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Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation


Comprehensive Scheme for Standardized Abbreviation of Usable Plant-Family Names and Type-Based Suprafamilial Names

Compiled by Robert W. Kiger and James L. Reveal, this database is a scheme of four-character abbreviations for all properly usable plant-family names known to have been published to date, and of two-character rank suffixes for coordinated abbreviation of type-based names at standard suprafamilial ranks.


This scheme provides a comprehensive basis for standardized semi-mnemonic abbreviation of plant-family names and type-based suprafamilial names. It comprises two coordinated sets of abbreviation elements. The first is a suite of unique four-character abbreviations for all plant-family names that were validly published to date, are legitimate or conserved, are potentially correct, and are admissible. Thus, this suite includes, so far as known, every family name that, with citation of the correct authority, might properly be used, and no others. All but nine of these family names are based on generic names, the exceptions being those sanctioned by the Code. The second set of elements is a list of two-character rank-suffix abbreviations that can be appended to the abbreviations from the family-names suite to obtain unique six-character abbreviations for type-based names at any standard rank above family.

Robert W. Kiger has been responsible for devising the family-name abbreviations and for databasing the resulting set of names and abbreviations. James L. Reveal, drawing on his comprehensive investigations with the late Ruurd Hoogland on the publication and nomenclatural status of plant-family names, has been responsible for determining the names to be included in the family list; he also devised the set of rank-suffix abbreviations. We welcome suggestions for improvement, directed to either of us. All brickbats, however, should be aimed at Reveal, who is the larger target.

Abbreviations for family names

Whenever possible, for mnemonic utility, the abbreviation is the same as the first four letters of the family name's stem. When the stem comprises only three letters (e.g., Pin-aceae) or only two (e.g., Po-aceae), the abbreviation is filled out to four characters by adding one or two "+" symbols, as appropriate. These fillers can be elided, with no loss of uniqueness, in any contexts that do not require fixed-length abbreviations, or they can be replaced by another non-alphabetic character of choice.

In the majority of family names included here, the first four characters (including any fillers) of their stems are unique sequences, which have provided straightforward abbreviations. Otherwise, when the first four letters of two or more stems are identical, the fourth and, in a very few cases, the third characters have been varied to obtain unique abbreviations. Each abbreviation derived by such variation utilizes letters found elsewhere within the stem, chosen for as much mnemonic value as the constraints allow. When a name that has been or is likely to be considered a name in current use belongs to a set that required such variation, it has had priority for least variation.

The two-character suffix abbreviation AC (for -aceae, indicating family rank) is implicitly appended to each of these four-character abbreviations of family names (more precisely, of their stems). In some contexts, however, it may be desirable to render these two additional characters explicitly (see below under Suprafamilial rank-suffix abbreviations).

The database can be searched by full family name or by four-character abbreviation.

Suprafamilial rank-suffix abbreviations

These are two-character abbreviations of the standard suffixes that indicate the suprafamilial ranks normally used in the hierarchy of botanical nomenclature. Appended to the preceding four-character family-name abbreviations, they will provide unique six-character abbreviations for type-based names at those suprafamilial ranks.

PH  -phyta  division
PN  -phytina  subdivision
OP  -opsida  class
ID  -idae  subclass
AN  -anae  superorder
AL  -ales  order
IN  -ineae  suborder

In contexts where abbreviations for family names will be used along with ones for names at suprafamilial ranks, and where it is necessary that all those abbreviations be of uniform length, the two-letter abbreviation AC (for the rank suffix -aceae) that is implicitly appended to the four-character family abbreviations can be rendered overtly to achieve parallel structure, with no compromise of uniqueness. In such situations, of course, fill characters in the four-character family abbreviations would not be elided; if they were, then not only would some of the compound abbreviations fall short of six characters, but in some cases there would be a loss of uniqueness in the initial four-character strings.


The following pairs of full names and their abbreviations will illustrate the application of the above scheme.

Hamamelidaceae  HAMA[AC]
Vitaceae  VIT+[AC]
Poaceae  PO++[AC]
Laurales  LAURAL
Rosidae  ROS+ID
Magnoliopsida  MAGNOP
Pinophytina  PIN+PN
Magnoliophyta  MAGNPH

This is a contribution of the Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service with support from the National Agricultural Library. An earlier version of the information in this database was published in Huntia, 11(1), 2000. The database is available also at http://www.plantsystematics.org/reveal/pbio/fam/famabbr.html.