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A Grammatical Dictionary of Botanical Latin

Subgeneric epithets (e.g. subgenus, section, series):

The full subgeneric name consists of three words (Article 21.1):

1) the generic name AND

2) connecting term (= specified rank: subgenus, section, series) AND

3) subdivisional epithet (written with an initial capital letter).

There is no indication that capitalization of the connecting term is necessary and it is generally lower case.

Examples would be:

Didymodon subgenus Praecocium (note the genus is masculine, the subgeneric name is neuter) - formed as a generic name (nom.sg.)

Piptocarpha section Oocephalus (note the genus is feminine, the section name is masculine) = formed as a generic name (nom.sg.).

Rosa series Blandissimae (blandissimae is a plural feminine adjective. The genus name is feminine).

Acroscyphella sect. Tjiwideienses (Tjiwideienses is a plural adjective (m. or f.). The genus name is feminine). If the genus name were neuter, the epithet would be Tjiwideiensia.

Note should be made that the creation of a subgeneric epithet (subgenus, section or series) automatically creates an autonym (see sections under Art. 22; 2006), which takes the unaltered name of the genus within which the subgeneric rank is being established. The autonym is of the same rank as the newly created subgeneric category.

Example: three new subgeneric taxa (subgenus, section and series), and three subgeneric autonyms:

subgenus Piptocarpha (= the autonym)
(new) subgenus Hypericoides
section Piptocarpha (= the autonym) 
(new) section Oocephalus
series Piptocarpha (= the autonym)
(new) series Rotundifoliae
All new taxa at the rank of family or below require the designation of a nomenclatural type (Article 7.1). The type of the name of any subdivision of a genus is the name of a species (Article 10.1) and, by extension, a particular type specimen (for more information on types see Article 10).

All new subgeneric epithets require a nomenclatural type (species).

NOTE: The type of the name of any subdivision of a genus is the name of a species (Article 10.1)

e.g. the type of the name Didymodon section Vineales is Didymodon vinealis (Bridel) R.H. Zander (i.e. the generitype) and the type of that is a specimen in Bridel’s herbarium.

According to the Botanical Code of Nomenclature (Article 21.2), there are three legitimate ways to form the subgeneric epithet:

1. NOUN: by using the same form (in the nominative SINGULAR) as a generic name. It does not have to be linguistically related to the name of the genus of which the subgeneric name is a part.

NOTE: For formation of generic names see Article 20.1.

NOTE: As these are nouns, they do NOT have to agree with the genus name.

Only adjectives are involved in agreement issues, not nouns.

Example: In the genus Prunus L., a generic name that is feminine in gender, Fernald (1950) lists the subgenera:

  Subgen. I. Prunophora 
  Subgen. II. Amygdalus (feminine noun in apposition; 
from the Latin and Greek nouns for an almond-tree))
  Subgen. III. Cerasus (feminine noun in apposition, 
the “Classical name of the cherry, which was brought into 
Europe from Cerasus or Keresoon” (Fernald 1950).
  Subgen. IV. Padus [masculine noun in apposition; “name used 
by Theophrastus, from Padus, the River Po” (Fernald 1950).
2. NOUN: By using the form of a noun in the genitive PLURAL.

NOTE: Here again the noun does not need to agree in gender with the generic name.

There are five declensions of the noun in Latin (see Roman numerals below).

e.g. Heteroscyphus knightii becomes Subg. Knightiorum; Heteroscyphus menziesii becomes Series Menziesiorum; Grimmia brittoniae becomes Sect. Brittoniarum.

Also, there are five declensions of the noun in Latin (see Roman numerals below).



0. indeclineable nouns (all neuters), such as Muscari, are simply not declined: an epithet using this noun would simply be Muscari:

Example: Habenaria series Muscari

I. genitive plural: -arum

Example: Plerandra subgenus Gabriellarum [>Plerandra gabriellae]

II. genitive plural: -orum

Example: Plerandra subgenus Veilloniorum [>Plerandra veilloniorum]

III. the stem (usually with one more syllable than the nominative singular) and the ending -um (-ium in i-stem nouns)

Example (hypothetical): Rosa subgenus Paludum [> the Latin noun palus,-udis (s.f.III), abl.sg. palude, swamp, gen. pl. paludum]

Example (hypothetical): Rosa subgenus Galeopsium [> the Latin generic name Galeopsis,-is (s.f.III), abl. sg. Galeopse, gen. pl. Galeopsium (an i-stem noun).

IV and V. The declensions IV and V, as they are troublesome, probably ought not to be used to compose subgeneric epithets, unless there is classical precedent, such as the genus Quercus. Cornus,-i (s.f.II) and Laurus,-i (s.f.II) are second declension generic nouns, although in the classical period they could also be used in the fourth declension (see Heteroclitic and Heterogeneous Nouns).

IV. Quercus,-us (s.f.IV)

    genitive plural  Quercuum;  -uum    
      Nouns in this declension include:
      fructus,-us  fruit, gen. pl. fructuum
      lapsus,-us   mistake, gen. pl. lapsuum
      status,-us   standing, gen. pl. statuum
Example (hypothetical): Habenaria new subgenus: Habenaria subgenus Malelapsuum V. facies,-iei appearance, gen. pl. facierum; -erum

spes,-iei hope, gen. pl. specierum

Example (hypothetical): Habenaria new subgenus: Habenaria subgenus Bonspecierum

NOTE: It is expressly stated in the Code (Art. 21.2) that the subgeneric name must not be a noun in the genitive singular.

3. ADJECTIVE: By using a PLURAL adjective agreeing in GENDER with the generic name. Gender refers to masculine, feminine and neuter. The plural adjective is the recommended word form for ranks below subgenus and below section and is thus recommended for the rank of series.

NOTE: All legitimate Latin or Latinized adjectives may be used as subgeneric epithets whether or not they are used as species epithets.

NOTE: the subgeneric or sectional or series name may be based on the type species of that subgenus or section. This may be done so that the subgeneric name would evoke the "nature" of the group, at a glance and in a descriptive way.

Examples: In the genus Carex,-icis (s.f.III), according to Fernald (1950):

in the subdivision of Carex subgenus Vignea:

section Capitatae [C. capitata]           section Dioicae [> dioica] 
section Foetidae [> foetida]              section Divisae [C. divisa]
section Chordorrhizeae [C. chordorrhiza]  section Arenariae [C. arenaria] 
section Macrocephalae [> macrocephala]    section Bracteosae [> bracteosa]
section Multiflorae [> multiflora]        section Paniculatae [> paniculata]
section Vulpinae [> vulpina]              section Heleonastes (>heleionastis? 
section Deweyanae [C. deweyana]           section Stellulatae [> stellulata]
section Ovales [> ovalis ]                section Nardinae [C. nardina]

            in the subdivision of Carex subgenus Eucarex 
              [Eucarex is illegitimate, see note  below]
section Polytrichoideae [> polytrichoidea] 
section Phyllostachyae [> phyllostachya]        section Filifoliae [C. filifolia] 
section Obtusatae [C.obtusata]                  section Rupestres [C. rupestris]
section Firmiculmes [> firmiculmis]             section Scirpinae [> scirpina]  
section Pictae [C. picta]                       section Lamprochlaenae [> lamprochlaena]
section Praecoces [> praecox,-ocis]             section Montanae [> montana] 
section Digitatae [> digitata]                  section Albae [> alba] 
section Triquetrae [> triquetra]                section Bicolores [C. bicolor] 
section Cryptocarpae [C. cryptocarpa]           section Acutae [C. acuta] 
section Atratae [> atrata > C. atratiformis?]   section Limosae [C. limosa] 
section Pendulinae [> pendulina]                section Shortianae [C. shortiana] 
section Anomalae [> anomala]                    section Hirtae [C. hirta]
section Virescentes [C. virescens]              section Ferrugineae [> ferruginea]
section Gracillimae [C. gracillima]             section Sylvaticae [C. sylvatica]
section Capillares [C. capillaris]              section Longirostres [> longirostris]
section Granulares [C. granularis]              section Oligocarpae [C. oligocarpa]
section Paniceae [C. panicea]                   section Laxiflorae [C. laxiflora]
section Extensae [C. extensa]                   section Orthocerates [> orthoceras,-atis]  
section Squarrosae [C. squarrosa]               section Paludosae [> paludosa]
section Folliculatae [C. foliculata]            section Lupulinae [C. lupulina]
section Vesicariae [C. vesicaria]
NOTE: It is not allowed to take the generic name (under which you are creating the subdivisions, i.e. subgenus, section) and add the prefix Eu- to it (Article 21.3). The prefix Eu- seems acceptable, however when applied to any other infrageneric epithet under consideration that does not use the generic name.

Example: Habenaria subseries Euhabenaria is illegitimate, but Habenaria subseries Eupodopsis is acceptable.

Apparently historically the purpose of the Eu- prefix as a prefix before the subgeneric name indicated that the (subgenus, series, etc.) was the particular subdivision representing the most important, typical or fundamental characteristics of the genus, i.e. the most typical of the subdivisions. It is no longer legal (legitimate).

NOTE: some epithets are indeclineable neuter nouns in apposition: e.g. Cyperus Haspan L., the species epithet is the native name for the species in Ceylon (Fernald 1950). In the section Haspani erected by Kunth in the subgenus Pycreus, note that a terminal -i is accorded the sectional epithet, as though the epithet were an adjective (haspanus).
subgenericus,-a,-um (adj.A): relating to a subgenus;

- praeterea fructus in speciebus variis indeterminatis characteres valoris subgenerici paebet (B&H), also the fruit in various undefined species display characters of subgeneric value. Subgenus: subgenus,-eris (s.n.II), abl.sg. subgenere; cf. genus; see ‘subgeneric epithets;’
       singular              plural 
Nom.  subgenus (s.n.III)   subgenera      
Gen.  subgeneris           subgenerum  
Dat.  subgeneri            subgeneribus 
Acc.  subgenus             subgenera  
Abl.  subgenere            subgeneribus
- ad subgenus Hebecladam sepalis superioribus persistentibus pertinens, belonging to the subgenus Hebeclada by the persistent upper sepals.

- inter species subgeneris Heleonastis seriei Pilosorum fructu globoso differt, it differs among species of the subgenus Heleonastes of the series Pilosi by the globose fruit.

- Subgenera sequentia a nonnullis genera propria nuncupantur (B&H): 1 . PULSATILLA, Tourn., staminibus exterioribus mutatis, glanduliformibus, acheniis barbato-caudatis, the following subgenera are called by some proper genera: 1. Pulsatilla Tourn. by the exterior stamens altered, glandule-shaped, with the achenes bearded-caudate.

- subgenera et sectiones plures proposita sunt, alia ad Cochleariam, alia ad Nasturtium, et alia denique ad genera nova ab auctoribus variis relata (B&H), many subgenera and sections have been proposed, some are related to Cochlearia, others to Nasturtium, and lastly others to new genera by various authors.

- Alliaria, potius subgenus est Sisymbrii ad Eutremam tendens (B&H), Alliaria, rather is a subgenus of Sisymbrium, tending toward Eutrema.

- subgenera sequentia pro generibus auctoribus interdum habita (B&H), the following subgenera are sometimes taken for genera by authors.

Note Fernald (1950) in the genus Cyperus L. reported: Cyperus Subgen. Pycreus; Subgen. Mariscus; Subgen. Kyllinga.


A work in progress, presently with preliminary A through R, and S, and with S (in part) through Z essentially completed.
Copyright © P. M. Eckel 2010-2018

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