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Classical Excellence. Frangipani, Plumeria rubra, in the Taman Tasik Perdana, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | by Rana Pipiens
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Classical Excellence. Frangipani, Plumeria rubra, in the Taman Tasik Perdana, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Yes! Everytime in warm climes when I look upon Plumeria, I get an almost 'classical' feeling of aesthetic botany. I've in the past posted a number of Plumeria photos (lastly on March 4 of this year) with descriptions (as is my wont). But I'd never yet gotten to the bottom of that little spelling problem of 'Plumeria'.

One often reads that our plant was originally called 'Plumiera' after that 'King of Botany', Charles Plumier (1646-1704). But I'd not found that spelling in either Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708) nor in the standard work of our Great Linnaeus (1753), who together named Plumeria after the indefatigable Charles; although Linnaeus does on a single occasion use 'Plumiera' (in 1753) and also in another work (1751). So obviously all those remarks on the internet about the 'original' name being 'Plumiera' are wrong. What then are the facts?

And here I give the details of the story told in 1938 by that fine botanist - very well-versed as well in Latin and Greek - of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Robert Everard Woodson, Jr (1904-1963).

Well, Johannes Burmannus (1707-1780; famous Dutch collaborator of Linnaeus) had Latinised Charles Plumier's French name (incorrectly! Oh! how his erudite family would have cringed...) to 'Plumierius'. Derived from that word was 'Plumiera', used a few times by Linnaeus and by some others down through the centuries. Even more confusing was the neologism 'Plumieria', coined by the Italian botanist Giovanni Antonio Scopoli (1723-1789). All this misleading linguistics was put to a definite end - thus Woodson - in 1918 when the famous and highly erudite German botanist Ignaz Urban (1848-1931) pointed out that the correct Latin form for 'Plumier' is 'Plumerius', and thus that for the plant: 'Plumeria'. Now it's up to secondary literature to catch up... (although it's had 90 odd years already to do so).

Nice to have learnt something from digging around a bit in the on-line book resources of 'Botanicus' and the marvellous 'Biodiversity Heritage Library'. It will certainly enhance my delight everytime I again see such beautiful flowers!

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Taken on December 27, 2010