Letter to the Editor
Donald H. Voss
Have you ever wondered about the origin of the name Rhododendron prinophyllum? Rhododendron periclymenoides is named for the similarity of its flowers to those of the honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum. Rhododendron calendulaceum calls our attention to flower colors resembling those of Calendula. "Phyllum" means leaf - but what is "prino"?
Searching for the origin of the specific epithet applied to our native clove-scented azalea, I consulted several reference books dealing with plant names. Result: zero. But a clue was found in the azalea volume of Davidian's new work on Rhododendron Species: "With leaves like Prinos." Recent lists of genera were checked; result: zero. Then an old (though now outdated) stand-by came to mind, Willis's Dictionary of the Flowering Plants. Eureka! "Prinos Gronov. ex L. = Ilex L. (Aquifoliac.)." The author reference for Prinos takes us to Gronovius, who, with assistance from Linnaeus, published the 1739 Flora Virginica.
Linnaeus included the genus Ilex (hollies) in his 1753 Species Plantarum, the starting point of modern botanical nomenclature. But he also included the genus Prinos, comprising the two species now known as Ilex glabra and Ilex verticillata. The name Azalea prinophylla, the basionym of R. prinophyllum, was published by the American botanist Small in 1914. He apparently saw some resemblance between the leaves of this plant and those of the North American hollies placed in the genus Prinos by Linnaeus. Thus the epithet prinophyllum connotes, as Davidian stated: "With leaves like Prinos."