Friday, September 16, 2016

Thismia, a flowering-plant genus named after the English microscopist Thomas Smith

Smithia → a, h, i, i, m, s, t → Thismia

As the above line shows, the word Thismia is an anagram. It is a play on the last name of the English microscopist Thomas Smith (died ca. 1825) [1]. In the intriguing “Afterthoughts” section of his article “Where is Thismia americana?,” Robert H. Mohlenbrock gives further details [2]:

The genus Thismia was named by a botanist named William Griffith in 1844. He wanted to name it after a colleague named Smith, but did not think Smithia sounded scientific enough, so he scrambled the letters in Smith, added “ia” at the end, and came up with Thismia.

Something to remember for your next session of Botany Scrabble!

In many publications you will find Thismia species classified as members of the Burmanniaceae family. But since species of Thismia are so unique, most botanist now separate them, according to Mohlenbrock, into the Thismiaceae family. Thismia species are myco-heterotrophic plants, which lack chlorophyll and parasitize fungi for their food supply.

The mysterious North American species, Thismia americana, was last seen in 1916 [2]. But new species are still discovered during botanical surveys in tropical regions, such as Thismia betung-kerihunensis from West Kalimantan, Borneo [3] and Thismia puberula from Southern Vietnam [4].

By the way, the name Smithia was considered scientific enough by others to give this name to a genus of flowering plants in the legume family (Leguminosae or Fabaceae) [5].

Keywords: word play, botany, taxonmy, mycotrophic plantsBurmanniaceae > Thismiaceae > Dioscoreales > Monocots > Angiosperms.

References and more to explore
[1] Flora of North America: Thismia [].
[2] Robert H. Mohlenbrock: Where is Thismia americane? Natural History September 2016, 124 (8), pp. 42-44.
[3] Hirokazu Tsukaya and Hiroshi Okada: A New Species of Thismia (Thismiaceae) from Wast Kalimantan, Borneo. Systematic Botany 2012, 37 (1), pp. 53-57.
DOI: 10.1600/036364412X616639.
[4] Maxim Nuraliev, Anton Beer, Andrew Kuznetsov and Svetlana Kuznetsova: Thismia puberula (Thismiaceae), a new species from Southern Vietnam. Phytotaxa November 2015, 234 (2). DOI: 10.11646/phytotaxa.234.2.3.
[5] Wikipedia: Smithia [].

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