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  Re: [Aroid-l] Amorphophallus titanum
From: Alistair Hay <ajmhay at hotmail.com> on 2011.02.12 at 21:31:49(21947)
If only Dan Nicolson were around to answer this :)

On my *limited* knowledge, it is complicated by that fact that, although we call these "latin" names, they are really "botanical latin" which is a kind of bastardized multicultural fruit salad, and one generally cannot tell the gender of a generic name just by looking at it, unless you have specialist knowledge of the "language".

As a very very crude generalization, generic names are almost always nouns, usually feminine and tend to be from (or moulded into) greek, while species epithets are generally from latin and either nouns or adjectives.  There are many many exceptions though. Some are drawn from mediaeval latinized names themselves drawn from other languages besides greek or latin. Some are drawn from words in modern languages which may or may not have any gender themselves: e.g. the palm Licuala. What happens as a rule to the gender as words are transposed from various languages into botanical latin is a bit beyond me, I'm afraid. Dan had a paper on it in Taxon in 1994 which I don't have. 

Here's a few examples of things which I have found confusing at one time or another!

Genus names which commemorate people are nearly always feminine regardless of the gender of the person: Hence Bognera, but Hottarum is neuter because it is a portmanteau of Hotta and the neuter Arum.

Some generic names which "look" feminine are neuter - as for example Aglaonema and Cyrtosperma, mentioned before. Neuter by the way is a definite linguistic gender: it is not "neutral" in the sense of being able to take any gender ending of adjective. A neuter noun must have an adjective in neuter form: so Aglaonema commutatum. And as you have pointed out, some generic names which "look" latin masculine, like Prunus, are feminine.

Some adjectival species epithets are not latin: macrorrhizos is an example. It is greek, and both the feminine and masculine form of this adjective are spelled the same way: Hence Alocasia macrorrhizos. The neuter ending is -on, and this plant started out its nomenclatural life as Arum macrorrhizon, because Arum is neuter. When it was first transferred to Alocasia, the epithet was changed to the feminine-looking and widely used but grammatically incorrect "macrorrhiza", later corrected by Dan.

Some species epithets which look like adjectives are not: e.g. those ending in -icola are nouns (meaning  inhabitant of ....  so monticola = inhabitant of mountains; vulcanicola = inhabitant of volcanoes). So it is Alocasia (f) monticola, Calochortus (m) paludicola and Arum (n) rupicola, and the gender of the genus does not affect the ending of the epithet. 

Another case which it is easy to trip up on is when plant species are named for people. Wilbert's Typhonium is Typhonium wilbertii (the genitive singular of the latinized masculine proper noun Wilbertius). If Wilbert had been a woman, Wilbertha, it would have been the genitive singular of the latinized feminine proper noun Wilbertia, hence Typhonium wilbertiae. But if the plant had been intended to be called, adjectivally, the Wilbertian Typhonium, it would have had the neuter ending Typhonium wilbertianum because Typhonium is neuter, regardless of whether W was Wilbert or Wilbertha!



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