JARS v44n4 - Latin and Japanese Plant Names

Latin and Japanese Plant Names
Frank Doleshy
Edmonds, Washington

Japanese botanists recognize and use the world-wide system of scientific plant names, written in Latin. In addition, they have a scientific naming system of their own that fully covers the plants of Japan and includes many plants elsewhere. These names are also the popular Japanese names and are almost always given correctly when you ask a farmer or mountain climber for a plant name. Then, if you carry a translation book for Japanese and Latin plant names, your informant can point out the Japanese name, and you can immediately turn to the Latin name.
The Japanese system, like the Latin, recognizes genus and species. They call a genus a "zoku", and their zoku usually includes the same plants as our corresponding genus. However, instead of using two-part names like ours, they often reverse the sequence and run the name together, with or without a hyphen or space. The genus Rhododendron is "Tsutsuji Zoku", and Rhododendron keiskei is called "Hikagetsutsuji". Yet there are numerous exceptions to this plan, and we find "shakunage" rather than "tsutsuji" included in the names of most firm-leaved evergreen rhododendrons. For example, R. makinoi is "Hosoba-shakunage". There is nothing very exotic or romantic about most of these names. As for "Hikage", this means shade, so the "Hikage-tsutsuji" is simply the shade azalea. "Hoso" is part of the adjective for narrow or slender, and "ba" is leaf, and what could be more appropriate for R. makinoi .
In actual usage, our Latin scientific name is often spelled out in ladder-like fashion, for example, Rhododendron degronianum subspecies heptamerum var. heptamerum . On the other hand, the Japanese name for the ultimate variety or form - in this case, "Tsukushi-shakunage" - commonly stands alone without any preliminaries about the species and subspecies. Moreover, in writing about plants, Japanese authors evidently coin a name whenever wanted for a particular variant or geographical race, a couple of examples being the "Omine shakunage" and "Yamato shakunage" mentioned by Mr. Maehara. In general, it is clear from the context where the particular group of plants fits in, i.e., what genus, species, and variety.