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Welcome on Pl@ntUse

the wiki about useful plants and plant uses



The Greek text of Materia Medica by Dioscorides (1st century of our era) is now available on Pl@ntUse ! Well, it can only be read by hellenists, but titles have been added with a transcription in latin script, as well as partial translations by Suzanne Amigues and identifications.

Curiously, no French translation is known since Mattioli (1572). Today, we can buy two translations in German, two in English and one in Spanish. Comparing them shows that they have been published by hellenists who made no effort in updating identifications. As for botanists, it seems they have no longer been interested in Dioscorides, since Sprengel and Fraas in the 19th century.

Nevertheless, the work of Dioscorides is indispensable to anybody interested in the history of botany. It was quite the sole base of botanical knowledge throughout the Middle-Ages, and Renaissance botanists constantly translated and commented Dioscorides (Theophrastus was only rediscovered during the Renaissance).

As a result, most Dioscorides' names are to be found in botanical names in latin. Any etymological dictionary should then go back to Dioscorides. Pl@ntUse will endeavour to do it in time.

Latin names of plants are often perceived as complicated, with many h and y. When we read Dioscorides, we are surprised by the freshness of text, and by the fact that his Greek names were in fact popular names. Alcea is simply "the helpful", althaea "the healing". We discover that akoron is Iris pseudacorus, and that it was confused with Acorus calamus because both are aquatic plants giving a fragrant rhizome. Even more amusing, cleavers, Galium aparine, if it bears not surprisingly the name aparinê, has as a synonym "the philanthropous", because it sticks to humans!

In brief, many details to rejoice all those interested in plant names, or looking for scholarly anecdotes. As Pl@ntUse is a collaborative site, don't hesitate to propose translations if you are a hellenist, or to ask for them on a case by case basis. You can also help translating pages from French to English.

Michel Chauvet
3 avril 2014
PS. Such pages complement the index of plants of Theophrastus. We could also think about the works of Galen, Hippocrates or Arabic authors. But this will be quite another task.

The plant of the month: Japanese varnishtrees

Arbor cæli, caju langit, aylanto, hemelboom Rumphius (1743), Herbarium amboinense

In 2002, we had a thorough discussion in the francophone forum of Tela Botanica about Japanese varnishtrees. To make things simple, we have the true Japanese varnishtree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum), the false one (Ailanthus altissima) and the false-false (Toona sinensis).

Pl@ntUse just reorganized such data, adding in-depth details. 13 Rhus, 3 Toxicodendron, 2 Cotinus and 31 Searsia used worlwide have been inventoried, as well as Ailanthus and Toona. As for ailanthus, the origin of the name has been clarified : Rumphius made it known in the West under the form aylanto, and we find even today in Moluccas an Ailanthus which is called ai lanit, corresponding exactly to Indonesian kayu langit, "heaven's tree".

As a gift, you will find thorough notes on the etymology of names such as Ailanthus, Rhus and sumac.

Pages have been created only in French for the moment, due to lack of time. You can help us translating!

What is Pl@ntUse?

Pl@ntuse is a collaborative space for exchange of information on useful plants and uses of plants. It is not intended to duplicate existing encyclopedias (including Wikipedia), but to offer additional features such as:

The working method

It is of course scalable and open for discussion. But the basic idea is not to produce consensus summaries. It is rather to provide reliable material to allow everyone to make his/her own synthesis. A priority is to upload the data sets that underlie the work, but are rarely published, forcing everyone to start from scratch.

Any kind of page may be created. Templates have been devised to create pages with a similar structure and with similar content. Such pages are easily accessible through categories or portals. If you intend to upload new types of information, please ask the administrators, who will help you create and use a new template.

As is customary in the scientific community, we mention the author of each contribution. However, most of the contributions may be corrected or updated, as far as they reach consensus. See Help:Authors of contributions

Each page is potentially available in English and French. By default, we are beginning with French, except for books written in English. You can collaborate by translating.
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