An introduction to physiological and systematical botany/Chapter 22

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According to the Errata, the word "lest" on page 350 should be "less".



The foregoing chapters have sufficiently explained the parts of plants, and the leading differences in their conformation, for us now to proceed to the Systematical part of our subject. In this, when properly understood and studied, there is no less exercise for the mind, no less employment for its observation and admiration, than in physiological or anatomical inquiries; nor are the organs of vegetables, when considered only as instruments of classification and discrimination, less[errata 1] conspicuous for beauty, fitness, and infinite variety of contrivance, than under any other point of view. The wisdom of an Infinite Superintending Mind is displayed throughout Nature, in whatever way we contemplate her productions.

When we take into consideration the multitude of species which compose the vegetable kingdom, even in any one country or climate, it is obvious that some arrangement, some regular mode of naming and distinguishing them, must be very desirable, and even necessary, for retaining them in our own memory, or for communicating to others any thing concerning them. Yet the antients have scarcely used any further classification of plants than the vague and superficial division into trees, shrubs and herbs, except a consideration of their places of growth, and also of their qualities. The earlier botanists among the moderns almost inevitably fell into some rude arrangement of the objects of their study, and distributed them under the heads of Grasses, Bulbous plants, Medicinal or Eatable plants, &c., in which their successors made several improvements, but it is not worth while to contemplate them.

The science of Botanical Arrangement first assumed a regular form under the auspices of Conrad Gesner and Caesalpinus, who, independent of each other, without any mutual communication, both conceived the idea of a regular classification of plants, by means of the parts of fructification alone, to which the very existence of Botany as a science is owing. The first of these has left us scattered hints only, in various letters, communicated to the world after his premature death in 1565; the latter published a system, founded on the fruit, except the primary division into trees and herbs, in a quarto volume printed at Florence in 1583. This work [[Author:Carl Linnaeus|Linnæus studied with great care, as appears from the many notes and marked passages in his own copy now before me. Hence he adopted his ideas of the supposed origin of the calyx, corolla, stamens, and pistils, from the outer bark, inner bark, wood and pith, which are now proved to be erroneous. In his own Classes Plantarum he has drawn out a regular plan of the System of Cæsalpinus, the chief principles of which are the following:

1. Whether the embryo be at the summit or base of the seed.
2. Whether the germen be superior or inferior.
3. Seeds 1, 2, 3, 4, or numerous.
4. Seed-vessels 1, 2, 3, 4, &c.

The work of Cæsalpinus, though full of information, was too deep to be of common use, and excited but little attention. A century afterwards Morison, Professor of Botany at Oxford, improved somewhat upon the ideas of the last-mentioned writer, but has been justly blamed for passing over in silence the source of his own information. Ray, the great English naturalist, formed a considerably different system upon the fruit, as did Hermann, Professor at Leyden, and the great Boerhaave, but in these last there is little originality.

Rivinus, Ruppius and Ludwig in Germany proposed to arrange plants by the various forms of their Corolla, as did Tournefort the illustrious French botanist, whose system is by far the best of the kind; and this having been more celebrated than most others, I shall give a sketch of its plan

In the first place we meet with the old but highly unphilosophical division into Herbs and Trees, each of which sections is subdivided into those with a Corolla and those without. The Trees with a Corolla are again distributed into such as have one or many petals, and those regular or irregular.—Herbs with a Corolla have that part either compound (as the Dandelion, Thistle and Daisy), or simple; the latter being either of one or many petals, and in either case regular or irregular. We come at last to the final sections, or classes, of the Tournefortian system. Herbs with a simple, monopetalous, regular corolla are either bell-shaped or funnel-shaped; those with an irregular one either anomalous or labiate.

Herbs with a simple, polypetalous, regular corolla are either cruciform, rosaceous, umbellate, pink-like or liliaceous; those with an irregular one, papilionaceous or anomalous. The subdivisions of the classes are founded on the fruit.

It is easy to perceive that a system of this kind can never provide for all the forms of corolla which may be discovered after its first contrivance; and therefore the celebrated Dr. Garden, who studied by it, assured me that when he attempted to reduce the American plants to Tournefort's classes, he found them so untractabie, that, after attempting in vain to correct or augment the system, he should probably have given up the science in despair, had not the works of Linnæus fallen in his way.

Magnol, Professor at Montpellier, and even Linnæus himself, formed schemes of arranging plants by the calyx, which nobody has followed. All preceding systems, and all controversies respecting their superior merits, were laid aside, as soon as the famous Linnæan method of classification, founded on the Stamens and Pistils, became known in the botanical world. Linnæus, after proving these organs to be the most essential of all to the very being of a plant, first conceived the fortunate idea of rendering them subservient to the purposes of methodical arrangement, taking into consideration their number, situation and proportion. How these principles are applied, we shall presently explain; but some previous observations are necessary.

Linnaeus first made a distinction between a natural and an artificial method of botanical arrangement. His predecessors probably conceived their own systems to be each most consonant with the order of Nature, as well as most commodious for use, and it was reserved for him to perceive and to explain that these were two very distinct things.

The most superficial observer must perceive something of the classification of Nature. The Grasses, Umbelliferous plants, Mosses, Sea-weeds, Ferns, Liliaceous plants, Orchises, Compound flowers, each constitute a family strikingly similar in form and qualities among themselves, and no less evidently distinct from all others. If the whole vegetable kingdom could with equal facility be distributed into tribes or classes, the study of Botany on such a plan would be no less easy than satisfactory. But as we proceed in this path, we soon find ourselves in a labyrinth. The natural orders and families of plants, so far from being connected in a regular series, approach one another by so many points, as to bewilder instead of directing us. We may seize some striking combinations and analogies; but the further we proceed, the more we become sensible that, even if we had the whole vegetable world before us at one view, our knowledge must be imperfect, and that our "genius" is certainly not "equal to the Majesty of Nature" Nevertheless Linnæus, and all true philosophical botanists since the first mention of the natural affinities of plants, have ever considered them as the most important and interesting branch, or rather the fundamental part, of systematical botany. Without them the science is truly a study of words, contributing nothing to enlarge, little worthy to exercise, a rational mind. Linnæus therefore suggests a scheme which he modestly calls Fragments of a Natural Method, which formed the subject of his occasional contemplation; but he daily and hourly studied the principles of natural affinities among plants, conscious that no true knowledge of their distinctions, any more than of their qualities, could be obtained without; of which important truth he was not only the earliest, but ever the most strenuous assertor.

In the mean while, however, Linnæus, well aware that a natural classification was scarcely ever to be completely discovered, and that if discovered it would probably be too difficult for common use, contrived an artificial system, by which plants might conveniently be arranged, like words in a dictionary, so as to be most readily found. If all the words of a language could be disposed according to their abstract derivations, or grammatical affinities, such a performance might be very instructive to a philosopher, but would prove of little service to a young scholar; nor has it ever been mentioned as any objection to the use of a dictionary, that words of very different meanings, if formed of nearly the same letters, often stand together. The Method of Linnæus therefore is just such a dictionary in Botany, while his Philosophia Botanica is the grammar, and his other works contain the history, and even the poetry, of the science.

But before we give a detail of his artificial system, we must first see how this great man fixed the fundamental principles of botanical science. Nor are these principles confined to botany, though they originated in that study. The Linnæan style of discriminating plants, has been extended by himself and others to animals and even fossils; and his admirable principles of nomenclature are applied with great advantage even to chemistry itself, now become so vast and accurate a science. Independently of all general methods of classification, whether natural or artificial, plants, as well as animals, are distinguished into Genera[1], Species, and Varieties.

By Species are understood so many individuals, or, among the generality of animals, so many pairs, as are presumed to have been formed at the creation, and have been perpetuated ever since; for though some animals appear to have been exterminated, we have no reason to suspect any new species has been produced; neither have we any cause to suppose any species of plant has been lost, nor any new one permanently established, since their first formation, notwithstanding the speculations of some philosophers. We frequently indeed see new Varieties, by which word is understood a variation in an established species; but such are imperfectly, or for a limited time, if at all, perpetuated in the offspring.

A Genus comprehends one or more species, so essentially different in formation, nature, and often many adventitious qualities, from other plants, as to constitute a distinct family or kind, no less permanent, and founded in the immutable laws of the creation, than the different species of such a genus. Thus in the animal kingdom, a horse, ass and zebra form three species of a very distinct genus, marked, not only by its general habit or aspect, its uses and qualities, but also by essential characters in its teeth, hoofs, and internal constitution. The lion, tiger, leopard, panther, lynx, cat, &c., also compose another sufficiently obvious and natural genus, and the numerous herd of monkeys, apes and baboons a third. The elephant is, as far as we know, a solitary species of a most distinct and striking genus.

So among vegetables, the various species of rose compose a beautiful genus, known to every one who ever looked at a plant, merely by a certain combination of ideas, but essentially distinguished, as we shall hereafter find, by clear and decisive characters. The species of Iris form also a numerous genus, and the Willows another; while the curious Epimedium alpinum, Engl. Bot. t. 438, is too singular and distinct to be associated with any plant besides, and constitutes a genus by itself, as well as the Adoxa, t. 453, and Linnæa, t. 433.

The first great and successful attempt to define the genera of plants was made by Tournefort, and in this his transcendent merit will ever be conspicuous, though his system of arrangement should be entirely forgotten. Not that he has excelled in verbal definitions, nor built all his genera on sure foundations; but his figures, and his enumerations of species under each genus, show the clearness of his conceptions, and rank him as the father of this branch of botany.

Linnæus first insisted on generic characters being exclusively taken from the 7 parts of fructification, and he demonstrated these to be sufficient for all the plants that can be discovered. He also laid it down as a maxim, that all genera are as much founded in nature as the species which compose them; and hence follows one of the most just and valuable of all his principles, that a genus should furnish a character, not a character form a genus; or, in other words, that a certain coincidence of structure, habit, and perhaps qualities, among a number of plants, should strike the judgment of a botanist, before he fixes on one or more technical characters, by which to stamp and define such plants as one natural genus. Thus the Hemerocallis cærulea, Andr. Repos. t. 6, and alba, t. 194, though hitherto referred by all botanists to that genus, are so very different from the other species in habit, that a discriminative character might with confidence be expected in some part or other of their fructification, and such a character is accordingly found in the winged seeds. Yet in the natural genera of Arenaria and Spergula, winged or bordered seeds are so far from indicating a distinct genus, that it is doubtful whether they are sufficient to constitute even a specific character. See Engl. Bot. t. 958, 1535 and 1536. So Blandfordia, Exot. Bot. t. 4, is well distinguished from Aletris, with which some botanists have confounded it, by its hairy seeds; but the same circumstance will not justify us in separating a few species from Convolvulus, which are attached to that genus by stronger ties of another kind.

Some genera are obvious and indubitable both in habit and character, as Quercus, Rosa, Euphorbia, Begonia, Exot. Bot. t. 101, and Sarracenia, t. 53; others are obvious, but their character extremely difficult to define, as Valeriana. The greatest difficulty lies in distinguishing genera that belong to such very natural orders as the Grasses and Umbelliferous plants; and the ablest botanists differ about the best guides in these two particular cases. Yet other orders, equally natural, sometimes afford very excellent generic differences, as that to which Rosa, Rubus, Fragaria, &c., belong; and even in the Papilionaceous plants with ten distinct stamens, a tribe hitherto judged inextricable, a regular examination on scientific principles has led to the discovery of very natural well-defined genera. See Annals of Botany, v. 1. 501. I have in a preceding chapter hinted that the umbelliferous plants seem to me very capable of being well discriminated by their seeds, and other botanists have held the same opinion.

But though I feel convinced, as far as my experience goes, that genera are really founded in nature, I am far from asserting that Linnæus, or any other writer, has succeeded in fixing all their just limits. This deep and important branch of natural science requires the union of various talents. Many persons who can perceive a genus cannot define it; nor do acuteness of perception, solidity of judgment, and perspicuity of expression, always meet in the same person. Those who excel in this department are named by Linnæus, Phil. Bot. sect. 152, theoretical botanists; those who study only species and varieties, practical ones.

In methodical arrangement, whether natural or artificial, every thing must give way to generic distinctions. A natural system which should separate the species of a good genus, would by that very test alone, prove entirely worthless; and if such a defect be sometimes unavoidable in an artificial one, contrivances must be adopted to remedy it, of which Linnæus has set us the example, as will hereafter be explained.

Generic characters are reckoned by Linnæus of three kinds, the factitious, the essential, and the natural, all founded on the fructification alone, and not on the inflorescence, nor any other part.

The first of these serves only to discriminate genera that happen to come together in the same artificial order or section; the second to distinguish a particular genus, by one striking mark, from all of the same natural order, and consequently from all other plants; and the third comprehends every possible mark common to all the species of one genus.

The factitious character can never stand alone, but may sometimes, commodiously enough, be added to more essential distinctions, as the insertion of the petals in Agrimonia, Engl. Bot. t. 1335, indicating the natural order to which the plant belongs, which character, though essential to that order, here becomes factitious.

Linnæus very much altered his notions of the essential character after he had published his Philosophia Botanica, whence the above definitions are taken. Instead of confining it to one mark or idea, he, in his Systema Vegetabilium, makes it comprehend all the distinctions requisite to discriminate each genus from every other in the system, only avoiding a repetition at every step of the characters of the artificial class and order, which stand at the top of each page, and are not always essential to the character of the genus. This is the kind of generic character now universally adopted, and indeed the only one in common use. The learned Jussieu has given it the sanction of his approbation and adoption, as far as its plan is concerned, throughout his immortal work, subjoining in a different type such characters and remarks as belong to the habit, or refer to other circumstances. For my own part I profess to retain, not only the plan, but the very words of Linnæus, unless I find them erroneous, copying nothing without examination, but altering with a very sparing hand, and leaving much for future examination. I cannot blame my predecessors for implicitly copying the Linnæan characters, nor should I have been the first among English writers to set a contrary example, had I not fortunately been furnished with peculiar materials for the purpose.

The beauty and perfection of these essential generic characters consist in perspicuity, and a clear concise style of contrasting them with each other. All feebleness, all superfluity, should be avoided by those who are competent to the purpose, and those who are not should decline the task. Comparative words, as long or short, without any scale of comparison, are among the grossest, though most common, faults in such compositions.

The natural character seems to have been, at one time, what Linnæus most esteemed. It is what he has used throughout his Genera Plantarum, a work now superseded by the essential characters in his Systema Vegetabilium, and therefore in some measure laid aside. The disadvantages of the natural character are, that it does not particularly express, nor direct the mind to, the most important marks, and that it can accord only with such species of the genus as are known to the author, being therefore necessarily imperfect. This kind of character is, however, admirable for the illustration of any difficult natural order. Mr. Gawler's elucidations of the Ensatæ, Sword-leaved plants, Annals of Botany, v. 1, 219, and Curt. Mag. afford excellent specimens of it, serving as a store of facts and observations for following systematical writers.

Specific characters should be constructed on similar principles to the generic ones, as far as regards certainty, clearness and conciseness. The genus being first well defined, we are to seek for characters, not mentioned among the generic marks, for distinguishing the species. A specific difference for a solitary species of any genus, is therefore an absurdity. Linnæus at first intended his specific definitions should be used as names; but the invention of trivial names happily set aside this inconvenient scheme. On this account however he limited each to twelve words, a rule to which all philosophical naturalists have adhered, except in cases of great necessity. Nor is the admission of one or two words beyond the allotted number reprehensible, provided the whole sentence be so neatly and perspicuously constructed, that the mind may comprehend it, and compare it with others, at one view; but this can hardly be done vhen the words much exceed twelve. This rule, of course, can be strictly applied to Latin definitions only, though it should be kept in view in any language, as far as the genius of that language will allow. Linnæus says, "Genuine specific distinctions constitute the perfection of natural science;" which is strongly confirmed by the great inferiority of most botanists, in this department, to that great man, and especially by the tedious feebleness and insufficiency displayed among those who court celebrity by despising his principles.

In constructing generic and specific characters, the arrangement of the different parts on which they are founded is to be considered. Such as are most important in the natural order, or genus, are to stand first, and the subordinate, or more peculiar marks of the object before us, ought to close the sentence. On the contrary, in drawing up natural characters of a genus, as well as full descriptions of particular plants, it is proper to take, in the former instance, the calyx, corolla, stamens, pistils, seed-vessel, seed and receptacle, and in the latter, the root, stem, leaves, appendages, flower and fruit, in the order in which they naturally occur.

Nomenclature is no less essential a branch of methodical science than characteristic definitions; for, unless some fixed laws, or, in other words, good sense and perspicuity, be attended to in this department, great confusion and uncertainty must ensue.

The vague names of natural objects handed down to us, in various languages, from all antiquity, could have no uniformity of derivation or plan in any of those languages. Their different origins may be imagined, but cannot be traced. Many of these, furnished by the Greek or Latin, are retained as generic names in scientific botany, though neither their precise meaning, nor even the plants to which they originally belonged, can always be determined, as Rosa, Ficus, Piper, &c. It is sufficient that those to which they are now, by common consent, applied, should be defined and fixed. Botanists of the Linnæan school, however, admit no such generic names from any other language than the Greek or Latin, all others being esteemed barbarous. Without this rule we should be overwhelmed, not only with a torrent of uncouth and unmanageable words, but we should be puzzled where to fix our choice, as the same plant may have fifty different original denominations in different parts of the world, and we might happen to choose one by which it is least known. Thus the celebrated Indian plant now proved beyond all doubt to be the Cyamus of Theophrastus[2], having been erroneously reckoned by Linnæus a Nymphæa, received from Gærtner, one of the first who well distinguished it as a genus, the Ceylon name of Nelumbo; which being contrary to all rules of science, literature or taste for a generic name, has by others been made into bad Latin as Nelumbium. But the universal Hindu name of the plant is Tamarà, which, independent of barbarism, ought to have been preferred to the very confined one of Nelumbo. In like manner the Bamboo, Arundo Bambos of Linnæus, proving a distinct genus, has received the appellation of Bambusa, though Jussieu had already given it that of Nastus from Dioscorides[3]. Perhaps the barbarous name of some very local plants, when they cannot possibly have been known previously by any other, and when that name is harmonious and easily reconcileable to the Latin tongue, may be admitted, as that of the Japan shrub Aucuba; but such a word as Ginkgo is intolerable. The Roman writers, as Cæsar, in describing foreign countries, have occasionally latinized some words or names that fell in their way, which may possibly excuse our making Ailanthus of Aylanto, or Pandanus of Pandang. Still I can only barely tolerate such names out of deference to the botanical merits, not the learning, of their contrivers; and I highly honour the zeal and correctness of Mr. Salisbury, who, in defiance of all undue authority, has ever opposed them, naming Aucuba, on account of its singular base or receptacle, Eubasis. I know not how Pandanus escaped his reforming hand, especially as the plant has already a good characteristic Greek name in the classical Forster, Athrodactylis.

Excellent Greek or Latin names are such as indicate some striking peculiarity in the genus: as Glycyrrhiza, a sweet root, for the Liquorice; Amaranthus, without decay, for an everlasting flower; Helianthus, a sunflower; Lithospermum, a stony seed; Eriocalia[4], a flower with a singularly woolly base or cup; Origanum, an ornamental mountain plant; Hemerocallis, a beauty of a day; Arenaria, a plant that inhabits sandy places; and Gypsophila, one that loves a chalky soil. Such as mark the botanical character of the genus, when they can be obtained for a nondescript plant, are peculiarly desirable: as Ceratopetalum, from the branched hornlike petals; Lasiopetalum, from the very singularly woolly corolla; Calceolaria, from the shoe-like figure of the same part; Conchium, from the exact resemblance of its fruit to a bivalve shell.

In all ages it has been customary to dedicate certain plants to the honour of distinguished persons. Thus Euphorbia commemorates the physician of Juba a Moorish prince, and Gentiana immortalizes a king of Illyria. The scientific botanists of modern times have adopted the same mode of preserving the memory of benefactors to their science; and though the honour may have been sometimes extended too far, that is no argument for its total abrogation. Some uncouth names thus unavoidably deform our botanical books; but this is often effaced by the merits of their owners, and it is allowable to model them into grace as much as possible. Thus the elegant Tournefort made Gundelia from Gundelscheimer; which induced me to choose Goodenia for my much honoured and valued friend Dr. Goodenough, though it has, when too late, been suggested that Goodenovia might have been preferable. Some difficulty has arisen respecting French botanists on account of the additional names by which their grandeur, or at least their vanity, was displayed during the existence of the monarchy. Hence Pittonia was applied to the plant consecrated to Pitton de Tournefort; but Linnæus preferred the name by which alone he was known out of his own country or in learned language, and called the same genus Tournefortia. Thus we have a Fontainesia and a Louichea, after che excellent Louiche Desfontaines; but the latter proving a doubtful genus, or, if a good one, being previously named Pteranthus, the former is established. We have even in England, by a strange oversight, both Stuartia and Butea after the famous Earl of Bute; but the former being long ago settled by Linnæus, the latter, since given by Kœnig, is totally inadmissible on any pretence whatever, and the genus which bears it must have a new appellation. In like manner my own Humea, Exot. Bot. t. 1, has been called in France Calomeria after the present Emperor, by the help of a pun, though there has long been another genus Bonapartea, which last can possibly be admitted only in honour of the Empress, and not of her consort, who has no botanical pretensions. Our own beloved sovereign could derive no glory from the Georgia[5] of Ehrhart; but the Strelitzia of Aiton stands on the sure basis of botanical knowledge and zeal, to which I can bear ample and very disinterested testimony.

Linnæus, in his entertaining book Critica Botanica, p. 79 has in several instances drawn a fanciful analogy between botanists and their appropriate plants, thus—

Bauhinia, after the two distinguished brothers John and Caspar Bauhin, has a two-lobed or twin leaf.

Scheuchzeria, a grassy alpine plant, commemorates the two Scheuchzers, one of whom excelled in the knowledge of alpine productions, the other in that of grasses. Dorstenia, with its obsolete flowers, devoid of all beauty, alludes to the antiquated and uncouth book of Dorstenius.

Hernandia, an American plant, the most beautiful of all trees in its foliage, but furnished with trifling blossoms, bears the name of a botanist highly favoured by fortune, and allowed an ample salary for the purpose of investigating the natural history of the Western world, but whose labours have not answered the expense. On the contrary

Magnolia with its noble leaves and flowers, and

Dillenia with its beautiful blossoms and fruit, serve to immortalize two of the most meritorious among botanists.

Linnæa, "a depressed, abject Lapland plant, long overlooked, flowering at an early age, was named by Gronovius after its prototype Linnæus."

In pursuance of the same idea Dicksonia, a beautiful and curious fern, is well devoted to our great cryptogamist; Knappia, a small and singular grass, to an author celebrated for his minute and curious drawings of that tribe; Sprengelia, to one distinguished for illustrating the impregnation of plants, which the remarkable form and union of its anthers serve to indicate; while Smithia sensitiva, named by Mr. Dryander[6] in the Hortus Kewensis of our mutual friend Aiton, could at that time be merited only by an original treatise on the Irritability of Plants[7], to which the specific name happily alludes.

The generic name being fixed, the specific one is next to be considered. With respect to this, Rivinus has the merit of originality, having been the first to contrive naming each plant in two words. But his names were meant for specific definitions, for which they are totally inadequate. Linnæus, in constructing his more accurate and full specific characters, intended the latter should serve as names, and therefore called them nomina specifica. When he, most fortunately for the science and for the popularity of his whole System of Nature, invented the present simple specific names, he called them nomina trivialia, trivial, or for common use; but that term is now superfluous.

Specific names should be formed on similar principles to the generic ones; but some exceptions are allowed, not only without inconvenience, but with great advantage. Such as express the essential specific character are unexceptionable, as Banksia serrata, integrifolia, dentata, &c.; but perhaps those which express something equally certain, but not comprehended in that character, are still more useful, as conveying additional information, like Ixora alba and coccinea, Scleranthus annum and perennis, Aletris fragrans, Saxifraga cernua, &c.; for which reason it is often useful that vernacular names should not be mere translations of the Latin ones. Comparative appellations are very good, as Banksia ericifolia, Andromeda salicifolia[8], Saxifraga bryoides, Milium cimicinum, Elymus Hystrix, Pedicularis Sceptrum. Names which express the local situations of different species are excellent, such as Melampyrum arvense, pratense, nemorosum and sylvaticum, Carex arenaria, uliginosa and sylvatica, as well as aquatica, maritima, rupestris, alpina, nivalis, used for many plants. But names derived from particular countries or districts are liable to much exception, few plants being sufficiently local to justify their use. Thus Ligusticum cornubiense is found, not only in Cornwall, but in Portugal, Italy and Greece; Schwenkia americana grows in Guinea as well as in South America. Such therefore, though suffered to remain on the authority of Linnæus, will seldom or never be imitated by any judicious writer, unless Trollius europæus and asiaticus may justify our naming the third species of that genus, lately brought from America, americanus. The use of a plant is often commodiously expressed in its specific name, as Brassica oleracea, Papaver somniferum, Inocarpus edulis; so is likewise its time of flowering, as Primula veris, Leucojum vernum, æstivum and autumnale, and Helleborus hyemalis.

When a plant has been erroneously made into a new genus, the name so applied to it may be retained for a specific appellation, as Lathræa Phelypæa, and Bartsia Gymnandra; which may also be practised when a plant has been celebrated, either in botanical, medical, or any other history, by a particular name, as Origanum Dictamnus, Artemisia Dracunculus, Laurus Cinnamomum, Selinum Carvifolia, Carica Papaya. In either case the specific name stands as a substantive,, retaining its own gender and termination, and must begin with a capital letter; which last circumstance should be observed if a species be called after any botanist that has more particularly illustrated it, as Cortusa Matthioli and C. Gmelini, Duranta Plumierii, and Mutisii. The latter genus suggests an improvement in such kind of names. The genitive case is rightly used for the person who founded the genus, D. Plumierii; D. Mutisiana might serve to commemorate the finder of a species, while D. Ellisia implies the plant which bears it to have been once called Ellisia.

There is another sort of specific names in the genitive case, which are to me absolutely intolerable, though contrived by Linnæus in his latter days. These are of a comparative kind, as Lobelia Columneæ, meaning Columneæ formis. We may allow a few such, already established, to remain, but no judicious author will imitate them.

Botanists occasionally adapt a specific name to some historical fact belonging to the plant or to the person whose name it bears, as Linnæa borealis from the great botanist of the north; Murræa exotica after one of his favourite pupils, a foreigner; Browallia demissa and elata, from a botanist of humble origin and character, who afterwards became a lofty bishop, and in whose work upon water I find the following quotation from Seneca in the hand-writing of Linnæus: "Many might attain wisdom, if they did not suppose they had already reached it." In like manner Buffonia tenuifolia is well known to be a satire on the slender botanical pretensions of the great French zoologist, as the Hillia parasitica of Jacquin, though perhaps not meant, is an equally just one upon our pompous Sir John Hill. I mean not to approve of such satires. They stain the purity of our lovely science. If a botanist does not deserve commemoration, let him sink peaceably into oblivion. It savours of malignity to make his crown a crown of thorns, and if the application be unjust, it is truly diabolical.

Before I conclude the subject of nomenclature, I beg leave to offer a few reflections on changes of established names. It is generally agreed among mankind that names of countries, places, or things, sanctioned by general use, should be sacred; and the study of natural history is, from the multitude of objects with which it is conversant, necessarily so encumbered with names, that students require every possible assistance to facilitate the attainment of those names, and have a just right to complain of every needless impediment. The grateful Hollanders named the island of Mauritius after the hero who had established their liberty and prosperity; and it ill became the French, at that period dead to such feelings, to change it, when in their power, to Isle de France, by which we have in some late botanical works the barbarous Latin of Insula Franciæ. Nor is it allowable to alter such names, even for the better. Americo Vespucci had no very great pretensions to give his own name to a quarter of the world, yet it is scarcely probable that Columbia will supersede America. In our science the names established throughout the works of Linnæus are become current coin, nor can they be altered without great inconvenience. Perhaps, if he had foreseen the future authority and popularity of his writings, he might himself have improved upon many which he adopted out of deference to his predecessors, and it is in some cases to be regretted that he has not sufficiently done so. In like manner, the few great leaders in natural knowledge must and will be allowed to ward off and to correct, from time to time, all that may deform or enfeeble the prevailing system. They must choose between names nearly of the same date, and even between good and bad ones of any date. A botanist who, by the strength of his own superior knowledge and authority, reforms and elucidates a whole tribe of plants hitherto in confusion, as a Hedwig in Mosses, or Acharius in Lichens, ought to be unshackled in every point in which he can be of service. His wisdom will be evinced by extreme caution and reserve in using his liberty with respect to new names, but more especially new terms; and, after all, he will be amenable to the general tribunal of botanists, and the judgment of those who come after him. Few indeed are illustrious enough to claim such privileges as these. Those who alter names, often for the worse, according to arbitrary rules of their own, or in order to aim at consequence which they cannot otherwise attain, are best treated with silent neglect. The system should not be encumbered with such names, even as synonyms.

When, however, solid discoveries and improvements are made in the science; when species or genera have been confounded by Linnæus himself, and new ones require to be separated from them, the latter must necessarily receive appropriate appellations; as also when a totally wrong and absurd name has by mistake been given, as Begonia capensis; in such cases names must give place to things, and alterations proceeding from such causes must be submitted to. Thus I believe Mr. Salisbury's Castalia is well separated from Nymphæa. See Annals of Botany, v. 2. 71.

A great and just complaint has arisen in my time among the cultivators of botany, who found the names of many garden plants, with which they had long been conversant, altered for others without any apparent cause, and in many instances for the worse; as Aristolochia macrophylla, an excellent and expressive name, for a very unappropriate one, A. Sipho. For this I am obliged to censure my much regretted and very intelligent friend L'Heritier. When he came to England to reap the rich harvest of our undescribed plants, he paid no respect to the generic or specific names by which Dr. Solander or others had called them, because those names were not printed; but he indulged himself, and perhaps thought he confirmed his own importance, by contriving new ones; a factitious mode of gaining celebrity, to which his talents ought to have been infinitely superior. Nor would it have been easy to say how far this inconvenient plan of innovation might have extended, had not the Hortus Kewensis come forth to secure our remaining property.

I have only to add a few words respecting a kind of generic names that has of late become more common than Linnæus probably would have approved, though he has once or twice allowed it; I allude to those compounded either of two established names, or of one combined with any other word. Of the former number is Calamagrostis, formed of Calamus and Agrostis, two Linnæan names; and this is no where sanctioned by any good authority. Happily the genus to which it has negligently been applied is an Arundo. Of the latter sort is Cissampelos, formed of Cissus, another established genus, and Ampelos, a Vine; the latter not among Linnæan names: also Elæagnus, constructed of two old Greek names, neither of which is now in botanical use by itself. These are both expressly allowed by Linnæus, nor indeed can there be any objection to the latter. Cissampelos may certainly justify Hyoscyamus, composed of Cyamus and a word denoting swine; if not, this would prove an objection to the reestablishment of Cyamus, much more to the purpose than any that has been advanced; for Hyoscyamus having been so long and universally used in systematic botany, could scarcely give place, even to its venerable prototype. On the same ground only can several new generic names, used in the fern tribe, be admitted. These are formed out of Pteris, the established generic appellation of a common Brake, with some other Greek word prefixed; as Angiopteris, a Brake with a capsule, Tmesipteris, a cloven Brake, and Cænopteris a new Brake. Whatever may become of the former two, I must always protest against the last, given by the celebrated Bergius to the Darea of Jussieu, on account of its unexampled impropriety. As well might any new genus, resembling a Rose, be called Novarosa; for though the Greek language may assist us with regard to sound, it can never make amends for a radical deficiency of sense.

  1. Our scientific language in English is not sufficiently perfect to afford a plural for genus, and we are therefore obliged to adopt the Latin one, genera, though it exposes us sometimes to the horrors of hearing of "a new genera" of plants.
  2. See Exot. Bot. v. 1. 60, where the arguments in support of this opinion are given, and Curt. Mag. t. 903, where some of them are with much candour and ingenuity controverted, though not so as to alter my sentiments; nor can any thing justify the use of Nelumbium in a scientific work as a generic name.
  3. It is not indeed clear that this name is so correctly applied as that of Cyamus, because Nastus originally belonged to "a reed with a solid stem," perhaps a palm; but not being wanted, nor capable of being correctly used, for the latter, it may very well serve for the Bamboo. There is no end of raking up old uncertainties about classical names.
  4. When I named this genus in Exotic Botany, I was not aware of its having previously been published by M. Billardiere under the name of Actinotus; a name however not tenable in Botany, because it has long been preoccupied in Mineralogy.
  5. Tetraphis of Hedwig and Engl. Bot. t. 1020.
  6. Salisb. Hort. 342.
  7. Phil. Trans, for 1788.
  8. Some botanists write ericæfolia, salicisfolia, linguæformis, &c., instead of following the analogy of the Latin in forming adjectives with an i, as palmifer from palma, æ; baccifer, from bacca, æ; barbiger, from barba, æ; &c.

  1. Original: lest was amended to less