Printed botanical symbols (okay, zoological, too)

Curtis Clark jcclark at CSUPOMONA.EDU
Tue Apr 1 23:04:11 CST 2003

I'm writing on behalf of Mr. Michael Everson, a linguist and member of the
Unicode Consortium, to solicit examples of non-alphabetic symbols used in
biological works. Unicode is a computer standard for encoding alphabets and
such, with the aim of including all the writing of the world. Those of you
that use recent Microsoft and OSX products are using it already, perhaps
without realizing it.

The idea is this: let's say that I want to prepare an electronic form of a
work by Linnaeus in which he uses the symbol for "perennial" (which is also
the symbol for the planet, and god, Jupiter). I could (did, in fact) make a
font in which the letter "p" is replaced by the Jupiter symbol, so when you
print it out, it looks right. But someone else's font might use the "4"
instead (it vaguely resembles the Jupiter symbol), and anyone without the
fonts would see "p" or "4" with no indication of what was intended.

Unicode already maps Jupiter, far beyond the orbits of extended Latin,
Greek, Cyrillic, Gujarati, and even Runic, in an area of the code set aside
for miscellaneous symbols (unfortunately, no commonly available fonts yet
include it). Also included here are the rest of the planets (including
Venus: female, Mars: male, and Mercury: hermaphrodite or virgin, depending
on which organisms you study), as well as the Sun (annual). There are even
flower "dingbats" of the sort used in the California Jepson Manual to
indicate horticultural use.

Mr. Everson is proposing a shamrock symbol, which among other things is
used in some dictionaries to represent botanical usage. He is also
proposing the fleur-de-lis, and wonders if it is also used botanically. Not
proposed at this time is the biennial symbol (like annual, but with two
dots); I may get around to doing that one myself.

An important part of getting a symbol accepted in Unicode is showing its
non-decorative use in text. If any of you have examples of the fleur-de-lis
(in any context) or other botanical symbols not mentioned, I'd appreciate
it if you could send me scans (off-list, please), which I will coordinate
and pass on to Mr. Everson.

Curtis Clark        
Biological Sciences Department            Voice: +1 909 869 4062
California State Polytechnic University     FAX: +1 909 869 4078
Pomona CA 91768-4032  USA                  jcclark at

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