Nomenclature: botanical tradition?

Joseph Kirkbride jkirkbri at ASRR.ARSUSDA.GOV
Fri Feb 21 12:40:04 CST 1997

The current ICBN, i.e. the Tokyo edition of 1994, has settled the most
most contentious generic genders by fiat:

  62.1 A generic name retains the gender assigned by botanical tradition,
  irrespective of classical usage or the author's original usage.  A
  generic name without a botanical tradition retains the gender assigned
  by its author.

  Note 1. Botanical tradition usually maintains the classical gender of a
  Greek or Latin word, when this was well established.

  *Ex. 1. In accordance with botanical tradition, Adonis L., Atriplex L.,
  Diospyros L., Hemerocallis L., Orchis L., Stachys L. and Strychnos L.
  must be treated as feminine while Lotus L. and Melilotus L. must be
  treated as masculine.  Eucalyptus L'Her., which lacks a botanical
  tradition, retains the feminine gender assigned by its author.
  Although their ending suggests masculine gender, Cedrus Trew and Fagus
  L., like most other classical tree names, were traditionally treated as
  feminine and thus retain that gender; similarly, Rhamnus L. is
  feminine, despite the fact that Linnaeus assigned it masculaine gender.
  Phyteuma L. (n), Sicyos (m), and Erigeron L. (m) are other names for
  which botanical tradition has reestablished the classical gender
  despite another choice by Linnaeus.

The asterisk preceeding Example 1 is very impotant.  It "denotes a 'voted
Example' (see Preface, p. x)."  "Whereas the Editorial Committee normally
has the power to delete, modify or add Examples in order to clarify the
Code, this power does not extend to voted Examples, which the Editorial
Committee is obligated to retain, whether or not they actually exemplify
the rules."  What this means is that Example 1 above was voted on and
approved in a Nomenclature Section of an International Botanical
Congress.  It can NOT be changed or removed except by another vote in a
Nomenclature Section of another International Botanical Congress.  So,
the gender of the genera cited in Example 1 above are FIXED.

For Lotus, I am happy with this.  When Linnaeus treated Lotus in Sp. pl.,
some species were feminine and others were masculine.  The gender of
Lotus has been argued without end for 200 years.  It is now settled as

Joseph H. Kirkbride, Jr.
USDA, Agricultural Research Service
Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory
Room 304, Building 011A, BARC-West
Beltsville, Maryland 20705-2350 USA
Voice telephone: 301-504-9447
FAX: 301-504-5810
Internet: jkirkbri at

On Fri, 21 Feb 1997, Frederick J. Peabody wrote:

> My Latin dictionary lists both Lotus and Melilotus as feminine.  Both
> names appear to be based on Greek names for plants.  I would provide the
> Greek spelling, but my text editor does not support the Greek alphabet.
> As far as the I.C.B.N. is concerned, I do not have a current copy.  My old
> copy (Seattle 1969) states that the gender of the classical element that
> was used to form the name is to be adopted.  Since both Melilotus and
> Lotus have been ascribed feminine gender, both classically and
> botanically, feminine terminations should be used.  Hence we have
> Melilotus alba.  But what about Lotus corniculatus and the other epithets
> in the genus Lotus with masculine endings?  Does the current Code make
> some provision for allowing for generic-epithet gender mismatches based on
> the weight of "tradition"?
> Frederick J. Peabody
> Associate Professor of Botany
> University of South Dakota
> 414 East Clark Street
> Vermillion, SD  57069  USA
> fpeabody at
> On Thu, 20 Feb 1997, Laurie Adams wrote:
> > Dear Taxacomers,
> >
> > Can anyone out there give a lucid explanation of just what is meant in the
> > Code by 'botanical tradition' - Art 62.1 of the Tokyo Code is no help at
> > all! The problem for me came up recently when trying to ascertain the
> > correct gender of Lotus and Melilotus; in the past (e.g. 'Flora Europaea')
> > the first has been masculine and the second feminine; but now the Code
> > specifically insists they are to be treated as masculine, whereas William
> > Stearn's 'Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners" (1992) gives both as
> > feminine!
> >
> > For some years I've looked forward to the time when nomenclatural 'lawyers'
> > finally got their act together; but it seems taxonomic botany is still
> > plagued by the 'nomenclatural-tail-wagging-the-taxonomic-dog' syndrome. I
> > hasten to add that I'm a fervent believer in use of Latin/Greek
> > nomenclature/description - but when are we going to have some simple,
> > clear-cut, easily-remembered rules ALL can follow, without this appalling
> > plethora of exceptions stemming from a slavish obsession with Middle-Age
> > 'tradition'? If we must have them, it would have been useful if there was
> > produced a standard reference to gender of generic names; for instance,
> > Dick Brummitt in his 'Vascular Plant Families and Genera' could have added
> > gender to names; (perhaps in the next edition, Dick?).
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > Laurie Adams
> > Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research
> > Australian National Herbarium
> > GPO Box 1600, Canberra
> > ACT 2601, Australia
> > Ph: (06)2465123 Fax: (06)2465249
> > E-mail: l.adams at
> >

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