• Ultraviolet Photography
  •  

Hyphens in Plant Common Names: Question for Botanist Birna

10 replies to this topic

#1 Andrea B.

    Desert Dancer

  • Owner-Administrator
  • 6,602 posts
  • Location: USA

Posted 23 September 2018 - 18:40

Birna, the use of the hyphen in English common names is driving me crazy because there seems to be no rule for it whatsoever. For example: a Phacelia can be called "Scorpion-weed" (hypenated) or "Scorpionweed" (concatenation) or "Scorpion Weed" (two words).

What is the prevailing useage in Euro flora, please?
In German I would expect a concatenation like "Scorpionweed". But elsewhere?

I am inclined to entirely drop hyphenation for most English common names. But then one has to decide whether to concatenate or not. That can lead to some awkward looking English words.

For example certain Symphyotrichum are known as "American-Aster" or "Americanaster" or "American Aster". So what does one do with the unwieldy "White-panicled American-Aster" ?????

Whitepanicled Americanaster is awful.
White Panicled American Aster is 4 words.

Help!
Andrea G. Blum
Often found hanging out with flowers & bees.

#2 nfoto

    Fierce Bear of the North

  • Owner-Administrator
  • 2,067 posts
  • Location: Sørumsand, Norway

Posted 23 September 2018 - 20:15

Blame the language used :D and the lack of support for on-the-fly extension and concatenation of words.

Flora Europaea only uses scientific names. Various local English-based floras in my possession provide the similar variation in hyphenation usage as you describe.

The last example ought to be White-panicled American Aster. One might probably be allowed to drop the 'American' part as the genus by definition is North American.

Sticking to scientific names eschews the ambiguity of these common names which after all are not so common in their usage.
Bjørn Birna Rørslett, Ph.D.
Just call me Birna

#3 Dmitry

    Dmitry K.

  • Members(+)
  • 166 posts

Posted 23 September 2018 - 21:31

This remind me forget-me-nots which are translated to незабудка :rolleyes:

#4 DaveO

    Aussie Bunyip

  • Members(+)
  • 612 posts
  • Location: Maldon, Victoria, Australia

Posted 24 September 2018 - 00:03

We are with you completely Birna about only using scientific names. The position here in the Land of Oz is even crazier as plant common names vary from State to State as Herbaria are State concerns and some States are slack in following international changes even in scientific names!

Cheers,

Dave

#5 Andy Perrin

    Member

  • Members(+)
  • 1,594 posts
  • Location: United States

Posted 24 September 2018 - 02:19

Quote

Whitepanicled Americanaster is awful.

That is a DISaster!

#6 UlfW

    Ulf W

  • Members
  • 338 posts
  • Location: Sweden, Malmö

Posted 24 September 2018 - 06:53

For me the hyphenated version seams best in English.
Concatenation in Englih makes names look very strange and difficult to read and the two word-format can sometimes be confusing.
Is the Scorpion Weed a place where you keep your scorpions?

Concatenation is normal in Swedish but feel wrong for me in English.
___
I remember a small book I had many years ago written in Swedish about Solid State Physics where two concatenated long words occupied several rows:

Majoritetsladdningsbärarkoncetrationerna

was compared with

Minoritetsladdningsbärarkoncetrationerna

And those comparisons were repeated at least two times.
Normally it is not that bad.

Edited by UlfW, 24 September 2018 - 06:54.

Ulf Wilhelmson
Curious and trying to see the invisible.

#7 Andrea B.

    Desert Dancer

  • Owner-Administrator
  • 6,602 posts
  • Location: USA

Posted 24 September 2018 - 15:34

Thanks everyone for the comments!

At to Birna's point, I totally agree that using the scientific Genus species designation is the correct thing to do for proper identification and when writing about a flower or plant. However, when talking about wildflowers to people who are not as knowledgeable, using the common name is often helpful because that's what they are familiar with. Also there is a lot of folk lore attached to floral common names which is interesting and insightful. For example: Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata) is known for its delicious chocolate scent. Or Fleabane (some Erigeron species) which does have insect repellant properties.

Ulf's comment about the awkwardness of concatenations in some languages is a point well made. English does not do well with concatenations which are overly long. I will try to consult the Flora of North America and the Jepson Manual for their common names and go with a recognized authority for the format of common names.

BTW, Scorpion Weed is so labeled because its floral spike curls up like a scorpion's tail. The flower spike is called a 'scorpoid cyme' if you want to get technical. In English a noun like 'scorpion' is often used as an adjective.
REF: http://swbiodiversit....php?taxon=1949
I note in passing that there is an egregious example of concatenation -- cleftleaf wildheliotrope :wacko: -- on the reference page just given for Phacelia crenulata, one of the Scorpion Weeds.

This all happened because I am trying to make up a flower list for Santa Fe County in the state of New Mexico. I pulled the basic data from the United States Department of Agriculture Plants Database. Now I am adding bits of information to the list (such as common names for the botanical Family or Genus) in order to familiarize myself with the plants in this area I hope to explore.
Andrea G. Blum
Often found hanging out with flowers & bees.

#8 UlfW

    Ulf W

  • Members
  • 338 posts
  • Location: Sweden, Malmö

Posted 25 September 2018 - 04:17

Scientific Genus species designation is the only really accurate way for identification.
Sometimes the common names in different languages can be confusing as translations point to other species.

Potentilla Erecta (Tormentil) is called Blodrot in Swedish.
Directly translated to English that common name would be Bloodroot.
But Bloodroot is Sanguinaria canadensis instead.


Yes I have been infected with the botanical germ now.
It is fun to learn more in a completely new field. :) :) :)



Ulf Wilhelmson
Curious and trying to see the invisible.

#9 Bill De Jager

    Member

  • Members
  • 176 posts
  • Location: Northern California, USA

Posted 25 September 2018 - 04:37

Andrea, here are my thoughts.

NAMING AND DISTINGUISHING GENERA

My understanding is that (in American English) hyphenation of simple plant names is primarily used when the common name of a plant is actually a misapplication of the name of another plant. (I'll get to compound adjectives a bit later.)

For example, Pseudotsuga menziesii is supposed to have a common name of Douglas-fir, to indicate that it's not a true fir (which would be Abies). However, this fine point is typically lost to non-botanists, so it ends up being Douglas fir in much common usage. Another example is the so-called evening-primrose (Oenothera) (neither rose nor primrose), where the hyphen is usually dropped. Sometimes even the adjective is dropped. This is misleading at best, and can lead for instance to bizarre claims of "primroses" (which would be Primula) growing in the desert.

This behavior arguably makes using this sort of hyphenation not worth it. If your audience is laypeople they'll forget about the hyphen later, and in the meantime they won't know or care about the distinction being made. If it's a technical audience, use the scientific name. A few in-between people will notice and care, but even they may forget the inconspicuous hyphen after a bit. I'm certainly very guilty there despite knowing better for several decades.

If one still wants to persist with this kind of hyphenation there are additional considerations. Logically, the common name aster ought to apply only to plants in the genus Aster, and similar genera under the same common name should get the hyphen. However, we have a couple hundred years of the "American-asters" being called just plain "asters" prior to their being reclassified. That's their common name here. To what extent are we going to go around inserting hyphens in a number of long-established common plant names just because of recent genetic (or other) research?

To put a finer point on it, there is a qualitative difference between some plants being placed into a separate but very close genus due to technical analyses (as in Symphyotrichum), vs. the more traditional behavior of laypersons applying a name to a plant that may seem reminiscent of the original but which is perhaps only distantly related. For an example of the latter, think of "rock-roses" (Cissus) vs. true roses in the genus Rosa. In the latter case the hyphen at least makes sense as a marker of 'naming by analogy rather than relationship', but in the former case there is really no need for the common name to indicate such a thing.

COMPOUND ADJECTIVES

This is a subject that seems to be causing immense confusion among native English speakers in the U.S. The hyphen is a tool, which when properly used adds value. The rules for using a hyphen in the U.S. are very pragmatic and essentially boil down to using it selectively to avoid unwanted ambiguity.

The most prominent correct use of hyphens is to make compound adjectives hang together and clear in meaning. A good example from grammar-monster.com is "heavy metal detector" vs. "heavy-metal detector". The former is a metal detector that's heavy and the latter is a detector of heavy metals.

The presence of a hyphen between two adjectives determines the meaning, and classically in English, the absence of a hyphen between two adjectives also determines the meaning. This convention allows the reader to smoothly proceed forward without having to waste time sussing out from context what the author really meant when they could have stated it clearly at the onset. It's a courtesy to the reader, now seemingly dying out in the U.S.

View Postnfoto, on 23 September 2018 - 20:15, said:

The last example ought to be White-panicled American Aster. One might probably be allowed to drop the 'American' part as the genus by definition is North American.

Birna's use of the hyphen is correct. White modifies the panicle, not the aster, and the hyphen makes this unambiguous. I concur with the rest.

CONCATENATION

There's a tendency in English for adjectives frequently used together with a given noun to eventually concatenate with that noun. This can even happen with compound adjectives. Back yard (adjective with noun) became backyard through endless use as a compound adjective that already had become concatenated in that role. Meanwhile, front yard and side yard are unchanged as adjective-noun pairs due to the rarity of their use as compound modifiers.

Primrose is an example of concatenation of a plant name in English. Its origin is in the Medieval Latin prima rosa or "first rose". However, concatenation is not typical of plant names in English, so I wouldn't use it in a given case unless that usage is supported by good sources or common knowledge. A good example would be blackberry.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Is non-concatenatability a word? Does it need a hyphen? Most importantly, does it have a UV signature? B)

Bill

Edited by Bill De Jager, 25 September 2018 - 04:42.


#10 Andrea B.

    Desert Dancer

  • Owner-Administrator
  • 6,602 posts
  • Location: USA

Posted 25 September 2018 - 16:09

Hi Bill and thanks for stopping by! Haven't seen you around for awhile. Hope all is going well.

I enjoyed your post. All the points were well-made. (Oh my. There's that hyphen which I automatically supplied. But is it correct? <laughing> I don't really know.) Some of us grew up in the age when grammar was relentlessly drilled into us by our prim but loving 'old maid' school teachers who were willing to let creative writing sit on the back burner. So, for example, I still worry about when to use 'that' and when to use 'which' as a relative pronoun and get myself caught up in such things as questioning hyphenation usage. (BTW, I'm sure much of my grammar knowledge has faded over the years.)

Another confusing point of English grammar that tends to annoy the purist is the use of a noun as an adjective. The prime example I am attempting to sort right now is seen in floral common names involving the word 'leaf'.
Example:
  • Narrow Leaf Coneflower
  • Narrow-leaf Coneflower
  • Narrowleaf Coneflower
  • Narrow-leaved Coneflower
This is an interesting example. The hyphen should be used because it is the narrowness of the plant's leaves which we are trying to describe rather than the narrowness of the flower. But given that it is the Cornflower* plant which bears these narrow leaves, then the correct adjective would be 'Narrow-leaved', at least I think that is the proper form. But me? I just want to write 'Narrowleaf' and be done with it. :D

Birna has more than once pointed out to me that European flora have quite sensibly standardized plant common names and asked why that isn't done over here. It's probably that our North American Flora is so huge that nobody has ever wanted to tackle this standardization.** The Flora of North America is 28 volumes. Whew! I'm thankful that they have managed to get 18 or so of those volumes online. Quite an effort. If a massive standardization effort ever were to occur, just think about the work required to correct all the Wikipedia entries. And all the Jepson entries. And more.


* And what about the concatenation 'Coneflower'? Cone Flower. Coned Flower. Conic Flower. Oh well, nevermind.

**Some of our flowers do not even have common names yet.
Andrea G. Blum
Often found hanging out with flowers & bees.

#11 Bill De Jager

    Member

  • Members
  • 176 posts
  • Location: Northern California, USA

Posted 29 September 2018 - 23:19

View PostAndrea B., on 25 September 2018 - 16:09, said:

Hi Bill and thanks for stopping by! Haven't seen you around for awhile. Hope all is going well.

I enjoyed your post. All the points were well-made. (Oh my. There's that hyphen which I automatically supplied. But is it correct? <laughing> I don't really know.) Some of us grew up in the age when grammar was relentlessly drilled into us by our prim but loving 'old maid' school teachers who were willing to let creative writing sit on the back burner. So, for example, I still worry about when to use 'that' and when to use 'which' as a relative pronoun and get myself caught up in such things as questioning hyphenation usage. (BTW, I'm sure much of my grammar knowledge has faded over the years.)

Another confusing point of English grammar that tends to annoy the purist is the use of a noun as an adjective. The prime example I am attempting to sort right now is seen in floral common names involving the word 'leaf'.
Example:
  • Narrow Leaf Coneflower
  • Narrow-leaf Coneflower
  • Narrowleaf Coneflower
  • Narrow-leaved Coneflower
This is an interesting example. The hyphen should be used because it is the narrowness of the plant's leaves which we are trying to describe rather than the narrowness of the flower. But given that it is the Cornflower* plant which bears these narrow leaves, then the correct adjective would be 'Narrow-leaved', at least I think that is the proper form. But me? I just want to write 'Narrowleaf' and be done with it. :D


Glad you found my post helpful, Andrea. I'm not an authority on the many aspects of English grammar, but hyphens and incorrect concatenation of verbs are things that have caught my attention over the years since I was doing a lot of writing both on and off the job before I retired just this week.

I think plant names tend to use the [oh, I don't know the right words for this!] plain (i.e. leaf) rather than modified (i.e. leaved) forms as adjectives. I have no idea if this is technically correct or not.