Usurped names

Sun Sep 25 22:15:20 CDT 2005

Dear Taxacomers,

I have been aware over the years of several common names of plants (and animals?) that have been ‘hijacked’ from species that they substituted. I had not recorded them, regarding them as mere curiosities, but I suspect that the list may be substantial and probably of broader historical or enthobotanical/zoological interest.

Two or three stick in the mind:

Nasturtium: used for Tropaeolum majus which was used as a substitute for watercress Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum (syn. Nasturtium officinale), derivation: nose-twisting.

Cannabis: ‘probably’ derived from its use as a substitute for the Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria.  Greek Kannabis from Sumerian GAN ‘mushroom top’ and further evidence (Allegro JM. 1970. The sacred mushroom and the cross. Hodder & Stoughton).

Possibly even Marmalade: from Marmelo the quince its original constituent before this was entirely substituted by oranges or other citrus fruits. But this is a substitute in a product, not a taxon.

This excludes the huge group of folk taxonomy names such as grass, moss, celandine and so on, that are phylogenetically incorrect – it is really the hijacking of the name from the original legitimate bearer, by a usurper or substitute, that I am interested in. It might include Latin names such as Hypnum that were applied almost arbitrarily by early nomenclators such as Dillenius and Linnaeus, on the basis of an uncertain source, but these should not count unless the organism had become a substitute for the original.

I would welcome further contributions, or corrections of the above samples. This is quite distinct from previous threads about nomenclatural misnomers, puns, humour and curiosities. Or if such a ‘hijack’ list already exists, I’d appreciate a reference. Thanks.


Sean Edwards, Vine Cottage, Thursley, Surrey GU8 6QF, UK
sean.r.edwards at
tel: 01252-702-890 cell: 07768-706-295

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