WHY BROMELIAD?

Lyman B. Smith

Obviously "Bromeliad" is simply a shortening of the scientific name "Bromeliaceae" to indicate any member of the Pineapple family. We might call them all pineapples since they are members of that family, and not bother to find a new term. However, it would cause confusion to associate such diverse forms as the giant Puya and the Spanish moss under a name for which we have already a sharp and narrow concept. As the Bromeliaceae were unknown before the discovery of America, we did not have any such ancient general term for the family as there was in the case of grasses, sedges, lilies or orchids, and one had to be manufactured.

It is not possible to say now who first coined the word "Bromeliad" but it was probably some fairly recent botanist or horticulturist who was tired of having to use the phrase "species of Bromeliaceae" after the cumbrous and stately fashion of the old school. French and German botanists of the nineteenth century regularly used such single words for members of one family, had a standard way of making them, and seemed to find nothing undignified in the process.

The second step in tracing our genealogy is to find the origin of "Bromeliaceae" and this is very clear. With few exceptions the scientific name of a plant family is derived by combining the name of one of its genera with the ending "aceae." Thus in 1805 the French botanist, Jaume Saint-Hilaire, defined the Bromeliaceae and formed the family name from the genus Bromelia.

Our next step takes us back to Linnaeus the father of systematic botany for he it was who established the genus Bromelia in 1754 according to the rules we now follow in making scientific names. The name was taken from the family name of Loofa Bromelius, a Swedish botanist. Since Linnaeus also was Swedish, we might at first suppose that he had named the genus for a friend, but Bromelius died before Linnaeus was born.

Actually it was Plumier, the early French explorer of the West Indies, who first had the idea of renaming for Mr. Bromelius the genus that previously had gone by the Indian name of Karatas, and Linnaeus so credited it. Plumier was on familiar terms with the genus Bromelia in the West Indies. Bromelius, on the other hand, was famous mainly for the fine Flora that he wrote for his home town of Goetheborg and it is by no means certain that he ever laid eyes on a single plant of the great group that was to bear his name.

Associate Curator, Div. Phanerogams, Smithsonian Institution.

[Taken from Journal of the Bromeliad Society - Volume 1, Number 2]


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