Plant name dictionary

veldkamp Veldkamp at NHN.LEIDENUNIV.NL
Thu Nov 2 12:54:27 CST 2000

Dear Taxacommers,

In view of occasional requests on the meaning of scientific plant names
some of you might be interested in this dictionary.
[note that a) it is _NOT_ on the Web, b) I do not get any royalties]

Dr. C.A. Backer, Verklarend woordenboek van wetenschappelijke plantennamen
[Explanatory dictionary of scientific plant names]. L.J. Veen, Amsterdam,
2000. xxxvi, 664 pp. ISBN 90 204 5846 9. Basic price NGL. 89,95 (c. USD
34.50). To be ordered at your local bookstore.

This is a reprint of Backer's monumental 1936 dictionary, regarded by W.T.
Stearn in his "Dictionary of plant names for gardeners" (1992) as a 'Dutch
work of unrivaled scholarship on plant names'. The original text is
preceded by a brief biography of the author by J.F. Veldkamp, National
Herbarium of the Netherlands, Leiden.
To facilitate international scientific, commercial, and legal use plants
and animals have official names, usually derived from Latin or Greek roots.
Unfortunately, many people find these incomprehensible, unpronounceable,
and therefore useless. This problem inspired the former primary-school
teacher and grand old man of Indonesian botany, Dr. C.A. Backer, to compile
during many decades an immense card index well-researched for the meaning,
derivation, and pronunciation of scientific family and generic names of the
flowering plants and ferns occurring in SE Asia and W Europe. With his
usual wry humour he compared the ever growing number of cards to the
segments of an immense 'Tapeworm'. When in 1936 there were c. 22,500 of
these 'segments' his friends and colleagues pressured him to have this
unique database published.
Few copies were bought in the ensuing years of economic crisis and war and
because of the contemporary paper shortage the stock was ordered to be
pulped. Now, nationally and internationally, the book is much sought after
as most of those sold are locked up in academic libraries. Very
exceptionally, perhaps once in 20--25 years, antiquarians or auction houses
have a copy available and it then goes at a formidable high price, NGL
1000.00 (c. USD 385.00) has been mentioned.
There are several similar dictionaries, especially in English and German,
but none has this size and erudition. Also of note are the author's
occasional witty to sarcastic circumscriptions. Many plants have been named
after discoverers, horticulturists, politicians, and mythological
characters - for about 2,700 of these Backer provides brief biographies
with fascinating anecdotes, thereby giving this encyclopaedia an additional
attraction. For everyone interested in the names of plants, either as a
hobby or as a profession, 'Backer' is a gold mine and absolutely
indispensable. It is nearly worth learning Dutch for.

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