On the wild side: New species of Roscoea named after WW1 casualty Private David Hume

Roscoea humeana
Roscoea humeana

For some reason many people are frightened to use the scientific or Latin names of plants preferring to use ‘common names’ even though many plants do not have a common name or the common names that they do have are contrived or their origins obscure.

If you do use scientific names for some time, there soon comes a point when suddenly there is a click and the names all fall into place and reading and remembering the names becomes very simple, just like learning a new language. Most people know the common name Cowslip for Primula veris, but what would people in Germany or Japan make of Cowslip? They would recognise Primula veris as that is its internationally recognised names. The first part of the name is the generic name and all closely related plants will be in the same genus and use the same generic name such as Primula, Rosa or Rhododendron.

There are some approximately 430 species of Primula and each has a name to distinguish it from all the other primulas. This specific name may describe something about the plant, Primula rosea from the Himalaya has rose coloured flowers. Primula japonica comes from Japan and our own Primula scotica is only found growing wild in Scotland and nowhere else in the world. Many plants are named after individuals, often the person who first found that plant growing in the wild. David Douglas was one of the great Scottish pioneers collecting and introducing plants from North America. Douglasia is a generic name for a group of species in the Primula family and commemorates Douglas. Iris douglasiana is a species of Iris and again bears his name and the common name for one of the conifers widely planted is Douglas Fir, so we will never forget David Douglas.

Closer to home Robert Fortune from Kelloe worked for the Horticultural Society of London and the British East India Company. He travelled widely in China and the Far East from where he introduced tea to India and ornamental plants such as Rhododendron fortunei and the hardy Palm Tree, Trachycarpus fortunei.

The genus Roscoe is in the ginger family and hails from China and the Himalaya. At the beginning of last century many new species of Roscoea were introduced into the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, by George Forrest. At the outbreak of WWI David Hume was working as a labourer at the RBGE before leaving in 1906 to join the Royal Scots. In the First World War he was amongst the first troops to cross the English Channel to engage the Germans at Mons in Belgium, where he was killed in action on August 26, 1914. To commemorate Private David Hume for ever, staff at the Royal Botanic Garden, when describing a new species of Roscoea named it Roscoea humeana.