Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Silly names: Holosteum

The members of Holosteum, a genus of plants otherwise known as jagged chickweeds, are all quite small and very fragile. The one species found in North America, Holosteum umbellatum, is a delicate little thing whose straight, upright flowering stems -- the tallest part of the plant -- top out at no more than about fourteen inches. It is easily knocked flat, trampled, or crushed. When it's pressed and dried for a herbarium specimen, it will fall apart if you even think about handling it roughly.

That fragility is proof positive that Carolus Linnaeus had a sense of humor. When he named the plant, he picked out an ironic Greek phrase: holos for "whole, entire" and osteon for "bone".

Yep. He basically named this little plant, whose skeleton crumples at the drop of a hat, the equivalent of "unbroken".

Source: FNA

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