Origin Of Common Tree Names

Origin Of Common Tree Names In The GTA

Recently we posted an article introducing our clients to the classification of botanical tree names.  In this article we will look at where some tree names common in the GTA originate.

Oak – from Old English “ac” meaning “oak tree”, in Old Norse “eik”, Old Saxon and Old Frisian “ek”.
The usual Indo-European language base for “oak” (deru) has become Modern English “tree”. In Greek and Celtic societies words for “oak” are from the Indo-European root for “tree,” reflecting the importance of the oak to ancient people. The Old Norse form was “eik”, but as there were no oaks in Iceland the word is used for “tree” in general.

Black oak – Black pertains to the bark colour. White oak– white pertains to the bark colour (lighter than black oak bark).

White birch – Comes from the word root “bhereg” meaning  “to gleam, white.”  In Old English birch is “berc” or “beorc” (It is also the name of the rune for “b”).

Silver maple – From Old English “mapul” (circa 1300), and Old English “mapultreow”  meaning “maple tree”.  Also pronounced as “mapolder”, “mapuldre”, which is related to Old Norse “möpurr”, and Old Saxon “mapulder”,  but the connection and origins are mysterious. The words “maple syrup” is from 19th century American English. The maple leaf is mentioned as the emblem of Canada from 1850 onwards. Silver is the leaf colour (underside of the leaf).

Red maple – Named for the colour of the leaves in fall.

Sugar maple – Named as the most common maple used for syrup making.

Manitoba maple – Named from the origin of the species, Manitoba.

Carolina poplar – Possibly from a word root p(y)el – linked to Greek – “pelea”  meaning “elm”. The mid-14th century word (Anglo-French) is “popler” originating from Old French “poplier” (Modern French “peulplier”). The US state Carolina is where the species originated (or was first ‘discovered’).

White ash – Ash is possibly from the Anglo Saxon “asec” or “aesc”, meaning spear, as ash was traditionally used as the shaft wood for spears as it is very flexible. Most likely called “white” because of the lighter coloured bark or the whiter under sides of the leaves.

Green ash – Most likely called “green” because of the more uniform green of the top and underside of the leaves.

Copper beech – From Old English “bece”, Proto-Germanic “bokjon” word root “bhagos”. In Greek, “phegos” meaning “oak,” and in Latin “fagus”.  Perhaps connected to “edible” (and connected with the root of Greek “phagein” – “to eat;” see -phagous). Beech mast was an ancient food source for agricultural animals across a wide stretch of Europe. Copper is for the colour of the leaves of this variety of beech.

American beech – Named for its location as it is a different species from European beech.

American elm – from Old English “elm and” Proto-Germanic “elmaz” (perhaps from word root “el” meaning “red, brown”).  “American” is for its location, and differentiating from other elms in Europe and beyond.

Honey locust – “honey” refers to the sweet liquid found in pods, “locust” is found in the Bible – John the Baptist survived in the desert on the pods of a similar species. The fruit supposedly resembled the insect locust.

Weeping willow – Old English “welig”, meaning abundant or profuse.  Probably from word root “wel” meaning “to turn, roll,” which may relate to the leaves or the wood.  “Weeping” relates to the form of the drooping branches.

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