Meet the dung cannon, the cabbage parachute, the crystal brain , the mousepee pinkgill, the midnight disco, and the scurfy twiglet

All the above are fungi, as I have discovered from reading John Wright’s  “The Naming of the Shrew: A Curious History of Latin Names”   When I was a medical student I did sometimes wonder if the many many more obscure bits and pieces of human anatomy could be given more homely names than flexor pollicis this and gastrocnemius that. I don’t think so anymore, and this passage from Wright helps illustrate why:


I took the trouble to familiarise myself with Latin names, so, perhaps rather churlishly, I just tell people to buckle down and learn them too. However, I have been slightly thwarted in my evangelism. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 introduced the requirement that all UK species in need of protection have a common English name.*While nearly all British plants and large animals were possessed of one, most fungi were not, so the British Mycological Society set about creating ‘common’ names for all but the most obscure.2 Some of them put my own inventions to shame. We now have the dung cannon (Pilobolus crystallinus), the cabbage parachute (Micromphale brassicolens), the crystal brain (Exidia nucleata), the mousepee pinkgill (Entoloma incanum) and, my personal favourite, the midnight disco (Pachyella violaceonigra). While I don’t mind telling someone that the little mushroom in their hand is called Tubaria furfuracea, I do feel embarrassed when informing them that they have a ‘scurfy twiglet’. There is nothing particularly wrong with these names, but they lack the weight and authority that comes with long usage. Also, I don’t think they really help: if people are having difficulty with names, the last thing they need is a whole new set of them. In my opinion, it is simply not possible to make up common names and expect them to become a useful currency.

Long Live Latin  indeed.

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