December 2011 - Plane/plain english
These two pictures were taken in Pall Mall, London, beside Buckingham Palace. A very good place to see London Planes (Platanus x hispanica) and a good species to use to illustrate the importance of Latin names (also known as Latinised/Scientific/Binomial names) for living things. The leaf is superficially similar to that of Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) and Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) but there the similarity ends. Now, platanus means plane, platanoides means plane-like and pseudoplatanus means false plane. And acer means maple. Just to complete the picture, London Planes used to be called Platanus acerifolia meaning maple-leaved. Although the names are long and cumbersome, and who knows how the Romans would have pronounced them, they are unique to each species and fairly descriptive once you know the meanings. If we used a living language there would never be any agreement on unique names, using Latin is ideal. The confusion of common names with these trees is that americans call the Plane the Sycamore and the Sycamore is sometimes in Scotland called the Plane. And in some areas (and in the bible) the Fig (Ficus carica) is the Sycomore.