A-Z of botany: tautonym


New York may be so good they named it twice but whether you are merely repeating yourself with a tautology or are a botanist breaking the rules with a tautonym, you really should know better!

A tautonym is one of those curiosities of nomenclature that separates Botany from Zoology. In botany it is forbidden to name a plant so that the genus is the same word as the species. Zoologists have it easy though – or they are just unimaginative. So in the animal world you get:

Bison bison – that’s a bison!

Chinchilla chinchilla – yep – a chinchilla

Conger conger – conger eel

Gazella gazella – a mountain gazelle

Gerbillus gerbillus – yes, you guessed it – a gerbil

Giraffa giraffaΒ  – a giraffe

Glis glis – edible dormouse, Gorilla gorilla*, Lynx lynx, Pipistrellus pipistrellus and so on! **


But this is not allowed with plants. The closest I can think of is the tongue-twisting Soleirolia soleirolii, the humble mind-your-own-business, used as moss in the basket above. It used to be Helxine soleirolii and I guess that when the genus was changed the species name was considered valid, resulting in the ridiculous ten syllables.


*The Western Lowland gorilla is actually Gorilla gorilla subspecies gorilla!

** Where the name is a tautonym that species is the type species (representative) for the genus.









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4 Comments on “A-Z of botany: tautonym”

  1. derrickjknight
    December 15, 2016 at 9:35 am #

    That’s taut me something πŸ™‚

    • thebikinggardener
      December 15, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

      Very good πŸ™‚

      • Fiona Clarke
        December 16, 2017 at 8:26 am #

        Thank you for this explanation. Just one question, why aren’t tautonyms allowed in botany? Thanks , Fiona Clarke

        • thebikinggardener
          March 2, 2018 at 5:06 pm #

          I have no idea! Just one of those rules – I am not a botanist. Thank you for commenting πŸ™‚

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