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A snippet from my volunteer work on the ‘Dedicated Naturalist’ Project, helping to decipher and digitise, record and publicise the life’s work of naturalist extraordinaire, Dr Mary Gillham.

160505 Scientific names

When project officer Al Reeve sent round his monthly volunteer newsletter, he attached this image of the many and varied scientific names we volunteers have been typing up from Dr Mary Gillham’s records. It makes a pretty picture but these things are the stuff of volunteer nightmares! Seriously, what was Linnaeus thinking when he invented binomial nomenclature?

Take, for example, the Eurasian wren, a delicate and tiny bird but its scientific name, Troglodytes troglodytes, makes it sounds like a huge stomping dinosaur. Admittedly, the double-barrel names are easier to remember. There’s Pica pica the Eurasian magpie, Buteo buteo the Common buzzard and Anser anser the Greylag goose.

160505 wren greylag thrush

Troglodytes troglodytes, Anser anser and Turdus philomelos

I feel sorry for the rather unfortunately named Turdus family of true thrushes. There are more than 50 family members, with names like Turdus pilaris the Fieldfare, Turdus merula the Blackbird, and Turdus philomelos the melodic Song Thrush.

Then there are the plants with girls’ names, or should that be girls with plant names? Whenever I type Prunella (as in Prunella vulgaris, the herb Selfheal) I always think of Prunella Scales, the actress who played John Cleese’s exceedingly patient wife in Fawlty Towers, and, though it’s not spelt the same, Silene dioica, the pretty wildflower Red campion, reminds me of singer Celine Dion. And there are plenty more: Veronica, Iris, Lotus, Viola …

160505 Herb Paris

Then there are the misnomers. You might quite reasonably expect names beginning with Trifolium (tri = three, folio = leaf) to have three leaves, except that plants are often not true to their names: witness Trifolium repens, which can, if you’re lucky, be a four leaf clover! Or there’s Paris quadrifolia, the supposedly four-leaf Herb Paris (shown above), which can have from 5 to 8 leaves.

It’s enough to drive a volunteer to drink, so I’ll end with my favourite cocktail, Sambucus nigra. Cheers!

You can follow our progress with this project on Facebook and on Twitter. A website will follow soon.