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Case Studies

Bridel-Brideri's common names

The Swiss bryologist Samuel Elysée Bridel-Brideri (1761-1828) included the known Australian species in his two-volume survey of the world's mosses, Bryologia universa seu systematica ad novum methodum dispositio, historia et descriptio omnium muscorum frondosorum hucusque cognitorum cum synonymia ex auctoribus probatissimis, published in 1826-1827.

As well as the scientific Latin names, Bridel-Brideri also gave "common" names, in German, French and, occasionally, English. For example, he gives the English names Bog-moss and Hair-moss for the genera Sphagnum and Polytrichum, respectively. Both genera are widely distributed in the world and had long been well-known in Europe. Sphagnum is commonly associated with bogs, so the common usage of bog-moss is not surprising. The concept of "hair" had long been associated with the genus Polytrichum before Bridel-Brideri's time. For example, John Gerard's The Herball of General Historie of Plantes of 1597 includes an illustration of a species of Polytrichum, though with the Latin name Muscus capillaris, and also gives the English names Goldilocks and Golden Maiden haire Mosse. The term capillaris is derived from capillus, one of the Latin words for hair. Today the name Hair-moss is still associated with Polytrichum in England.

At other times the "common" names are artificial – especially when German and French common names are given for species then known only from Australia! For example, the genus Leptotheca gets the German name Schmalbüchse (literally, "slender case") and Gainette (literally "little sheath") as the French name. Both these are clearly straightforward adaptations of the genus name Leptotheca, derived from Greek words leptos (=slender) and theca (=case). The spore capsules are long and narrow in this genus. The species Leptotheca gaudichaudii has the German and French names Gaudichaud's Schmalbüchse and Gainette de Gaudichaud, respectively, literally "Gaudichaud's slender case" and the "Gaudichaud's little sheath".

In the case of Dawsonia German and French common names did not immediately suggest themselves in a manner analogous to that of Leptotheca. The genus Dawsonia is named in honour of the English botanist Dawson Turner, rather than being derived from Greek or Latin words for which German and French forms exist. Looking at just the German names, Bryologia universa has Säulenhaar for the genus and Widerthonartiges Säulenhaar for the species Dawsonia polytrichoides. In German the word Säule means "column" and Haar means "hair". This seems related to Bridel-Brideri's one-time thought of Stylotrichum as the name for this genus, when Dawsonia had also been used as an algal name. However, that conflict in usage was resolved with Dawsonia maintained as a moss name and it is Dawsonia that Bridel-Brideri used in the Bryologia universa. The name Stylotrichum is composed of the Latin words for column and hair. Inside a Dawsonia spore capsule there is a column of sterile tissue (the columella) running the length of the central axis of the capsule, and around the capsule's mouth there are numerous hairs. Widerthon was a common name given to the genus Polytrichum (and you'll still see it today, though without the "h", as Widerton) and the suffix –artig means "like", so Widerthonartiges means "Polytrichum-like", exactly the meaning of the polytrichoides in the species name. Curiously, in an earlier publication, the fourth part of his Muscologiae recentorium supplementum, published in 1822 Bridel-Brideri used Wandhaar (literally "wall hair") as the German name for Dawsonia.

In Bridel-Brideri's time the genera Leptotheca and Dawsonia were known only from Australia. Today Leptotheca is found in various Gondwanan areas and Dawsonia is found in the Australasian-Malesian area.