Friday, 16 July 2021

The origin of the name Ceropegia

Linnaeus named⁹ the genus Ceropegia in 1737 in his Genera plantarum.  Linnaeus referred to the description and picture of a plant in the Horti Malabarici as the plant for which the genus was created. In 1753 he named this as Ceropegia candelabrum.

Downloaded¹³ from the Biodiversity Heritage Library.
Open in a new tab to enlarge.

Above we have the iconotype of the Indian plant that Linnaeus named as Ceropegia candelabrum in 1753, as depicted¹³ in the Horti Malabarici of Henricum Rhede (or Reede) tot Drakestein published in 1689. The candelabrum bit gives it away when you see the way the flowers are arranged. Of course, some of you born after the invention of electric light may not have seen any candelabra or chandeliers.

There have been two possible explanations of the origin of the word Ceropegia. Linnaeus never explained it, as far as I know. 

The earliest explanation I can find is from 1793. In the first volume¹² of Philipp Andreas Nemnich's Allgemeines Polyglotten-Lexicon der Naturgeschichte mit erklaerenden Anmerkungen (General Polyglot-Lexicon of Natural History with explanatory Remarks), he writes about Ceropegia:

Keropegion ist der griechische Name eines Leuchters für Wachslichter. Darnach führt diese Pflanzengattung den obigen Namen, weil der Bau ihrer Krone einige Aehnlichkeit mit dem Leuchter hat.

Keropegion is the Greek name for a chandelier/candlestick for wax candles. Hence this genus of plants bears the above name, because the structure of its crown is somewhat similar to a chandelier/candlestick.

The general name for Ceropegia in German was given as Der Leuchter, which means "chandelier" or "candlestick". In French le candelabre. In Dutch Kaarskroon, "candle-crown". In Danish lysestagen and Swedish ljusstaken, both meaning "candlestick".

In 1810, the fourth volume of the Encyclopædia Londinensis had the origin of Ceropegia as:

[κηροπηγɩον, Gr a candelabre, or lamp-stand.]

The only dictionary I could find that had the word keropegion is a Greek to Latin dictionary that is regarded as the most complete of all Ancient Greek dictionaries. The Thesauri linguæ Græcæ by Henrico Stephano (aka Henr. Stephanus, Henri Estienne or Henri Etienne) was first published in 1572. Dictionary entries for Ancient Greek words fill 3,165 pages in the first three volumes and further information on the Greek language fills 997 pages of the fourth volume. 

The word keropegion is in the second¹⁴ of the four volumes. There are no examples given of its use in manuscripts. The Thesauri linguæ Græcæ would have been the standard work for those students who wanted to learn proper Ancient Greek from its publication in the 16th century on to the 19th century, well after the time of Linnaeus. Linnaeus certainly knew it and probably owned it. I emailed the Linnean Society of London to see if they had his copy. They kindly answered, noting that the Linnean collections they received had none of his reference works - "In fact the absence of general reference works from the collection is a curiosity: no dictionaries, thesauri, or word lists (except those contained in larger works, or written by Linnaeus himself)." They suggested that I email Uppsala University Library. A librarian there kindly replied today (19/7/2021). They have no Greek dictionaries of any kind in their collection of personal books owned by Linnaeus. However, they have had a copy of the Thesauri linguæ Græcæ in the University Library since before 1650. Linnaeus would have had access to that copy, as he became a student at Uppsala University in 1728. 

The complete entry for the word is: 

Κηροπήγɩον, ου, tὸ, Candelabrum, Vbi cerei depanguntur. 

Keropegion, Candlestick, where candles are driven in.

Lewis & Short's Latin Dictionary has the Latin word candelabrum⁶ as meaning "a candlestick, a branched candlestick, a chandelier, candelabrum, or also lamp-stand, light-stand, sometimes of exquisite workmanship". 

So, the first species named appears to be called "candlestick candelabrum" - Ceropegia candelabrum.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Little fluffy flowers

I received this Hoya carnosa from Italy last September as a stunted succulent with a little bundle of roots that fitted with plenty of room to spare in a 7.5 cm (3 inch) pot. A bargain for €3. It has obviously appreciated being watered and fed a lot more with high humidity and a constant temperature of 23-26°C. It now has one metre of vine with several branches. These first flowers opened yesterday.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

New Duck

I found a much larger original photograph of the Star Carr pendant. I decided that I wanted to make a new version of the coloured one I made in 2018 to show why I think this piece of jewelry from 11,000 years ago represents a duck. So I spent this evening colouring and modifying it to make the 19 megapixel image previewed above. I don't know why most of the images of this pendant have it upside-down.

It really is worth right-clicking on the image and opening in a new tab to get the full image. I like that it is a bit glossier, like a real duck.

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Shindal Makudi - Part Two

Continued from Part One 

Cultivation in India

One of my two plants, again. Growing in Manchester.

We don't know whether Shindal Makudi was cultivated deliberately in the region where it now occurs. It is possible that the plant was deliberately introduced to some of the hill forts. It is odd that more than half of the locations where it grows have been associated with old military forts or ancient Buddhist monasteries. A plant that provided both medicine for wounds and an edible vegetable would seem to be useful to have around in a military fort.

Though it is true that many of the high hills in Maharashtra have old hill forts on them. 

Shindal Makudi - an odd stapeliad

Shindal Makudi is the local Marathi name of an unusual little succulent found wild only in the state of Maharashtra in western India. It is one of the stapeliad group of flowering plants. Stapeliads are a part of a larger group called asclepiads.

The stapeliads are mainly stem-succulents with leaves that are reduced to tiny scales, completely absent or converted into thorns. They have adapted to hot, dry areas and would lose too much water through large leaves. As you can see from these pictures, Shindal Makudi is unique among the stapeliads in having full, large succulent leaves, though only during the very wet monsoon season.

This article is mainly about the social history of the plant. The stories of the locals, plant hunters and growers fascinate me. There will be some of the science as well, of course. However, if you want to dive more deeply into the ecology⁹⁹ ¹⁰⁰, botanical description,⁴⁰ Crassulacean Acid Metabolism⁴⁶ and taxonomy,⁵⁶ I would recommend looking at the articles linked in the References section. 

Obviously, this has been a bad year for finding people in their offices and I haven't been able to pop down to my local University library. So, a few things remain as mysteries for now.

(on a separate page)

Sunday, 11 October 2020

The Beautiful Hoya

Hoya bella, the Beautiful Hoya

This beautiful plant is still the most cultivated Hoya, 174 years after it was first collected by a European. Since the naming of the genus Hoya more than a hundred Hoya species have been made available for the amateur grower, out of 520 species now known. Other species of Hoya may be more spectacular but this one is beautiful, delightfully fragrant, compact and relatively easy to grow. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Orbea variegata

This Orbea variegata flowered today and is a spectacular, peculiar and interesting flower. That does not stop it being an intense disappointment to me. I was sold it as a Huernia hystrixOrbea variegata is the commonest and easiest to grow of the group of plants to which they both belong. I could have bought it from many shops that sell ornamental houseplants. 

Huernia hystrix is far harder to find and is a much sought-after and endangered herbal medicine in South Africa. 

I only spent £5 on it and a part of the postage costs. The other plants that came with it were the correct species. So it goes.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Lemon Curio

My Curio just flowered. The flower is 12mm (½ inch) across and 22 mm (⅞ inch) tall. They don't flower very often but are widely-grown for their decorative succulent leaves and trailing habit.

The yellow pollen is produced first, by the purple anthers. A day later the stigmas, the white ramshorn-shaped structures with pink tips, burst out of the column of anthers and become ready to receive pollen. If you right-click the photo and select "open image in new tab" (or the equivalent in your application) the photo should be detailed enough to see that.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020


The first flower on my Frerea indica (or Boucerosia frerei) was badly placed for taking a photo. This was the best I could get. The flower is 2.5cm (an inch) across.

I am writing a long article on the plant so, hopefully, by the time that is finished there will be better photos from flowers that aren't on the underside of a horizontal stem with other stems in the way.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Mayflowers and some flowers, in May, Part 1

Hawthorn or Mayflower

Yesterday, I went for my first recreational stroll since being locked down. I took one hour and a little under 20 minutes. Hopefully I will not be prosecuted for this infraction. In my mitigation, this was my only journey that was not shopping or going to work for the last six weeks. I put the photos of horse chestnut flowers in a post yesterday. Some of the others I am including here and the rest in another post that I will hopefully complete in a few days.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Horse chestnut flowers

I went for a short walk today on a mission to get photos of horse chestnut flowers. I thought they would complement the article that I composed last September which touched on the history, seeds, uses, disease and chemistry of the plant. I managed to get a few nice flower photos.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Bloody Bean Trees - Part 3: The Americas

I have been distracted by a large project that I put aside in 2014 and am working on that for the next few months. Hopefully I will return to the Dragon's Blood series, tidy these three up and complete the ones about the famous Dragon's Blood trees.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Bloody Bean Trees - Part 2: Africa

I have been distracted by a large project that I put aside in 2014 and am working on that for the next few months. Hopefully I will return to the Dragon's Blood series, tidy these three up and complete the ones about the famous Dragon's Blood trees.

Baphia nitida seedpod or legume.
Ogooué-Maritime Province, Gabon
© David J Harris African Plants, A Photo Guide
Free use for non-commercial scientific or educational purposes.

Bloody Bean Trees - Part 1: Asia

Adenanthera pavonina pods, open and showing the glossy scarlet seeds.
Photo: © G P Lewis from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Creative Commons Attribution CC BY?

I have been distracted by a large project that I put aside in 2014 and am working on that for the next few months. Hopefully, I will return to the Dragon's Blood series, tidy these three up and complete the ones about the famous Dragon's Blood trees.

This is the next article in my series on dragon's blood and other bloodwoods. The first article was a hotchpotch of the more obscure varieties from various unusual plant families. Because there was less information it was easier to finish than the last ones will be. There will be three articles on the bloody bean trees, on those from Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Future articles will cover the dragon's blood from Croton, Daemonorops and Dracaena. The article on Croton is going to be a list of the various plants with a few details on each, not exhaustive monographs on each plant. The articles on Daemonorops and Dracaena will be more in-depth, as there is a lot of information on those rattans and trees.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Art Nouveau

I decided a few weeks ago that I should make a little decoration for a book that I am compiling on the ethnobotany of the asclepiads. The book will just be a listing of all known human uses for the Asclepiadoideae that I can find before I get bored of it. It will only exist in the virtual realm and be available for free, it will not get printed.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Belataky - Stephanotis

Stephanotis floribunda flowering in habitat in southeastern Madagascar.
Photo: © Nivo Rakotonirina from Tropicos
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The Madagascar Jasmine is to retain its most well-known botanical name, but has changed its author. Stephanotis floribunda Jacques is the new combination accepted by Kew on their World Checklist of Selected Plant Families though it is not yet changed on their Plants of the World Online.

The decision not to change the name to Marsdenia floribunda (C.Morren) Schltr. has come from the latest genetic studies. These studies have shown that Marsdenia and Stephanotis are distinct enough to deserve separate names. Both of these genera are in the tribe Marsdenieae of the Apocynaceae. There has been much discussion among botanists over the last two centuries regarding the exact divisions between the various genera of the Marsdenieae.

The change in author has occurred because I emailed Rafaël Govaerts at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to point out that there was a publication earlier than the one that previously had been accepted as the earliest publication of the name with a proper description. The new combination has not yet been accepted by the International Plant Names Index, but they take their time over decisions.

It might be a little thing for professional botanists who change plant names every day - but it has rather tickled me that I have left a tiny, insignificant alteration in the history of botany. So I decided to write an in-depth history of Stephanotis floribunda. I could not find any article online that did more than give growing tips and mention a few obvious facts about the plant.

There will not be many gardening tips in this piece. I would recommend following the growing advice from the Royal Horticultural Society if you are caring for a Stephanotis. I would also recommend that you don't buy a Stephanotis in mid-winter unless you can guarantee it won't get chilled on the way home or in the post. As I have learnt from my own experience this year.

This is one of my longer articles, this sentence bringing it to over 17,000 words. Chapter headings, linked for your convenience;
Malagasy Common Names
including Latakana ombelahy (first French encounter 1650ish)
Another French encounter (1770)
Third French encounter (1817)
Introduction to Europe
First Pictures
Neumann and Greenhouses
Louisa Lawrence
Edmund Butcher
Rapid popularity in Victorian Britain
Stephanotis floribunda Elvaston variety
Stephanotis floribunda "Polyanthum"?
Stephanotis floribunda "Variegata"
Other Colours
Flower structure
21st Century
Stephanotic acid
English Common Names
Origin of the botanical name
Alternative botanical names
References for names

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Mid-Autumn Flowers

Borage flowers photographed on 19/10/2019.

It looks like I have been using my Fuji FinePix F770EXR camera for over 6 years, I just discovered. I don't think that can be correct. I think I did not set the calendar on the camera for the first year that I had it, so the year 2013 was the default date. I think I bought it in early 2016. 

Anyway, I decided to upgrade to something that can see a bit more detail. After trawling through reviews I found one that got a good press and was only slightly more than I was really willing to pay.

All these photos are from my new Sony Cybershot RX100. They have made some excellent Spider-man films, so I was sure their cameras would also be good. The fact that it has a Carl Zeiss lens was quite persuasive, too. I got the camera from Argos along with the necessary memory card and a carrying case. So far I have only used the automatic setting, except for trying the "Macro", which did not work as well. It seems far more forgiving of being hand-held. I did not need to brace myself against something solid to get clear pictures quickly.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Soapy Water

Walking down Demesne Road by Alex(andra) Park in Moss Side I noticed that several of the puddles were remarkably frothy. It has been very rainy in Manchester lately (as usual). My first thought was that someone had been washing their car by the roadside. I quickly realised that the frothiness came from conkers that had been crushed by passing cars. Later cars then ran through the puddles and whipped up the suds. All of the pictures are from yesterday.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Red Admiral

Yesterday afternoon I noticed a Red Admiral butterfly on the flowers of my kusagi tree. Known to entomologists as Vanessa atalanta, they are related to the painted ladies, emperors, monarchs, tortoiseshells and fritillaries. More details about one of our most striking butterflies can be found on the UK Butterflies website.