Ranunculus alismaefolius or alismifolius ?

Frederick J. Peabody fpeabody at SUNFLOWR.USD.EDU
Sat Apr 12 13:40:31 CDT 1997


The International Code of Botanical Nomenclature states that "A compound
word or epithet combining elements derived from two or more Greek or Latin
words should be formed, as far as practicable, in accordance with
classical usage." (Recommendation 73G)

When Linnaeus converted some phrase names into epithets it appeared to
some that he had simply appended a suffix (i.e. the second element to be
combined) to a genitive singular form (i.e. the first element to be
combined).  This has led some to use the genitive singluar of the first
declension (-ae, for feminine nouns) as the combining form of compounds,
such as in our example: "alismaefolius" or "leaves of an Alisma."  This is
incorrect.  The literal translation of the combining form should be
"Alisma-leaved"  with the entire combination treated as a single word in
an adjectival form.

Combining forms in Greek generally attach the letter "-o-" to the stem of
the first element, if it ends in a consonant, while combining forms in
Latin generally use the letter "-i-."  To be sure, there are exceptions,
even classical ones, to the above general practices.  The stem of a word
is found by removing the ending of the genitive singular form.

It is obvious that a basic understanding of Latin and Greek are needed to
sort all of this out, not to mention the aid of a good Latin and Greek
dictionary - especially one that emphasizes scientific (botanical)
vocabulary.

The epithet "alismaefolius"  is to be treated as an orthographic error
since it presumes to use the genetive case of "alisma."  The word "alisma"
is derived from the Greek (halisma), meaning a kind of water plant.  The
stem is "alism-" to which is added the combining vowel "-o-" since the
stem ends in a consonant.  This is followed by the adjective, in our case
folius -a -um (i.e. folius, folia, or folium, depending on the gender of
the generic name).  Since "Ranunculus" is a masculine noun (Latin for a
little frog) the proper binomial would be "Ranunculus alismofolius,"
although I don't think anyone would be upset if you used "Ranunculus
alismifolius," but certainly not "Ranunculus alismaefolius."

Frederick J. Peabody
Associate Professor of Botany
University of South Dakota
414 East Clark Street
Vermillion, SD  57069  USA
fpeabody at sundance.usd.edu

On Fri, 11 Apr 1997, Adolf Ceska wrote:

> What is the correct connecting vowel in Ranunculus alism*folius?
>
> Thanks,
>
> Adolf Ceska
>
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