Pronunciation of Vascular Plant Genera
& Families of New England

compiled by

Ray Angelo
Associate of Harvard University Herbaria

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[Note: This work was compiled in the early 1980's and has not been edited since then.]

  Few of today's students of botany feel that they are treading on safe ground when it comes to the vocalization of scientific names for plants. This is in part due to a relative lack of references providing explicit pronunciations for most of the names in use. Partly it arises from the differing pronunciations preferred by different authorities for many names.

  An attempt is made here to offer New England botanists accepted and, insofar as possible, consistent pronunciations for all vascular plant genera and families occurring in New England. For those who are already set in their habits of pronunciation this work will be of assistance at least for uncommon genera or families. The intent is not to advance the pronunciations cited here as the "correct" ones. Rather it is to provide a systematic set of pronunciations. The primary criterion applied in determining pronunciations has been the concurrence of published authorities (English-speaking). When the authorities are divided or when an aspect of pronunciation is not delineated by any reference, consistency with established pronunciations of similar names is imposed.

  Authorities agree that botanical Latin is not pronounced in the manner of a Latin scholar. Nonetheless, there are strong affinities to classical Latin, particularly with respect to accentuation. The Greek origin of some botanical names is taken into account by some authorities when formulating pronunciation. Names based upon proper names are frequently the source of differences in published pronunciations, since many wish to preserve the sounds and accents of the native language. The native tongue of a user markedly influences the pronunciation of botanical Latin. The pronunciations presented here are decidedly English.

  Three independent, authoritative references present the full pronunciation of botanical names to. These primary sources are Merriam & Webster's New International Dictionary, A Gardener's Book of Plant Names by A. W. Smith, and Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening by Norman Taylor. Another reference, Wyman's Gardening Encyclopedia by Donald Wyman, merely adopts the pronunciations of Smith's work. More particularly it is the 2nd edition of Merriam & Webster's dictionary that has been used rather than later editions because of widespread criticism of the 3rd edition (the standards of which are presumed to carry to later editions). For example, "On pronunciation ... as in other aspects of their labors, the editors have displayed more valor than discretion. Sometimes they appear to be lacking in common sense." -- New Yorker, March 10, 1962. Generally more weight has been given to this edition of Merriam & Webster's than to the other two references on the assumption that it represents more informed opinion. Indeed, the preponderance of pronunciations adopted here coincide with those offered by this reference.

  Other sources provide only the primary primary accent and long or short voicing of the accented vowel. The two additional sources most frequently used are Gray's Manual of Botany (8th Ed.) by M. L. Fernald and The Standard Cyclopedia of American Horticulture by Liberty H. Bailey. In some instances it was necessary to consult still more references to decide upon a pronunciation. These additional sources are Paxton's Botanical Dictionary by Samuel Hereman, Manual of Cultivated Trees and Shrubs (2nd Ed.) by Alfred Rehder, and Manual of the Grasses of the United States by A. S. Hitchcok and Agnes Chase.

Key to Abbreviations Used

    a as in map

    â as in dâte

    ä as in cärt

    e as in bed

    ê as in êve

    i as in tip

    î as in bîte

    o as in cot

    ô as in bône

    oi as in soil

    oo as in boot

    õõ as in foot

    or as in port

    u as in but

    û as in mûte

M&W  -  Merriam & Webster's New International Dictionary (2nd ed.)
S    -    A Gardener's Book of Plant Names (A. W. Smith)
T    -    Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening (Norman Taylor)
F    -    Gray's Manual of Botany (8th ed.)
B    -    The Standard Cyclopedia of American Horticulture
             (Liberty H. Bailey)
P    -    Paxton's Botanical Dictionary (Samuel Hereman)
H    -    Manual of the Grasses of the united States
             (A.S. Hitchcock & Agnes Chase)
R    -    Manual of the Cultivated Trees and Shrubs
             (2nd ed., Alfred Rehder)

  A reference followed by a number in parentheses indicates that the pronunciation is the first (1), second (2), or third (3) alternative given in the reference.

  A primary reference enclosed in parentheses indicates that the pronunciation is in substantial agreement with the accepted pronunciation (agreement aside from the treatment of one vowel or consonant). Citation of non-primary references indicates agreement with the accentuation and with the voicing of the accented vowel.

  To support the accepted pronunciation of some names it was necessary to compare with genera that do not occur in New England but which are cited in the primary references (M&W, S, and T).

  When at least two of the three primary references agree upon a pronunciation, usually additional references are not cited.

  The accented syllable is indicated by upper case letters in this work.

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Updated Sept. 23, 2008