Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A tree by any other name ...

The other day I came across a book called Flore populaire de la Savoie by A. Constantin and P. Gave (Société Florimontane, Annecy, France). This has entries for the whitebeam, which they call Sorbier alouchier among other names, the true service, the rowan, Sorbus chamaemespilus, and the wild service.

Much of the aim of the book is to list the vernacular names for each species in the Savoy area of France, but some background information is also given.

It seems to me, though I could be wrong, that the authors have conflated words and some data for the whitebeam (Sorbus aria) and the wild service (Sorbus torminalis) and other sorbs. Apart from sorbier alouchier, they call the whitebeam alouchier, alisier commun, alisier blanc and plain alisier, alier and alii. They say the berries are called alises or alizes but I have normally associated these words only with the wild service fruit (Sorbus torminalis) which is often, these days, called alisier torminal in French literature.

Constantin & Gave call the wild service sorbier torminal, sorbier antidysentérique, sorbier aux tranchées, alisier des bois, faux sycomore and sorbi. The term sorbier aux tranchées is interesting and translates as ‘service of the trenches’. Perhaps tranchées pare-feu, a woodland firebreak, is meant as, maybe, wild services were more inclined to grow along these. For the true service (Sorbus domestica) they give sorbier domestique, sorbier cultivé, cormier and sourbi.

The rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) in addition to the usual sorbier des oiseleurs and related terms there are many words begining with t – tiémé, tmé, tourné, tremélä, témel and with c – cmélö, cmélä. One word frênêlä seems to be related to frêne, the modern French for an ash tree (Fraxinus) and, presumably, cognate with English ‘mountain ash’.

There is, I have to say, similar vernacular name confusion in English.

Referring to the whitebeam Constatin & Gave write “alises (in the sense of whitebeam berries) make an excellent eau-de-vie called eau-de-vie d’ali.” They also say of these fruit ”Formerly, when in the high valleys of Beaufort and La Clusaz people still ate bread of barley or oats, care was taken to pick the alises and dry them so they could then be incorporated into the bread dough.” Whitebeam berries have often been used as a flour substitute or additive all over Europe, but not, generally wild service berries.