Contributed by Katherine Wagner-Reiss


Acer davidii ssp. davidii (David maple). Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

Davidia involucrata (Dove Tree) Photo by Amada44, CC BY 3.0.

Davidii is a handy specific epithet to be aware of because in addition to the maple Acer davidii, the Morris Arboretum also grows Astilbe chinenesis var. davidii, Buddleja davidii, Hemiptelea davidii, Rosa davidii, and Sophora davidii.

Who is this “David” honored by the botanical name “davidii?” Père (Father) Armand David was a 19th century French Catholic missionary and an avid collector of plant and animal specimens in China.  More than 100 plant species that he sent to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris were new to the Europeans, including many species of rhododendrons, maples, cherries, primulas, gentians, and lilies. In addition, he discovered more than 100 animal species that were previously unknown to Europeans, including the giant panda and a rare deer hidden behind the guarded walls of the imperial hunting grounds, now known as Père David’s deer.

When you see “ii” attached to the end of a plant’s specific epithet, know that a masculine person of that name is being honored. The female equivalent is “iae.” Do not feel angst over the pronunciation of Latin names. I sing the lyrics to a children’s song “Old MacDonald Had a Dog, E-I-E-I-O,” and remember that, in the U.S., “davidii” is most commonly pronounced david-E-I. The British often say david-E-E. And the Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder Voice says Acer david-I, Buddleja david-E-I, and Sophora david-E-I. So you are almost sure to find someone who agrees with your pronunciation!

Even more impressive than the large number of plants bearing the specific epithet davidii is the fact that Père David has a genus named after him: Davidia. There is only one species in the genus and that is Davidia involucrata. This tree is a sight to behold with its wonderful dove or handkerchief-like white bracts attached to the flowers in late spring. And, yes, this China native was discovered by Père David, himself.  And, yes, the Morris Arboretum’s collection includes specimens of the variety Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana!

So why not see as many of the Père David plants as you can? And, just to add some pizzazz, find Pinus armandii, also named for Père Armand David! As you begin to notice plants with specific epithets ending in “ii,” remember that there is a real man who has contributed to society, usually in the realm of the natural world, behind that name. The mapped locations of all of them can be found at Collection Connection.

Buddleja davidii ‘Nanho Purple’ (Nanho Purple Butterfly- bush) at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

Buddleja davidii ‘Nanho Purple’ (Nanho Purple Butterfly- bush) at Morris Arboretum. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.