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Botanical Latin, 4th ed.
Botanical Latin, 4th ed.

Botanical Latin, 4th ed. by William T. Stearn. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2004. 546 pp. ISBN 0-88192-627-2. $29.95.

First published in the UK in 1966, Botanical Latin is the standard reference which “. . . aims to provide a working guide to the special kind of Latin internationally used by botanists for the description and naming of plants.” This is the first paperback edition of Stearn’s classic, an imprint of the 1992 fourth edition. As such, it is not a new work, only a new affordable cloak that makes it more accessible and affordable to students, gardeners, and the public interested in botanical subjects. Although intended as a guide for plant taxonomists who need to traverse the knowledge of botanical Latin, especially in writing descriptions of new species, this book is useful to anyone who enjoys plants.  The book is divided into four parts: (1) Introduction, (2) Grammar, (3) Syntax and other Matters, and (4) Vocabulary and Bibliography. I would venture to guess that most regular users of Stearn’s Botanical Latin pluck the book from the shelf to reference terms in the 180-page vocabulary section, which essentially serves as a cross-reference dictionary to English terms and their Latin equivalents and the definition of Latin terms invariably encountered in the botanical nomenclature. Various sections on Greek words in botanical Latin, suffixes and prefixes, formation of botanical names, and an extensive section on descriptive terminology all help to remove the subject from the arcane and into the realm of the familiar. Anyone who uses botanical names or plants as part of their daily work whether the person be it in academia, industry, or simple enjoyment of herbs and gardening will find this to be a useful reference on the naming of plants. One needn’t be a plant taxonomist to use it. And now that it is in a paperback edition priced like a modest lunch for two, many who previously would not find this among their book-buying priorities can now own it.

—Steven Foster