Friday, May 5, 2023

If scientific names became common (the case of Avena in Peru)

Avena fatua spikelets in Ollantaytambo, Peru

I eat a bowl of oatmeal everyday, and during our trip to Peru I tried to keep the same daily routine. Thus, we visited small grocery stores and super mercados in search of this food item, as well as water and various veggies. 

During one such trip I was startled to notice that the oatmeal packages in the store shelves were all labeled "Avena"!

Oatmeal for 1.30 soles!

Avena of course is the genus name of the oats, including the cultivated species Avena sativa. I have been boning up on my Spanish, and it was a small revelation to find out that in that language, oatmeal is known by the genus name of the plant.

Avena fatua in the Moras Salt mines in the Sacred Valley of Peru

This is I think similar in the way Spanish (and several other languages) use modifications of the species name of corn to designate that particular food plant. The binomial is Zea mays, and in Spanish the word for corn is "maiz", just like some other countries call it "maize".

Spikelets in A. fatua, some showing empty glumes

I've found this custom eminently laudable and something that would help (in a very small way) introduce laypeople to scientific nomenclature. Wouldn't it be interesting if rice is called "Oryza", or barley called "Hordeum"?

Maybe even fictional novels and movies could help spread the use of such monikers. I remember Stephen King, in his Dark Tower novels, uses the word "Oriza" to designate various items in the work that are associated with rice. These included a society of women warriors called "Sisters of Oriza", who wielded plate-like throwing weapons called orizas, and whose founder was named Lady Oriza. 

Seeds between dried glumes

Finally, speaking of  "Avena", during the trip one of the most common field grasses was of the genus Avena, likely Avena fatua. I saw this species all over the Sacred Valley area, including at the ruins of Ollantaytambo and Moray, as well as the town of Urubamba and the Moras Salt Mines. Even though this is considered a weedy introduced species, I've found the plant quite attractive, with its many drooping large and awned spikelets.

Just because it's weedy, does not mean it can't be physically attractive!

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