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Linguistic tangles in Brazilian rosewood – is it rosaedora, rosaeodora, or rosidora?

Recently I was asked to check the name for Brazilian rosewood, which is usually listed as having the scientific name Aniba rosaedora or Aniba rosaeodora. It is a famous tree from the Brazilian Amazon, and it is harvested to produce rosewood oil, a large export product. Today it is an endangered species and it belongs to the Lauraceae family (same family as bayleaf, sassafras and avocado). Some more Latin name digging turned up one more alternative name, Aniba rosidora. Ducke, a botanist that worked in the Amazon, described this species in 1928 as Aniba rosaeodora.

What is going on here, and how can so many spellings be in use?  I’ll got help sorting this out by a very helpful International Plant Names Index (IPNI) editor, and in the end it turns out that both of the names above are incorrect.  So here comes a quick crash course in some of botanical Latin grammar rules, so hold on…

The species epithet (the last part of the species name) is in this case made up from two terms:
Rosa     odora

Rosa means rose in Latin, and odora means smell. So the meaning of the name is ‘smells like a rose’.

Rule 1: Every Latin term has a stem and case ending. In “Rosa“, “Ros-” is the stem, and “-a” is the feminine nominative case ending.  In a compound epithet (like here), we use the stem of the first term and drop its case ending; we then add the whole of the 2nd term.

Rule 2: When you add two words together like this, sometimes, but not always, you need to add a connecting vowel between the two words.

Rule 3: If the 2nd term starts with a consonant, then a connecting vowel is needed. If the 2nd term starts with a vowel, then no connecting vowel is needed. For Latin words, the connecting vowel is “i”. For Greek words, the connecting vowel is “o”.

In this case, the 2nd term starts with a vowel, so no connecting vowel is needed, and you get:
Rosa + odora = ros- + odora = rosodora

When this species was first described, these rules were not followed (Latin is not easy!), and a misspelling of the species name has been used everywhere since then.

When you correct a mistake like this, really a typo, you don’t need to redescribe a species, you just correct the name, and everything else stays the same.  The original author still gets all the credit. This was just corrected in IPNI last week, so in most places online and in most books the old spelling is still used.  It will take some time to get this updated in Wikipedia, and on other similar websites.

CORRECT NAME is:  Aniba rosodora

INCORRECT NAMES are: Aniba rosaedora, Aniba rosaeodora, and Aniba rosidora.

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