A study of Philippine medicinal plants is a journey into a world of confusing nomenclatures. Well, perhaps not so confusing to the serious student of botany who may actually feel comfortable traversing the landscape of Latinized scientific names, but for the occasional plant dabbler, for the weekend gardener, or for the occasional query and foray into the world of Philippine herbal plants, it is quite an unfriendly and intimidating gumbo of Latin and a dizzying variation of local names.
And the official demise of the language has not helped. Latin - decades before the turn of the millennium - has been suffering its slow death, the euthanistic hemlock finally delivered by the church edict to de-Latinize the mass services. Latin is dead, dead, dead. . . surfacing only in those occasions for literary indulgence - the occasional quote for that touch of erudition or elitism, or written with its impressible and decorative italics.
But alas, in the lexcion of the botanical world, Latin persists.
Blame Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) who brought order into botanical nomenclature with his "binomial system," a nomenclatural system that has survived and prevailed, despite the nasty fates of the classic languages.
The binomial plant name consists of a "Genus" first name with a capitalized first letter, and a "species" second name (lower case), both usually italicized. Examples: For Bayabas, Psidium guajava (Psidium - genus, guajava -species).
While the Genus-part of the name may or may not tell anything about the plant, the species-part is usually descriptive of a particular detail or characteristic, color, origin, habitat. or a person commemorated: Examples: Mimosa pudica (makahiya) - from pudicus meaning 'shy.'
Latin endings of the Genus and species names usually suggest gender: masculine ending in -us, -er, -is; feminine ending in -a, -ra; neuter in -um, -rum. In Greek, masculine ends in -is and ins; feminine in -ix and -odes. Species names suggesting a person usually ends in -ii.
The burgeoning botanical world of nurseries, cultivation and hybrids, necessitated a third nomenclatural name, the "cultivar" for 'cultivated variety,' usually in non-italics, initially capitalized, and in single quotation marks, that follows the Genus and species binomial designation.
Somestimes when phonetically pleasing and easy to the roll of the rural tongue, the Genus part of the scientific name gets adopted for a common names: examples: Gimelina (Talungud, Gmelina elliptica, rais madre de dios) and Likuala (Balabat, balatbat, Licuala spinosa).
It is not unusual for widely distributed plants to have more than 20 common names - names from different regions, provinces, tribes and dialects. Often, there are variations within the same region, province or tribe, names that probably evolve from phonetic misuse and misspellings, but surviving through repitition. Such an example is Alagasi (Leucosyke capitellata), below, with its profusion of 36 (!) common names . If I may add another one to the already lengthy list, it is probably the same as the scouring plant known as "As-is" or "is-is" in the Quezon area, a variation of the Tagalog name: "Isis ngipin." Another, Anabiong, has 37 common names!
But if one can get beyond the migraines and the exasperation, the Common Names lists provide an interesting etymological opportunity, a fascinating journey into regional colloquialism and rural patois. The plant Clitoria ternatea Linn. is called in the Tagalog area as Pukingan and Puki reyna. A close examination of the vine's flower may well suggest the mindset of the nomenclator. Some names derive from herbal effects or plant characteristics: Loko-loko (crazy in the head) , Baho-baho (foul smelling), tintatintahan (containing a color or dye).
|And, whence the names: Lamon-babae? Kantutan?|
Plant Names Explained (Botanical Terms and their Meaning)
published by Horticulture Publications (2005)
A survival book for the part of the nomenclatural travail and anguish that is Latin- or Greek-induced.
It provides an easy to read A-to-Z in Genus, species and cultivar names.