The Origin of Baru’s Scientific Name

Hi everyone! Today we’re going to talk about the full scientific name of the baru tree: Dipteryx alata Vogel.

Scientific names tell a lot about the context of any given species’ discovery. They may look boring, but more often than not hide a lot of interesting facts about a species.

Dipterxy: this means “two wings” in latin (dis+pteryx) and it refers to the two upper lobes of the calyx of the flower, which look like two wings! It is expected in botanic taxonomy for the name to start with the genus the species belongs to. Dipteryx is a particularly small and primitive genus of Legume trees, with the most well-known species being Dipteryx odorata, also known as Tonka beans. All the flowers in this genus have particularly large “wings”!

Baru flower. Can you see the wings?

Alata: it means “winged”. It sounds redundant, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the shape of its flower. In fact, baru was first observed as an “airborne” species, in the sense that larger bats and birds carry the fruits around to eat them. This is a neat evolutionary trick to spread the seeds that many plants pull off. They evolved in synergy with certain flying animals, and bear attractive fruits to them, being dispersed over large areas. Other trees with this strategy are the almendro tree (another close relative of baru) and all sorts of berries.

Fruits can also be carried away exclusively by land animals, sometimes with the seeds activated and dispersed through ingestion. Other plants evolved aerodynamic pods or seeds that can be carried away by any strong wind.

Most often than not, trees evolve with multiple ways of spreading their seeds as far as possible. For example, flying animals carry baru fruits away. Then, rodents further disperse the dropped, partially eaten fruits.

Vogel: this is the original botanical discoverer, Julius Rudolph Theodor Vogel, a German botanist from Berlin. Vogel studied and described in depth a number of species brought from Brazil during the early 19th century, mainly Legumes. Curiously, around the same time, another German scientist named Vogel, from Munich and called August, discovered coumarin from the tonka bean.

So there you have it: the flower with wings, dispersed by animals with wings, described by a guy named Vogel. Ta-dah!

RESOURCES

A New Universal Etymological and Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language: Embracing All the Terms Used in Art, Science and Literature, Volume 1
By John Craig (F.G.S. of Glasgow.)

Morcegos passam a noite plantando no Cerrado. March 13, 2017.

Niger Flora; Or, An Enumeration of the Plants of Western Tropical Africa, Collected by the Late Dr. Theodore Vogel, Botanist to the Voyage of the Expedition Sent by Her Britannic Majesty to the River Niger in 1841, Under the Command of Capt. H. D. Trotter, R.N., &c: Including Spicilegia Gorgonea, by P. B. Webb, Esq., and Flora Nigritiana by Dr. J. D. Hooker … and George Bentham, Esq. with a Sketch of the Life of Dr. Vogel
edited by Sir William Jackson Hooker