growing in places that are subject to flooding: Digitaria.
compacta (L. united, compacted) inflorescence a tight panicle: Triodia.
confertiflora (L. confertus, crowded + flos, floris, flower) inflorescence branches densely congested: Eragrostis.
constricta (L. constringo, to draw together) panicle branches held erect: Setaria.
contorta (L. contortus, twisted, contorted) alluding to twisted lemma column: Aristida.
crassicaudex (L. crassus, thick + caudex, stem) base of culms swollen: Poa.
creber, –ra (L. crowded or pressed together) racemes held erect and appressed to inflorescence axis: Eriochloa, Sporobolus.
crinita (L. crinitus, having long hair) awn, a long, weak hair: Dichelachne.
ctenantha (L. cteis, ctenos, a comb or, the hand with fingers spread out + anthos, flower) the margins of the lower lemma of the stalked spikelets bear widely separated, long, stiff hairs: Digitaria.
curticoma (L. curtus, short + comus, hairy-tufted) with tuft of short hairs at apex of lemma: Austrostipa.
cylindrica, –us (L. cylindrus, cylinder + –ica, belonging to) inflorescences cylindrical: Enneapogon, Imperata.
dactylon (Gk dactylos, finger) refers to the finger-like spikes of the inflorescence: Cynodon.
decompositum (L. de– [neg. prefix] + compositus, brought together, i.e., divided) inflorescence much branched: Panicum.
densa (L. densus, thick, crowded) panicle has many spikelets: Deyeuxia.
densiflora (L. densus, dense, crowded + flos, floris, flower) congested inflorescence: Austrostipa.
dielsii, for Friedrich Ludwig Emil Diels (1874-1945), director of the Berlin Botanic Gardens, who travelled and collected widely in WA: Eragrostis, Setaria.
digitata (L. digitus, finger + –ata, possessing) having finger-like branches along the stem: Leptochloa.
distichophylla (Gk distichos, in two rows + phyllon, leaf) leaves arranged conspicuously in two rows: Distichlis, Tetrarrhena.
drummondiana, –ii, for James Drummond (1784-1863), curator of the government gardens in Cork, Ireland: Austrostipa, Poa.
duttonianum, named by Cashmore (the author of Danthonia duttoniana – now Rytidosperma duttonianum), who didn’t say after whom it was named. Perhaps for J. Dutton (1863-?), a field assistant at the Bathurst Agricultural Station in NSW: Rytidosperma.
echinata (L. echinos, spiny like a hedgehog) plants forming spiny tussocks: Austrostipa.
effusum (L. spread out or straggling) inflorescence an open panicle: Panicum.
elegantissima (L. elegans, elegant + –issima most) referring to the very beautiful inflorescence: Austrostipa.
elongata, –us (L. lengthened) inflorescence elongated: Eragrostis, Sporobolus.
eremaeum (Gk eremos, desert + aeum, belonging to) a desert species: Iseilema.
eremophila (Gk eremos, desert + phileo, to love) a desert species. (Despite its name, this particular species is found mainly in woodland or mallee from the Nullarbor to the South East.): Austrostipa
erianthum (Gk erion, wool + anthos, flower) with woolly glumes, lemmas or awns: Rytidosperma.
eriopoda (Gk erion, wool + podos, foot) basal leaf-sheaths woolly: Eragrostis.
ewartiana, for Alfred James Ewart (1872-1937), Prof. of Botany at Melb. Uni., and the Victorian Government Botanist: Bothriochloa.
exigua (L. wanting in size or number) spikelets very, very small for the genus: Eragrostis.
exilis (L. exilis, small, thin) referring to slender culms: Austrostipa.
falcata (L. falx, sickle + –ata, possessing?) awn or spikelets curved: Austrostipa scabra ssp., Eragrostis.
fallax (L. deceptive) closely resembling another species: Chrysopogon.
fax (L. torch) with an inflorescence that bears a fanciful resemblance to a torch with ascending flames: Poa.
filifolia (L. filum, thread + folium, -leaved) having thread-like leaves: Lachnagrostis punicea ssp.
filiformis (L. filum, thread + forma, shape or form): Lachnagrostis.
flavescens (L. flavus, yellow + –escens, in the process of becoming) spikelets yellowish: Austrostipa.
fordeana, for Helena Forde (1830-1910), a NSW collector: Poa.
fulvum (L. brown or deep yellow) reference to spikelet colour: Rytidosperma.
fusca (L. fuscus, dark, swarthy) glumes or lemmas dark brown: Leptochloa.
geniculatum (L. genus, a knee + –ula, [dimin] + –atum, possessing) culms or awns bent sharply like an elbow: Rytidosperma.
gibbosa (L. gibba, swollen + –osus indicating abundance) spikelets swollen asymmetrically: Austrostipa.
gilesii, for William Ernest Powell Giles (1835-97), an important early explorer in central Australia (and probably a member of the exploring party for the Overland Telegraph line from Adelaide to Darwin in 1871-72): Brachiaria.
globosa (L. globus, sphere + –osa, abundance) spikelets spherical : Isachne.
halmaturina (Gk halma, to leap, from which the wallaby generic name Halmaturus, and Insula Halmaturorum, the Latin name for Kangaroo Island, are derived) named for the location of the first collection, which was on Kangaroo Island: Poa.
helmsii, for Richard Helms (1842-1914), naturalist: Eriachne, Triodia.
hemipogon (Gk hemi, half + pogon, beard) lemma with shorter hairs towards apex: Austrostipa.
hirsutus (L. shaggy, bristly, prickly) part or all of plant hirsute, having long hairs: Spinifex.
holathera (Gk holo, entire + ather, spike) awn separates from the lemma at maturity: Aristida.
humilis (L. low, small) short statured in comparison with related species: Dichanthium sericeum ssp.
inaequiglumis (L. inaequalis, uneven, unequal + gluma, husk) glumes unequal in size and/or shape: Aristida, Dichelachne
indutum (L. induo, to clothe) glumes and/or lemma densely hairy: Rytidosperma.
infecunda (L. in-, not + fecundus, fertile) no grain found after persistent searching: Eragrostis.
inflata (L. swollen) lemmas swollen: Chloris.
intermedius (L. intermediate, between two things in order) having affinities with, but distinct from, other species: Enneapogon.
inundata (L. inundo, flooded) growing in places that are inundated, often referring to swamps: Echinochloa.
irritans (L. irrito, provoking, irritating) leaf-blades rigid and sharply pointed: Triodia.
jerichoensis, named for Jericho, a town in central Queensland, the locality of the type specimen: Aristida.
jubiflora (L. jubum, the mane of a horse or crest of a helmet + flos, floris, flower) inflorescence mane-like: Setaria.
juncea (L. rush-like) leaf-blades curled longitudinally to resemble certain Juncus species: Tetrarrhena.
kennedyae, for Mary Bozzom Kennedy (1838-1915) of Wonnaminta Stn near Broken Hill: Eragrostis.
labillardieri, for Jacques Julien de la Billardière (1755-1834), French botanist: Poa.
lacunaria (L. lacuna, a cavity + –aria, pertaining to) surface of grain is pitted: Echinochloa, Eragrostis.
laevinode (L. laevis, smooth + node): Panicum.
laeve (L. laevis, smooth) usually referring to smoothness or lack of hairs on lemmas: Rytidosperma.
lanata (L. lana, wool + –ata, possessing) lowermost leaf-sheaths woolly with tangled hairs: Austrostipa, Triodia.
laniflora (L. lana, wool + flos, floris, flower) lemma and palea are woolly with hair: Eragrostis.
lanigera (L. lana, wool + gero, to bear) referring to the spikelet hairs: Neurachne, Triodia.
lanipes (L. lana, wool + pes, foot) lemmas woolly at the base: Eragrostis.
lappacea (L. lappa, burr + –aceus, indicating resemblance) lemmas short-awned and overlapping: Astrebla.
latifolia (L. latus, broad + folia, -leaved) leaf-blades relatively broad compared with related species: Aristida.
leptocarpa (Gk leptos, slender + karpos, fruit) grains elongated: Eragrostis.
limitanea (L. limes, pathway + –anea, relating to) found in a South Australian railway reserve: Lachnagrostis.
lindleyanus, for English botanist John Lindsay (1799-1856): Enneapogon.
littoralis (L. pertaining to the sea-shore) a sand dune, salt marsh or river bank species: Austrofestuca.
loliiformis (from genus Lolium + L. forma, shape, appearance) resembling Lolium (rye) in some respect: Tripogon.
longiceps (L. longus, long + –ceps,pertaining to a head) with more florets per spikelet than its nearest relative: Triodia.
macalpinei, for Daniel McAlpine (1849-1932), government vegetable pathologist: Austrostipa.
macra (L. lean, meagre) referring to narrow leaf-blades: Bothriochloa.
macrantha (Gk makros, large + anthos, flower) spikelets prominent on slender inflorescence: Zoysia.
macrorhinus (Gk makros, large, long + rhis, nose) refers to drawn out lemma apex: Amphibromus.
meionectes (Gk meion, smaller + echo, possess) rather small: Poa.
melvillei, for George Frederick Melville (1914- ), agricultural scientist in WA: Triodia.
membranaceum (L. membrana, thin skin + –aceus, resembling) infloresecence glumes or bracts papery: Iseilema.
micrantha (Gk mikros, small + anthos, flowers) spikelets small: Dichelachne.
minor (L. smaller) plants small in comparison with related species: Deyeuxia.
mitchelliana, –ii, for Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (1792-1855), Surveyor-General of NSW: Sporobolus, Thyridolepis.
mollis (L. soft) softly hairy, of leaf-blades or inflorescence: Austrostipa, Triraphis.
morrisii, for Patrick Francis Morris (1896-1974), an Australian botanist: Poa.
mucronata (L. mucro, sharp point + –ata, possessing) glumes or lemma contracted into a short hard point: Eriachne.
muelleri, for Sir Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von Müller (1825-96), Government Botanist, Victoria: Austrostipa, Leptochloa fusca (ssp.), Paraneurachne.
multiculmis (L. multus, many + culmus, stalk of grain) plants densely tufted: Thyridolepis.
multiflorus (L. multus, many + flos, flower) spikelets with more florets than those of related species: Elymus.
multispiculis (L. multus, many + spica, thorn + –ula [dimin.]) inflorescence with many spikelets: Austrostipa.
mundula (L. mundus, elegant + –ula [dimin.]) attractive in appearance: Austrostipa.
munroi, for William Munro (1818-80), a British soldier who botanised in India: Neurachne.
neesii, for Christian Gottfried Daniel Nees von Esenbeck (1776-1858), professor of botany at Breslau: Amphibromus.
nervosus (L. nervus, nerve + –osus, abounding in) with conspicuous nerves in glumes or lemmas: Amphibromus.
nigricans (L. nigrico, becoming blackish) becoming black or blackish as the spikelets mature: Enneapogon.
nitida (L. niteo, shining, bright) spikelets or lemma have a smooth, polished, lustrous surface: Austrostipa.
nitidula (L. niteo, shine + –ula, a tendency) referring to glossy lemma or spikelets: Aristida.
nodosa (L. nodus, knot + -osa, abundance) culms with more nodes than on related species: Austrostipa.
notochthona (Gk notos-, south + chthonos, earth) of the Southern Hemisphere: Brachiaria.
novae-hollandiae, New Holland: Paractaenum.
nullanulla, named after a property in NSW: Austrostipa.
obscura (L. dark, obscure) referring to dark spikelets: Aristida.
obtectus (L. covered, concealed): separated from a closely related species: Cymbopogon.
oligostachya (Gk oligos, few + stachys, ear of maize) inflorescence with few branches: Austrostipa.
ovata, –us (L. ovum, egg + –ata, possessing) inflorescences and maybe spikelets egg-shaped in outline: Echinopogon, Eriachne.
paradoxa, –us (GK para, irregular + doxa, opinion) not what you might expect in comparison with related species: Monachather, Zygochloa.
parviflora (L. parvus, small + flos, floris, flower) spikelets small or with few florets: Eragrostis.
pectinata (L. pecten, comb + –ata, possessing) inflorescences with spikes or racemes that bear a fanciful resemblance to a comb: Astrebla, Chloris.
pergracilis (L. per, very + gracilis, slender) culms slender: Eragrostis.
perlaxa (L. per-, very + laxus, loose, not crowded): Puccinellia strictus var.
personata (L. wearing a mask, counterfeit) referring to its resemblance to another species, possibly A. ramosa: Aristida.
petraea (L. petraea, of or belonging to rocks) plants grow in rocky places: Austrostipa.
pilata (L. pilus, hair + –ata, possessing) refers to the long hairs on the leaves and awn: Austrostipa.
piligera (L. pilus, hair + gero, to bear) hairy in some respect, usually the spikelet: Brachiaria.
pilosum (L. pilus, hair + –osum, abundance) part or whole of plant having long, spreading hairs: Rytidosperma.
platychaeta (Gk platys, flat, wide, broad + chaite, bristle) bristle of awn flattened: Austrostipa.
plumigera (L. pluma, small, soft feather, gero, to bear) bristle of awn conspicuously hairy: Austrostipa.
poiformis, like Poa, as this plant was originally placed in the genus Arundo: Poa.
polyphyllus (Gk polys, several + phyllon, leaf) culms many-leaved in comparison with related species: Enneapogon.
praetervisa (L. praeter, beyond + visum, seen) similar to but beyond the range of variability of another species: Brachiaria.
procera (L. tall) culms tall: Eriochloa.
proluta (L. prolutuo, wet + lutus, swamp) growing near water: Walwhalleya (syn. Whalleya).
pseudoacrotricha (L./ Gk pseudo-, false) resembling Eriochloa racemosa var. acrotricha: Eriochloa.
puberula (L. puber, downy + –ula [dimin.], slightly pubescent) plants wholly or partly covered with short hairs: Austrostipa.
pubinodis (L. puber, downy + nodus, node) refers to the pubescent nodes: Austrostipa.
pulchella, –us (L. pulchellus, pretty and small) beautiful in some respect, usually the inflorescence: Cynodon dactylon var., Eriachne.
pungens (L. pungo, to prick) leaf-blades sharply pointed: Triodia.
punicea (L. reddish, rosy, purple) crimson: Lachnagrostis.
quadrifidus (L. quadri, four + –fidus, divided) divided into four parts; referring to the awned lemma: Pentapogon.
quadriseta (L. quadri, four + seta, bristles) lemma is four-awned: Deyeuxia.
racemosum (L. racemus, stalk of cluster of grapes + osum, abundance) racemose, flowers are borne on short stems that lie along a common axis: Rytidosperma.
radulans (L. radula, scraping iron + –ans, assuming form of) leaf-blades rough to the touch: Dactyloctenium.
ramosus (L. ramus, branch + –osa, abundance) inflorescences and culms much-branched: Enteropogon.
rara (L. rarus, far apart, uncommon) refers to the well-separated spikes in the panicle: Dichelachne, Perotis.
rectisetus (L. rectus, straight, upright + seta, bristle): Elymus.
recurvatus (L. curved backwards, reflexed) spikelets with spreading or reflexed awns: Amphibromus.
reflexa (L. bent or angled backwards) panicle branches reflexed: Setaria.
refractum (L. refractum, turned back abruptly) mature inflorescence branches deflex: Paractaenum.
reversum (L. reversus, turned back) mature inflorescence branches deflex:: Paractaenum novae-hollandiae spp. reversum.
robusta (L. hard, firm, robust) culms tall, or leaf-blades or spikelets large: Lachnagrostis.
robustissimus(L. most robust) culms very tall for the genus: Enneapogon.
rodwayi, for Leonard R. Rodway (1853-1936), Tasmanian dentist and botanist: Poa.
scaber, –ra (L. scaber, rough to the touch, scurfy) rough due to short stiff hairs or minute projections: Austrostipa, Elymus, Lachnagrostis.
scariosa (L. scariosus, thin, dry, membraneous, not green) in general, of glumes or lemmas: Oxychloris, Triodia.
schinzii, for Hans Schinz (1858-1941), director of the Zurich botanical gardens: Triodia.
semiannulare (L. semi-, half + annulus, a ring + –aris, pertaining to) the lemma bears a half-ring of hairs: Rytidosperma.
semibarbata (L. semi-, half + barba, beard + –ata, possessing) column of awn hairy, but bristle only minutely rough: Austrostipa.
sericeum (L. sericeus, silken) wholly or partly covered with long hairs: Dichanthium.
setacea, setaceum (L. seta, bristle + –aceus, resembling) alluding to the bristle-like leaf blades: Austrostipa, Rytidosperma.
setifolia (L. seta, bristle + folium, -leaved) leaf-blades bristle-like: Eragrostis.
sieberiana, for Franz Wilhelm Sieber (1789-1844), Austrian botanist who collected in many parts of the world, including NSW: Poa.
sinuatus (L. curved) having a waved or toothed margin: Amphibromus.
speciosa (L. species, showily beautiful + –osa, abundance): Eragrostis.
spicatus (L. spica, point, flower-spike + –ata, possessing) inflorescence a spike: Elytrophorus.
spinescens (L. spina, thorn + -escens, -ish) inflorescence branches terminally pungent: Pseudoraphis.
squarrosa (L. squarrosus) spikelets spreading at right angles from a common axis: Astrebla.
stipoides, like genus Stipa (now Austrostipa): Microlaena.
stricta, –us (L. strictus, straight, erect) refers to erect inflorescence branches: Amphipogon, Puccinellia.
strigosa (L. strigosus, covered with straight, bristle-like hairs) alluding to the lemma’s rough hairs that all lie in the same direction: Aristida.
stuposa (L. stupa, tow [the fibre of hemp, flax or jute which has been prepared for spinning]) leaf bases breaking into fibres: Austrostipa.
subspinulifera (L. sub-, somewhat + spinulifera, with small spines): Aristida jerichoensis var.
tenellula, –us (L. tenellus, somewhat tender or dainty + –ula [dimin.]): Eragrostis, Polypogon.
tenera (L. tener, thin) culms slender: Poa.
tenuifolia (L. tenuis, slender + folium, -leaved) leaf-blades narrow: Austrostipa.
tenuius (L. tenuior, thinner, narrower, more delicate) more slender than related species: Rytidosperma.
triandra (Gk treis, three + andros, man) a stemless hermaphrodite spikelet is surrounded by three male spikelets: Themeda.
trichophylla (Gk thrix, trichos, hair + phyllon, leaf) leaf-blades hair like: Austrostipa.
truncata, –um (L. truncatus, cut off, shortened) referring to truncated apices of lemmas or glumes: Chloris, Uranthoecium.
tuckeri, for Gerard Tucker (1854-1930), farmer: Austrostipa.
turfosa (L. from a peat bog) growing in swamps and grasslands: Tetrarrhena.
turneriana, for Fred Turner (1856-1939), an English-born Australian botanist: Echinochloa.
umbricola (L. umbra, any shady place + –cola, -dweller) inhabitant of shady places: Poa.
uncinata (L. uncinus, hooked, barbed + -ata, possessing) upper glume often drawn out into a hook: Hemarthria.
vaginiflorum (L. vagina, sheath + flos, floris, flower) inflorescence scarcely exceeds the ensheathing upper leaf: Iseilema.
velutina (L. velutum or velvetum, velvet + –inus, -like) leaves and stem have a velvety surface: Austrostipa.
venusta (L. venusta, graceful, beautiful) refers mainly to habit: Agrostis.
vickeryana, for Joyce W. Vickery (1908-79), a NSW botanist who specialised in grass taxonomy: Austrostipa.
virginicus, of or from Virginia, USA: Sporobolus.
walshii, named for Neville G. Walsh (1956- ), who helped to elucidate this taxon and distinguish it from Zoysia matrella: Zoysia macrantha ssp. walshii.
xerophila (Gk xeros, dry, parched, withered + phileo, to love) a desert species: Eragrostis, Thyridolepi
Now we know the meanings of the scientific names of many of the native grasses in South Australia. Let’s look at how we might pronounce these names.
For some people, trying to pronounce plant scientific names is a formidable challenge. It need not be. William Stearn in his book Botanical Latin offers this encouraging advice: ‘How they (scientific names) are pronounced really matters little provided they sound pleasant and are understood by all concerned.’ And that would seem to put an end to all pronunciation worries!
We realise that some people mightn’t be satisfied with that advice. For those people, some pronunciation guidelines are provided.
Many plant names almost pronounce themselves. Most can be broken up into syllables and stressed in much the same way that English words are.
An exception to this rule is where two or more vowels occur in succession. In a scientific names, each of these vowels is individually sounded. This means that, at times, a syllable—or even consecutive syllables— will consist of only one vowel. For example, blackii is black-i-i (pronounced black-ee-eye); monroi is mon-ro-i; aristidea is ar-ist-id-e-a; and macalpinei is mac-al-pin-e-i. The specific ambiguus is am-big-u-us, tenuius is ten-u-ee-us and alopecuroidea is al-o-pec-ur-o-i-de-a and not al-o-pec-ur-oi-de-a.
There are a few names in which the sounding-every-vowel rule doesn’t apply. Vowel-combinations such as the ‘ae’ (pronounced ‘ee’) in laevis, aemula, Microlaena and kennedyae, the ‘oe’ (also pronounced ‘ee’) in coenicola (see-ni-ko-la) and the ‘au’ in aurea are each pronounced as one sound.
Most consonants are pronounced as they are in English. As in English, the letter ‘c’ is prounced ‘k’ (‘hard’) if it is followed by a consonant or the vowels ‘a’, ‘o’ or ‘u’, and as ‘s’ (‘soft’) if it is followed by the vowels ‘e’, ‘i’ or ‘y’ or the diphthongs ‘ae’ or ‘oe’. The same ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ rule applies to the letter ‘g’. Unlike in English, ‘ch’ is pronounced ‘k’, unless the plant name comes from an ‘english-language’ proper noun. If names start with unpronouncable combinations such as cn, ct, gn, ps and pt, the first letter is silent. So, for example, ctenantha is pronounced ‘ten-anth-a’.
Caespitosa and coenicola might seem to have contradictory pronunciation possibilities. However, as the opening ‘c’ is followed by the vowel-combination sound ‘ee’, the ‘c’ is soft, as in Julius Caesar.
Generic or specific names which commemorate a person or place can sometimes be a problem. There are three acceptable ways of saying these names: as if they were Latin, as if they were English, or as they would be pronounced in the original language.
If none of the above suggestions seem to work, readers can do as Stern suggests and use a pronunciation that is commonly accepted or the one that has the most pleasant sound. After all, it is more important that the names are communicated than that they are pronounced correctly.
It’s now time to become personal. Is there a grass name which particularly pleases me? Yes, there is. My favourite grass name is in the genus Distichlis (dis-tik-lis). The name Distichlis comes from the Greek word distichos, in two rows. That tells me that some part of the plant is in two distinct rows. The only Australian Distichlis species has been named Distichlis distichophylla. The specific name distichophylla reminds us that something is in two rows; it also tells us that it is the leaves that are like this!
I also like the explanation of the specific epithet limitanea. The name comes from L. limes, pathway + –anea, relating to. Agrostis limitanea was found growing a in South Australian railway reserve! I’m also rather tickled by Rytidosperma (the current name for Austrodanthonia) which means ‘wrinkled seed’.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of John Jessop and Tony Kanellos (both from the Plant Biodiversity Centre, Adelaide Botanic Gardens) in the preparation of this article.
Baines, James A. (1981) Australian Plant Genera, The Society for Growing Australian Plants.
Barker, B., Barker, R., Jessop, J. & Vonow. H. (eds) (2005) Census of South Australian Vascular Plants Botanic Gardens of Adelaide and State Herbarium, Adelaide, 5th edition.
Elliot, Rodger & Jones, David (1993) Encyclopaedia of Australian Plants, Volume Six, Lothian Books, Melbourne.
Gledhill, D. (1985) The Names of Plants, Cambridge University Press.
Jessop, J. & Toelken, H. (Eds) (1986) Flora of South Australia, State Herbarium of South Australia, 4th edition.
Lumley, Peter & Spencer, Roger (1991) Plant Names: A Guide to Botanical Nomenclature, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.
Sharp, Donovan and Simon, Bryan K. (2002) Ausgrass: Grasses of Australia, ABRS Identification Series, Commonwealth of Australia.
Sharr, F.A. (1988) Western Australian Plant Names and their Meanings, University of W.A. Press.
Stearn, William T. (1983) Botanical Latin, David & Charles, London, 3rd edition.
Sugden, Andrew (1984) Longman Illustrated Dictionary of Botany, Longman Group UK Ltd, Essex and York Press, Beirut.
Tate, Ralph (1890) A Handbook of the Flora of Extratropical South Australia, , F.L.S., F.G.S., Education Department, Adelaide.