Russian words for forest trees: a lexicological and etymological study

by Brian Cooper


There are two main types of forest trees that will be examined in this study: conifers, such as pine, fir and spruce, and broad-leaved trees, such as oak, beech and birch. In general, nut and fruit trees are not examined. The examination will show that many tree names have changed the object that they signify over time. The study will begin with the conifers, of which eight genera will be examined; there are many more broad-leaved trees to be studied. Some tree genera have two or more names in modern Russian. Salix, the willow, for example has at least ten names for various species, while Ulmus, the elm, has five and Sambucus, the elder, has only two. Most genera have just one name, but some names have changed the tree to which they refer over time. This is sometimes because the original speakers migrated to an area where the tree to which the word first referred was not present in the new area. Proto-Indo-European (PIE), the ultimate origin of a number of these tree names, was spoken in central and eastern Europe during 5500–3000 BC, a period corresponding roughly to the last two millennia of PIE unity. The east European area had a temperate climate. The river systems of southern Russia had scattered but large forests of pine and hardwoods (oak, linden, willow, hornbeam, maple, beech and elder). PIE speakers knew and used many trees and were fully aware of their properties.

The uses of the trees fall into four categories: food, tools, religious and miscellaneous. Some yielded food for early man and the animals which he hunted and domesticated. Trees serving as tools and weapons included the oak, used for spears, boats and perhaps bows. The ash and possibly the hornbeam were worked into spears, wagon parts and other implements needing durable wood. The yew and elm served for bows and the cedar for ships and oars. Willow osiers were woven and plaited, perhaps into baskets and fences. The Scots pine, spruce and fir were sources of resin, tar and similar products. Five trees were used in PIE religion: birch, linden, beech, yew and especially oak. The last had a link with fire, lightning, the sky and the high pagan god Perun.

In English and Russian most major tree names consist of or are derived from minimal radical elements, for instance el′, buk, dub and fir, beech, oak. When a basic term refers to a species or even a variety, like the Scots pine or the European beech, it is because that species or variety is the only representative of the genus in the given area. The generic level groupings of organisms tend strongly to be labelled with unitary or unproductive composite terms, whereas species, as in Linnaean botany, are labelled by binary expressions consisting of the generic name plus a single attributive term. This indicates the priority of the concept of genus.


Philological evidence alone would suggest that any of the three main PIE conifer words (pine, fir and spruce) could have denoted simply ‘conifer’. Palaeobotanical evidence (pollen counts) indicates that the fir was absent in the fourth millennium from the whole of the central PIE homeland. Firs were generally absent from central and southern Russia until well after the dispersal of the PIE speakers. Individual dialects developed fir terms after their westward expansion and the spread of the silver fir (Abies alba) during the Subboreal period. Spruce was also absent from the central PIE homeland during the fourth and third millennia. It expanded with pine, by which it was greatly outnumbered. Its pollen has been found in the southern Volga and the Pripyat′–Desna area. During the increased aridity of the Subboreal period it yielded to the beech and fir. Pine was present throughout the PIE homeland during the entire Atlantic period. Several species have been present in central and east Europe at least since the early Holocene. By far the most widespread and frequent was the Scots pine, which predominated in central and northern Europe during the Boreal period, extending along the southern rivers to the Black Sea.

The Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), sometimes wrongly designated the Scotch fir, is called in Russian sosna obyknovennaja. The word for ‘pine’, sosna, is shared by Ukrainian (sosna) and Belarusian (sasna but more often xvoja) and also by the West Slavonic languages Czech, Slovak, Polish, Upper Sorbian (all sosna) and Polabian (süsnó). According to Vasmer (1976–80: s.v. sosna) and Černyx (1994: s.v. sosna) the word most probably derives from Indo-European *k’asnos ‘grey’, from the colour of its young branches; cf. Old Prussian sasins ‘hare’, Old High German haso ‘hare’, hasan ‘grey, shining’, Middle High German heswe ‘pale’, Sanskrit çaçás ‘hare’ (by assimilation < *çasás), Latin cānus ‘grey’ (< *casnos). However, the colour of young branches seems a tenuous reason to favour an origin from *k’asnos. Trubačev (Vasmer 1964–73: s.v. sosna) thinks it is more likely from *sop-snā, *sop-snь (cf. Polish dialect sośnia) < sopěti ‘breathe hard through the nose, blow’. Vasmer mentions the possibility that sosna comes from *sopsnā, which may denote a resinous tree; cf. Latin sapa ‘must, new wine boiled thick’ (Andrews 1863: s.v. sapa), Old High German saf ‘sap’, Old Norse safi ‘sap of a tree’, Armenian ham ‘juice’ (< *sapmo). Preobraženskij (1958: s.v. sosna) favours this derivation and compares Latin sapor ‘taste’, French sapin, Old French sap ‘spruce’, Latin sapīnus ‘pine or fir tree’, Welsh sybwydd ‘pine’ (literally ‘resinous tree’). Interesting from this point of view is the dialectal Russian sósna ‘sapwood of a tree’. The word sosná was originally connected with wild bee keeping; thus in the Pripyat′ Marshes sasna is only used for a hollow tree containing a hive of bees, xvoja being preferred otherwise. Wade (1996: s.v. sosna) plausibly suggests that it may be cognate with sopet′, referring to sounds emanating from a hollow tree with wild bees inside. The origin from *sopsnā thus seems the most likely. Preobraženskij (1958: s.v. sosna) notes that -sn- in Lithuanian is a suffix used in forming tree names, such as gluo-sn-is ‘willow’.

The silver fir (Abies alba) is pixta blagorodnaja in Russian. The German word for spruce, Fichte, is often replaced by ‘red fir’ (Rottanne) and was borrowed into Russian to denote fir, pixta (see Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. pixta). In scientific nomenclature one species of fir is called spruce fir (Picea abies). The Scots pine is often called ‘fir’ in British English. There is thus a great deal of terminological overlap between common conifers. All PIE words of the coniferous group are limited to the spruce–fir–pine set and do not include conifers like cedar and cypress. This shows that Indo-Europeans since early times distinguished these three main conifers from all others (Friedrich 1970: 35). One wonders whether there was therefore a dearth of coniferous species in the PIE environment, or a lack of concern for conifers, or a drastic difference between the coniferous environment of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and the areas into which speakers of PIE dialects moved.

German Fichte comes from Old and Middle High German fiuhta and viehte respectively, < Common Germanic *feuht(j)ōn, which is cognate with Greek peúkē ‘fir’, Lithuanian pušis (without the -t-) ‘pine’. The Greek suggests an Indo-European root *peuk- ‘prick, stab’ with a reflex in Latin pungere ‘prick, puncture’ (in view of the needles); cf. Greek ekhepeukés ‘sharp, piercing (thing)’. Related to this root are German Punkt ‘point’ and the taboo word ficken ‘fuck’ (Kluge 1989: s.vv. Fichte, ficken). Less likely is borrowing from a West Finnic language like Veps, in which píha : píhka : píhk = ‘resin’ (Černyx 1994: s.v. pixta). There was an association of conifers with pitch, tar and resin. Friedrich (1970: 24–25) makes the root *pewk’ or *pwk’ ‘pine or spruce’ and also *pyk’ ‘tar, pitch, pine, spruce’, seeing reflexes in Russian (and Old Church Slavonic) pëklo (peklo) ‘burning tar, pitch, hell’, Latin pix ‘pitch’, picea ‘pitch pine’ and Greek píssa ‘pitch’. He also distinguishes the root *pytw- as in Greek pítus and Albanian pishë ‘pine’. Latin pinus ‘pine, fir’ may descend from *pīt-snus and be related to the Greek. The Albanian may descend from *pīt-s-ja.

The Norway spruce (Picea abies) in Russian is el′ evropejskaja. The Russian word for ‘spruce’, el′, occurs with a different meaning (‘fir’) in other Slavonic languages. There is thus much confusion between the three most common conifer names (English ‘fir’ can denote any evergreen conifer and the Scots pine is often called ‘fir’, see Friedrich 1970: 31). As Slavonic examples, Bulgarian ela = Russian pixta ‘fir’, while Russian el′ = Bulgarian smъrč ‘spruce’. The other Slavonic cognates of el′ all mean ‘fir’ and go back to Proto-Slavonic *edlā, such as Ukrainian jel′, jil′, jal′, Serbo-Croat jela, Slovene jel(k)a, Czech jedle, Slovak jedl′a, Polish jodła, Lower Sorbian jedła, Upper Sorbian jědla. Vasmer (1976–80: s.v. el′) thinks the word is from an Indo-European root in -o of the feminine gender (*edhlo) and compares it with Old Prussian addle, Lithuanian eglė (< *edlė) ‘fir’, Latvian egle (< *edle) ‘spruce’, Latin ebulus, ebulum ‘elder’ (< Common Italic *eplo-s, *eplo-m*edhlo-s, *edhlo-m; cf. Trautmann 1923: 66, 1910: 296; Cuny 1910–11: 327). Černyx (1994: s.v. el′) sees the Slavonic words as from Common Slavonic *jedlь, *jedla, from the Indo-European root *edh- ‘sharp, prickly’ with the suffix -l- (Indo-European *-lŏ-, *-lā-). The root *edh- existed in an o-grade *odh- which is apparent in the Old Prussian addle and the Gaulish odocos ‘elder’ (Cuny 1910–11: 327).

Machek distinguishes another root for ‘spruce’, *smerka (1954: 35) as in Czech smrk, dialect śvrk, Slovak smrek, smrečina, svrčina, Polish sm(e)rek, świerk, Upper Sorbian šmŕek(a), Lower Sorbian šmŕok, Russian smereka and the collective smerčie, Ukrainian smerek(a), Bulgarian smъrč, smrika, Serbo-Croat smreka, smraka, Slovene smreka (see Miklosich 1970: s.v. smerkŭ). The initial form *smerka may be compared with German Föhre ‘pine’ < *perka, with the alternation p/m and a mobile s in Slavonic. Not all of these words now refer to spruce; for example, Serbo-Croat smreka and Bulgarian smrika mean ‘juniper’, while Russian smerčie is a sort of coniferous tree mentioned in the Bible (1 Kings 19:4), where it is translated ‘juniper’ (see Dal′ 1912–14: s.v. smerčie).

The cedar of Lebanon and Indian cedar (deodar) are respectively kedr livanskij (Cedrus libani) and kedr gimalajskij (Cedrus deodara). The Russian for ‘cedar’, kedr, is derived from the Greek kédros ‘cedar, juniper’ and occurs in Old Church Slavonic as kedrъ in Ostromir’s Gospel book (Vasmer 1907: 241, 1976–80: s.v. kedr). The word also exists in Ukrainian as kedr(a), Belarusian as kedr, Czech as cedr, Slovak as céder, Serbo-Croat as kedar, cedar, Bulgarian as kedъr, Slovene as cedra (all ‘cedar’) and Polish as keder, kieder ‘type of larch’ (Preobraženskij 1958: s.v. kedr). From kédros comes Latin cedrus, whence the words in Slavonic languages beginning with c-, like Czech cedr. The origin of the Greek is not fully clear; it originally meant ‘juniper’ and may be from the Indo-European root *ked-, as seen in Russian kadit′ ‘burn incense’ and čad ‘fumes’, or from a similar Semitic root seen in Hebrew qātar ‘it smoked’, the original sense being ‘wood used for incense’ (Barnhart 1988: s.v. cedar). The Armenian word for cedar is eł-ew-in. The proto-form was *el-w-n-. The Proto-Slavonic cognate is *jalovьcь, as in dialectal Russian jalovec ‘juniper’. There was a widespread tendency to confuse cedar and juniper because they have numerous similarities in the berries, wood and general appearance. One word may be used for both, or two similar words like Old Church Slavonic smrěčъ ‘juniper’ and smrěča ‘cedar’. The Greek elátē ‘pine, fir’, derived from *el-n- plus the suffix -tá, corresponds to the Slavonic and Armenian.

The European larch (Larix decidua) is listvennica evropejskaja or opadajuščaja. Its name listvennica is derived from the adjective listvennyj ‘deciduous, leaf-bearing’ with the suffix -ica. It is probably short for listvennoe derevo ‘deciduous tree’ because its needles, unlike those of most conifers, are deciduous. The name appears to have been derived by dropping derevo from the adjective + noun phrase and adding -ica to the adjectival stem in the same way as in many plant names (see Cooper 2003: 105).

The hemlock fir or hemlock spruce is cuga or gemlok. Cuga is from Japanese tsuga ‘larch’ (Jaeger 1944: s.v. tsuga), while gemlok is a loanword from English hemlock, itself from Old English hymlic(e), perhaps related to hymele ‘hop plant’, which corresponds to Old Icelandic humli and Old Church Slavonic xъmelь ‘hop plant’, all perhaps derived from Finnish humala ‘hop’ (Barnhart 1988: s.v. hemlock). The eastern hemlock, Canadian hemlock or hemlock spruce is cuga kanadskaja (Tsuga canadensis), while the western hemlock, hemlock fir or Prince Albert’s fir is cuga zapadnaja (Tsuga heterophylla, see Encyclopaedia Britannica 1973–74: s.v. hemlock). It is worth mentioning here also Russian psevdocuga, literally ‘false hemlock’, especially Pseudotsuga menziesii, the Douglas fir.

The Chile pine or monkey puzzle is araukarija (Araucaria araucana), so named because it forms extensive pine-like forests in the Chilean province of Arauco. Araucaria is a genus of pine-like coniferous plants including the bunya pine A. bidwillii and the Norfolk Island pine A. heterophylla or A. excelsa (araukarija vysokaja).

The Mediterranean or Italian cypress is kiparis večnozelënyj (Cupressus sempervirens), while the Hinoki cypress is kiparisnik (or kiparisovik) tupolistnyj (Chamaecyparis obtusa). Russian kiparis is from Greek kupárissos, a Mediterranean word. Kiparisnik and kiparisovik are derivatives of it with the suffixes -nik and -ovik. The word is found in different forms in the other Slavonic languages: Ukrainian kyparys, Belarusian kiparys, Bulgarian and Serbo-Croat kiparis, Slovene cipresa, Czech cypřiš and Polish cyprys. The last three come from Latin cupressus, cypressus or cyparissus. It is not obvious why the Greek iota should appear as e in Latin (Meillet 1908–09: 162).

Broad-leaved trees

The Atlantic period (5500–3000 BC) was characterised by the appearance of hardwoods without parallel before or since; the deciduous belt in the former USSR was over 800 miles wide. The oak expanded mainly at the expense of the elm, maple and ash. The beech spread in the Subboreal period (3000–800 BC), when the Indo-Europeans were migrating westwards and southwards. Most of the Caucasus stayed covered with beech forests. The shade-tolerant hornbeam first spread over most of south-eastern and eastern Europe and later advanced rapidly into western and central Europe, where it flourished as an understorey beneath beech and oak. Competitors like birch, alder, maple and elm were often reduced by the dense shade of oak and hornbeam. Tree names were sensitive to the migration of the speech community into a new region and to ecological change.

The oak includes the pedunculate or English oak (dub čereščatyj, Quercus robur), the sessile or durmast oak (dub skal′nyj, Q. petraea), the holm oak (dub kamennyj, Q. ilex) and the turkey oak (dub avstrijskij, Q. cerris). The oaks were first outnumbered by the elms and lindens, but by the middle of the Atlantic period they abounded in the Ciscaucasus and probably extended far north into the Cossack steppe. Quercus was the focal genus during the great hardwood growth of the middle and late Atlantic. During the Subboreal the oak yielded somewhat to the fir and beech. The line of the English oak begins in St Petersburg, runs to Vyatka in north European Russia and on eastwards to the Urals, then back to Saratov on the Volga and along the ecological boundary between the steppe and forest-steppe, and so on to south-east Europe and the Balkans. West of this zigzag line the oak is hardy. It is thought to have flourished the longest and impinged on man’s economy the longest in the Caucasus.

The Russian word for ‘oak’, dub, is of Common Slavonic origin and occurs in various forms in the other Slavonic languages, e.g. Ukrainian, Belarusian, Czech, Slovak, Upper and Lower Sorbian and Serbo-Croat dub, Slovene dob, Bulgarian dъb, Macedonian dab, Polish dąb (genitive dębu; cf. Old Prussian dumpbis ‘tan’). The original meaning was evidently ‘tree’, as in Polabian jabłkodąb. Černyx (1994: s.v. dub) convincingly argues that the Slavonic word for oak derives from Indo-European *dheu-bh- : *dhou-bh- ‘dark’ (with a nasal infix) because of the dark-brown medulla of the tree (see also Wade 1996: s.v. dub). Somewhat less plausibly Vasmer (1976–80: s.v. dub) thinks the word is derived from *dombros < *dom-ros, which he sees as cognate with Greek démō ‘I build’, Old Norse timbr, English timber, Old High German zimbar ‘wood for building, wooden structure, room’ < Indo-European *dem- : *dom- ‘build’. Oak was after all widely used as building material. However, Falk (1958: 266) reconstructs an early Proto-Slavonic form *dumbås meaning ‘hollow (in a tree trunk), hollow tree’, which is a variant of Proto-Slavonic *dub with a nasal infix, so that it goes back to Indo-European *dheub- and its variants; cf. Polish dub, dziub ‘hollow in a tree trunk’, dupa ‘arse’, Russian duplo ‘hollow’. Lithuanian has a word formally equivalent to Falk’s reconstruction, i.e. dumbas ‘hollow, cavity’. Related words include Norwegian dump ‘hollow in the earth’, German Tümpel ‘pool’. It is not clear, however, why ‘hollow’ should be characteristic of oaks in particular. Less plausible also is a link between dub and German Tanne ‘fir’, Old High German tanna, via Indo-European *dhan-bhos, as suggested by Holub and Kopečny (1952: s.v. dub); cf. Indic dhanuh ‘bow’ (oaks were used in making bows), dhanvana ‘fruit tree’ and Proto-Germanic *danwō ‘oak, pine’.

There is another root originally denoting ‘oak’ that appears in Slavonic, but it now denotes ‘tree’ in general. This is *dorw- : *derw- : *drw-, which gives Russian derevo ‘tree’ and drova ‘firewood’; compare Middle Welsh derw-en ‘oak’, Sanskrit drus, drumas ‘tree’, Greek drũs ‘oak, any timber tree’, dóru ‘plank, timber’, dru(w)ás ‘wood nymph’, Old English trēo ‘tree’ (< *drew), Gothic triu ‘tree’, Albanian dru ‘log’, Russian dialect drom ‘dense forest’, Old Irish derucc ‘acorn’, daur ‘oak’, Latin dūrus ‘hard’, Cornish dar ‘oak’, Lithuanian derva ‘resin’ (Friedrich 1970: 140, 143). Of all the tree names it is the most solidly attested. The many reflexes in various Indo-European languages indicate the full range of ablaut variation in the vocalism of the root. For example, each of the following variants has two or more reflexes in two or more of the daughter languages: *derw-, as in Russian derevo and Middle Welsh derw-en; *dorw-, as in Sanskrit dāru and Greek dóru; *drw-, as in Greek dru(w)ás; *drew-, as in Old English trēo; and with an additional n element, as in Albanian drû, drûni ‘beam, piece of wood’ and dry, dryni ‘wooden peg’. Some languages illustrate three vocalisms, e.g. Russian derevo, zdorov ‘healthy’ and drova. Friedrich (1970: 140) uses *dorw- as a symbol for the entire cluster of forms.

An apparent reflex denoting ‘pine’ occurs in Indic, sometimes alone, as in dāru ‘species of pine, block of wood’, sometimes as a second element meaning ‘tree, wood’, as in dēva-dāru ‘godly tree’. The ‘pine’ meaning is carried wholly or in part by the pītā in pītā-dāru ‘kind of pine tree’. Some Baltic derived forms with coniferous meanings, such as derva ‘tar’ but also ‘log, piece of pine wood’, are greatly exceeded by widespread reflexes in Germanic languages which indicate that the conifer–tar association is very ancient. On the basis of these reflexes it has been argued that the original meaning of *dorw- may have been a conifer of some kind. Semantic correspondences to the root *dorw- include also ‘hard’ (because wood is hard). It has been argued that early Indic dāru was a Himalayan spruce, with particularly hard wood; the same form also meant ‘bronze’. Reflexes of *dorw- can also denote qualities such as ‘hale, firm, tough, strong, true, brave’, e.g. Armenian tram ‘firm, fixed’, Welsh drud ‘brave’, Lithuanian drutas ‘strong, stout’, Avestan drvō ‘hale’, Latin dūrus ‘hard’, Greek droón ‘firm, strong’, and of course Russian zdorovyj ‘healthy’. Germanic has a large set of reflexes meaning ‘true’, as in Old Norse trū and Old High German trūen, as well as notions of trust and loyalty, like Gothic triggw-s ‘belief’, triggwa ‘agreement, contract’; cf. Old Prussian druwi ‘belief’ and the parallel between Old Icelandic draustr ‘sureness, confidence’ and Iranian durust ‘true’.

In examining which of the two major hypotheses regarding the original sense of *dorw- (tree or oak) is the more likely, one must first note that ten language stocks have at least one reflex with the meaning ‘tree’ or ‘wood’, e.g. Germanic, Greek, Baltic and Slavonic. Tocharian A and B have or ‘wood’, Avestan draoš meant ‘of the wood’, Vedic dāru frequently has the sense ‘wood’, while druma means ‘tree’. Albanian dru means ‘wood, tree, post’, druvar is ‘woodsman’, while drushk, a later diminutive, is ‘oak’. Hittite taru means ‘wood’. The primary sense of *dorw- in Proto-Celtic was probably ‘oak’, as preserved in Old Irish derucc ‘acorn’, Old Irish daur, Cornish dar and Middle Welsh derwen, all meaning ‘oak’. Richer evidence comes from Greek, in which dru(w)inos means ‘oaken’, druós and drũs mean ‘oak’ and dru(w)ás is a ‘wood nymph’. The early Greeks appear to have believed in oak sprites. It seems likely that the sense ‘hardness’ would have developed from a sense ‘oak’, especially the hardest Quercus robur, which predominated in the PIE homeland. The wide distribution and rich formal differentiation of the reflexes may be a vestige of the importance of oak in the lives of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. As the oak or mixed oak forests contracted and speakers of PIE dialects migrated into new homelands (two simultaneous processes during the third and second millennia BC), the meaning of the *dorw- reflexes shifted from ‘oak’ to ‘tree, wood, hardness’ and ‘fir, tar, pinewood’, the latter in Baltic and North Germanic dialects, since their speakers are thought to have migrated into northern coniferous zones during the time that oak was receding. On the basis of this examination, it would seem that the ‘oak’ hypothesis is at least as plausible as its more usually accepted rival.

The sweet chestnut is kaštan s″edobnyj (Castanea sativa). The Russian word kaštan is derived by way of Polish kasztan, Czech kaštan, from German Kastanie or popular Kastane from Latin castanea, Greek kástanon, the origin of which is seen as the Armenian adjective kaskeni from kask ‘chestnut’ (Vasmer 1976–80, Preobraženskij 1958: s.v. kaštan). The horse chestnut is kaštan konskij (Aesculus hippocastanum). The botanical Latin hippocastanum literally means ‘horse chestnut’, from Greek hippos ‘horse’ and kástanon ‘chestnut’. The word for ‘chestnut’ takes various forms in the different Slavonic languages, e.g. Ukrainian and Czech kaštan, Polish kasztan, Old Church Slavonic kostan′, kastan, Slovene kostanj, Bulgarian kosten, kesten and Serbian kesten (Preobraženskij 1958: s.v. kaštan). The Serbian and Bulgarian come via Turkish kestane.

The European beech is buk evropejskij or lesnoj (Fagus sylvatica). Common Slavonic *bukъ gives buk in Russian and most Slavonic languages, but not in Slovene and Old Czech bukev, Serbian bukva and Polish bukiew (as well as buk). Vasmer thinks it quite possible that bukev is the older form, with buk occurring by analogy with other monosyllabic tree names like klën, vjaz, grab and dub. Otherwise two ancient forms must be accepted, both borrowed from Common Germanic (see Moszyński 1957: 63): *buky, genitive *bukъve, from *bōk-ō and *bukъ from *bōkaz or *bōks; cf. Old Norse bók, Gothic bōka, Old Saxon bôka, Old English bōc ‘beech’, Old High German buohha, German Buche, all related to Latin fāgus ‘beech’, Greek fēgós ‘kind of oak’, from the Indo-European *bhāg’os (see Friedrich 1970: 25). Clearly Slavonic bukъ cannot have come from the Indo-European *bhā(u)g’o-, which is the basis of Russian buzina, dialectally buz ‘elderberry’ (see Černyx 1994: s.v. buzina). Lithuanian bukas, borrowed from Belarusian, means both ‘beech’ and ‘elder’, and such fluctuation in tree names is not unknown. The connection of Russian buz(ina) with Indo-European *bhāg’o- : *bhā(u)g’o- : *bhug’o- is examined by Vasmer (1976–80: s.v. buzina). Common Slavonic *bъzъ = Ukrainian boz, Bulgarian bъz, Serbo-Croat baz, Czech and Polish bez.

Another interesting relation of PIE *bhāg’os is to notions of writing. Some early tribes may have used the smooth grey bark of beech for inscribing symbols. Intimations of writing are strongest in Germanic, where at least some of the earliest reflexes, such as Old Norse bok, meant ‘letter, little stick for writing’. English book is related to Old English bōc ‘beech’, and Russian bukva ‘letter of the alphabet’ is similarly related to Gothic bōka, pre-Gothic bōkō, on the assumption that early inscriptions were made on tablets of beech wood. The Germanic meanings passed into Slavonic during the first millennium AD. Attempts have been made to link the Indo-European word with a root denoting nourishment, as seen in Greek fágein ‘eat’, and with Russian bogat- ‘rich’ and Indic bhāga- ‘property’ (Friedrich 1970: 109). This seems somewhat dubious.

Evidently the early Slavs lived in the area of the yew and beech, calling them iva and baz or buz, but when they moved east out of this area they began to apply these words to the willow and elder respectively (Moszyński 1957: 61). Certainly the Slavonic reflexes of PIE *bhāg’os shifted their referent to various types of elder, such as Sambucus nigra (Russian buzina čërnaja), S. racemosa (buzina krasnaja) and S. ebulus (buzina dikaja). These shifts were presumably facilitated by features shared by elder and beech, such as smooth light bark, bright green oblong leaves, and large round-headed spreading habit. As for the Baltic words such as Lithuanian bukas, they are thought by some to be eighteenth-century loans from learned Latin sambucus, with loss of the initial unstressed syllable, and by others to be borrowed from Slavonic, probably Belarusian. The latter origin seems the more likely. That the Lithuanian form means both ‘beech’ and ‘elder’ shows that Indo-European speakers in this region can treat the two genera (Fagus and Sambucus) as referents of a single term. Latin sambucus may derive from PIE *bhāg’os, but this seems unlikely. It can be posited that PIE *bhāg’os ‘beech’ shifted to include elder in Proto-Balto-Slavonic and was then dropped altogether in Proto-Baltic but contracted to ‘elder’ in Proto-Slavonic. This last change happened either after the Balts and Slavs moved north from their homeland or after the beech itself moved westwards during the aridity and cold of the Subboreal period.

Two species were involved in prehistoric times: the common or European beech (F. sylvatica) and the eastern or Caucasian beech (F. orientalis). The latter is one of the basic arboreal components of the Caucasus, present from the Tertiary period. During the Atlantic period it extended northwards into the Cossack steppe. Today it constitutes about a quarter of the Caucasian tree population. The common beech is a sensitive tree. By the Preboreal period it was present on the lower Bug River and in the Carpathian area. During the late Boreal and early Atlantic, it expanded westwards into western Europe and eastwards into what is now Belarus′ and west European Russia. By the middle of the Subboreal (about 1500 BC) the common beech was dominant or frequent in many areas from France to the Carpathians and formed, together with oak, the vast primeval forests of historic Gaul and Germania. Today it is restricted to an area west of a boundary from about East Prussia to Odessa. The scarcity or absence of beeches in the eastern Baltic area correlates with the absence of a reflex of *bhāg’os in the Baltic languages.

The willow in Russian is normally iva (Salix) and includes the species crack willow or withy (S. fragilis, iva lomkaja), weeping willow (S. babylonica, iva plakučaja or vavilonskaja), goat willow or sallow (S. caprea, iva koz′ja, bredina or rakita), basket willow or common osier (S. viminalis, iva korzinočnaja, belotal or loza), sharp-leaved willow (S. acutifolia, iva ostrolistaja, verba krasnaja, krasnotal or šeljuga), purple osier or purple willow (S. purpurea, iva purpurnaja) and the bay(-leaved) or laurel willow (S. pentandra, iva pjatityčinkovaja or černotal). The Russian word iva has cognates in other Slavonic languages, e.g. Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croat, Slovene and Slovak iva, Polish iwa, Czech and Upper Sorbian jiva, Kashubian vjiva and Polabian jeivó. Most of these denote ‘willow’ but Czech jiva means ‘yew’, though this may be under the influence of the German speech community. Also cognate are Lithuanian and Latvian ievaPrunus padus, bird cherry’ (both willow and bird cherry have reddish wood), Old Prussian iuwis, īwis ‘yew’, Cornish hivin, Breton iven, Middle Irish ēo, Welsh ywen (Celtic *ivos) ‘yew’, Old English éoh, éow, īw, English yew, Old High German īwa, Old Norse ýr ‘yew’, Greek óa, óē, oíē, oúaSorbus’ (< *oiwa), Latin ūva ‘(bunch of) grapes, laurel berry’ (with ū- from Indo-European *oi-), Hittite eyan, probably denoting ‘yew’ not ‘tree’, and Armenian aigi ‘vineyard’ < *oiwiyā (Černyx 1994, Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. iva; Friedrich 1970: 24-25).

Evidently the early Slavs lived in an area containing yew trees, calling them iva, but when they moved east out of this area they began to apply the word to willow (Moszyński 1957: 61). This may reflect an ancient shift by speakers living in eastern zones, from which the yew had withdrawn; fossil remains indicate that the yew was more widespread in prehistoric times. In some languages there is a shift from ‘yew’ to the typical yew product ‘bow’ (both Old Norse ýr and Old Irish ibhar can mean either the tree or the weapon). Meillet (1906–08: 478–479) makes the reasonable inference that the initial form was an o-stem of feminine gender (*eiwo-). Common Slavonic *iva is from Indo-European *eiwā, while in some other languages the ‘yew’ word is derived from the parallel diphthong *oiwā; the root *ei- : *oi- expresses the colour sense ‘reddish’ (Pokorny 1959: 297); cf. Russian krasnotal, krasnaja verba (Černyx 1994: s.v. iva). There is no basis for considering Russian iva a loanword from such Germanic words as Middle Low German, Middle Dutch īwe, iewe, uwe, Middle High German īwe, ībe, German Eibe, from Common Germanic *īhwas, *īgwas, *īhwō, *īgwō, although French if, Spanish iva and Medieval Latin ivus are from Germanic (OED 1971: s.v. yew).

As for semantic aspects of the ‘yew’ word, the first possibility is that the referents show different reflexes from what was originally a general term for any red-wooded berry-yielding plant, but these two phenomena seem inadequate for grouping forms of disparate habit, ranging from vine to bush to tree. Also the willow, denoted by most Slavonic forms, lacks berries. A second possibility, much more likely, is that members of this set derive from a PIE root meaning ‘coloured, red’ (*ei, as in Sanskrit ei-to ‘coloured’). A third possibility is that PIE *eiwo- originally denoted one clear-cut class, probably the yew, which is the only referent in Celtic and Germanic, and the referent in at least one language in Baltic and Slavonic (Old Prussian and Czech). From this it shifts to willow, bird cherry and so forth on the basis of shared properties. These last two possibilities seem to account satisfactorily for the results seen in the languages examined.

The word verbá (as vjarba) has replaced iva as the general word for ‘willow’ in Belarusian, but in Russian it applies only to some species, such as sharp-leaved willow (verba krasnaja) and goat willow or sallow (verba). The form verba exists in Ukrainian with cognates in Bulgarian vrъba, Serbo-Croat, Slovene, Slovak and Czech vrba, Polish wierzba, Upper Sorbian wjeŕba and Lower Sorbian wjerba. These are all related to Lithuanian virbas ‘stalk, branch, stem’, Latvian virbs ‘stick’, virba ‘rod’, Greek rhábdos ‘staff’, rhapís ‘rod’, rhafís ‘needle’, Latin verbēnae ‘laurel leaves and branches’, verbera ‘blows, lashes, rods’, urbs ‘town’ (i.e. a place surrounded by wattle fencing). Basically the sense is ‘rods for wattling, binding’ and the root is *wer- ‘plait, bend, turn, twist’ > *wrb- (Friedrich 1970: 56).

Another turning or twisting root for willow is *wyt-, which gave Russian vetlaSalix alba’ (Vasmer says ‘S. pendula’), connected by alternation of vowels with vetv′ ‘branch’, vit′ ‘weave, woven object’ (Friedrich 1970: 24–25); cf. Lithuanian žilvitisSalix alba’, Latvian vituols ‘willow’, Old Prussian witwo, Greek (w)itéa, Old High German wida ‘willow’, Latin vītis ‘grape vine’, Old English wīthig ‘withy, willow’, Old Norse vīdir ‘willow’ (Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. vetla; Friedrich 1970: 55). The verbal root for these nominal forms from *wyt- is wy- ‘bend, twist’, as in Sanskrit váyati ‘wound’, Russian vit′ and Lithuanian vyti ‘twist’. Most of the hundred-odd willow species fall into two groups, the osier or bush willows, e.g. the golden, purple and pussy willows, and the tree willows like the common Salix alba. The PIE *wyt- and possibly *wrb- may have denoted the osiers or the shoots of the tree willows, since all the reflexes involve some notion of weaving or bending. The willow probably came in with the birch and pine, spread during the moist and cold Preboreal period and was present all over the former USSR during subsequent millennia. The species present were probably S. alba and S. vitellina. The wide attestation of the two terms is very likely connected with the residence of so many PIE speakers along or near the great rivers of ‘southern Russia’, particularly the Dnieper, Don and Kuban′, as well as on stream banks, lake shores and swamps, all favoured habitats of this moisture-requiring tree. Given its wide distribution, from the tropics to the arctic, it is surprising that no more than two or three PIE roots can be reconstructed. An idea of its taxonomic richness is conveyed by Russian folk speech, in which about seven types of willow are designated by at least twenty-one names, most of them complex forms. Some of these will be examined next.

Šeljuga, which occurs also in Ukrainian, is an obscure word. A link with German Sahlweide ‘willow’ is implausible on phonetic grounds (Vasmer 1964–73: s.v. šeljuga), as is a link with Latin salix, Romanian salce. One should notice, however, the Old Norse selja and Danish selje ‘sallow’. A connection with Bulgarian šile and Serbo-Croat šiljeg ‘lamb’, as suggested by Moszyński on the basis of the well-known semantic association of willow catkins with lambs, is unlikely because the South Slav words are borrowed from Albanian. Krasnotal, belotal and černotal are compounds based on tal (also tal′nik), a dialect word for willow shrub borrowed from Turkic tal (see Ušakov 1935–40: s.v. tal; Tenišev 2001: 125); cf. Turkish dal ‘bough, branch’. Thus krasnotal means ‘red willow’, belotal ‘white willow’ and černotal ‘black willow’. Bred or bredina ‘willow’ is according to Vasmer (1976–80: s.v. bred, bredina) a Pskov dialect word which goes back to the verb bresti, bredu ‘wade’ because the willow grows in damp places. It is unlikely to originate with Albanian breth ‘spruce, fir’. Rakita was originally rokita (the -a- appearing by akan′e), as it still is in Ukrainian. In the other Slavonic languages one meets Bulgarian, Serbo-Croat and Slovene rakita, Czech and Slovak rokyta, Polish rokita, Upper Sorbian rokot and Lower Sorbian rokit(a). Proto-Slavonic *orkyta is linked with Latvian ercis ‘juniper’, ēršķis ‘blackthorn’, Greek árkeuthos ‘juniper’. A link with Latin arcus ‘bow’, English arrow, is implausible, as is the suggested root *ork- ‘stream’, giving Old Prussian wurs ‘pond’. Also unlikely is a link with Czech rákos, rokos ‘reed’ (Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. rakita). Loza, which in one meaning is applied to willow, occurs in Ukrainian, Old Church Slavonic, Bulgarian, Serbo-Croat, Slovene, Old Czech, Slovak and Polish. It is perhaps related to Lithuanian lazda ‘stick, hazel’, Latvian lagzda ‘hazel’, Old Prussian laxde ‘hazel’, Albanian laithí ‘hazel’, Armenian last ‘raft, boat’, although the phonetic relation is unclear (Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. loza). One the other hand there may be a link with laz(it′), lézu suggesting a creeping plant. A connection with Latin larix is implausible. It is also worth noting Persian raz ‘vine’ (Vasmer 1964–73: s.v. loza).

The poplar is Populus, in Russian tópol′. Similar forms exist in other Slavonic languages, e.g. Ukrainian topólja, Belarusian tapolja, Bulgarian topóla, Serbo-Croat and Slovene topola, Czech topol, Slovak topol’, Polish topol(a), Upper and Lower Sorbian topoł. The Slavonic word is cognate with Latin pōpulus, with dissimilation of p–p to t–p. It is related to Greek pteléa ‘elm’, apellón = aígeiros ‘black poplar’. Borrowing from Latin would be possible if one were to start from medieval Latin papulus, as in the case of Old High German papilboum, Middle High German papel ‘poplar’ (Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. topol′). The Romanian cognate is plop (< plōp(u)lus) and the Italian pioppo. The Common Slavonic is *topolь (see Černyx 1994: s.v. topol′). The Latin may well be derived from the root *pel- ‘grey’ (from the bark colour) with partial reduplication in Latin *pe-pel-. Today three species of poplar (black, white and grey, P. nigra, P. alba and P. canescens respectively) abound in central and southern Europe. The quaking aspen P. tremula has for centuries been salient in the east and north-east of Europe. In much of southern Siberia the seeds, buds, twigs and shoots of Populus provide food, especially in winter, for many wild animals. It is likely that Populus was well-known and economically important to both eastern and western Proto-Indo-Europeans in their Cis-Caspian–Caucasian and Ukrainian homeland area.

Osina denotes the aspen or Populus tremula. It occurs in Ukrainian as osina, osika, Bulgarian as jasika, osika, Czech dialect and Polish as osa, osina, Slovak as osika, Upper Sorbian as wosa, wosyna, Lower Sorbian as wosa, wósa, Serbo-Croat as jasika and Slovene as jasika, jesika. Proto-Slavonic *opsa is related to Lithuanian apušė, apušis ‘aspen’, eastern Lithuanian epušė ‘black poplar’, Latvian apse ‘aspen’, Old Prussian abse, Old High German, Old Saxon aspa ‘aspen’ (with transposition of -ps- to -sp-), Old English æspe ‘aspen’. It is doubtful whether there is any connection with Greek áspris, áspros ‘sterile type of oak, Quercus cerris’, aspís ‘shield, defence’. The word was widely distributed in Indo-European (as *apsa) because languages in southern Siberia borrowed it from an eastern Indo-European language, perhaps Iranian, or Armenian op’i ‘white poplar’; compare the Tobolsk dialect of the Tatars awsak, Altai and Teleut dialect apsak, Kumandu aspak, Chuvash ëvës (Friedrich 1970: 49; Vasmer 1976–80, Černyx 1994: s.v. osina). The PIE word was perhaps *asp(h)i-o, *osp(h)i-o (see Friedrich 1970: 51); cf. Sanskrit sphyá ‘shovel, oar’ (perhaps because early Indo-Europeans fashioned paddles from poplar).

Russian osokor′ is the black poplar Populus nigra and, if Vasmer is to be believed (1976–80: s.v. osokor′), also the white poplar P. alba. However, Vasmer follows Dal′ in labelling the word as feminine, whereas most authorities make it masculine (see Ušakov 1935–40, Ožegov & Švedova 1998, Kuznecov 2000: s.v. osokor′). He gives the stress as ósokor′ and notes that osokór′ is northern and eastern Russian, though this stress is given as standard in the three authorities listed above. Vasmer notes that Gogol′ has osokor (cf. Ukrainian osokír, jasokír, genitive osokóru, jasokóru, and Belarusian jasakár). The word in o- probably goes back to osina ‘aspen’ and kora ‘bark’ (osa + kora). Forms in ja- are linked with Serbo-Croat jasika ‘aspen’ or with jasnyj ‘clear’, i.e. a tree with light-coloured bark. Moszyński (1957: 299) thinks osokor′ easiest to explain if the original was jasokor, interpreted as ‘tree with light bark’ (‘drzewo o jasnej korze’); cf. Serbo-Croat jas ‘brightness, lightness’ and Czech jas ‘brightness’. This would give Common Slavonic *jas-ъka (+ kor(a) = jasokor). Although applied now to black poplar, osokor′ was once applied to white poplar, which was perhaps the original sense. A similar idea to the light (white) bark is seen in Old High German albāri, from Latin albarus ‘white poplar’. Moszyński points out, however, that Pogodin derived osokor′ from the sense ‘tree with a bark similar to the bark of aspen’: osy (= osiny) kora.

In the Russian recension of Old Church Slavonic there exists the collective noun jagnjadьe ‘black poplars’, which has cognates in Serbo-Croat jagnjed, Slovene jagned ‘black poplar’, Slovak jahneda, Czech jehněda ‘white poplar’. Proto-Slavonic *agnędь derives from agnьcь ‘lamb’ because the hairy seeds resemble a lamb’s coat. One can scarcely accept a direct link with Greek ágnos ‘chaste tree’ (Vasmer 1964–73: s.v. jagnjadьe).

The yew is Taxus, in Russian tis(s), as reflected in tis jagodnyj, the English yew Taxus baccata. Latin taxus (feminine) is matched by Proto-Slavonic *tisō (masculine) because Indo-European *ks normally gives Slavonic s, as also in loso- from *lak’so ‘salmon’ (Friedrich 1970: 125). Similar forms exist in other Slavonic languages: Old Church Slavonic (Russian recension) tisa ‘cedar, pine’, Ukrainian, Czech, Slovak, Slovene tis ‘yew’, Serbo-Croat tis, tisa ‘yew, larch’, Polish cis ‘yew’, Upper Sorbian ćis, Lower Sorbian śis ‘yew, juniper’. There is an obvious comparison with Latin taxus ‘yew’, Greek tóxon ‘bow’,1 but the phonetics are odd. Attempts to explain this oddity suppose a long diphthong, but it may be a borrowing from an unknown language. Friedrich (1970: 125) posits an o-stem *tVk’so (in which V denotes a vowel), leaving the gender and root vocalism open to question. Hofmann sees Greek tóxon as derived from Iranian taxša-, modern Persian taxš ‘bow’ (the weapon);2 cf. Sanskrit takshakás ‘name of a tree’ (Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. tis). It has been suggested that takša- is from takti ‘shoot’, leading to the relevance to yew of this Iranian word being questioned by some scholars. According to Moszyński (1957: 24, 45–53) tis comes from *tīgs-, which was borrowed from the form tig- in some Indo-European language, where it goes back to Indo-European *teg- : *tog- ‘fat, thick’, whence comes also Latin taxus (see Vasmer 1964–73: s.v. tis). An originally Greek word for ‘arrow poison’ appears as a Latin loan toxicum and may be related etymologically to the adjective for yew, taxicus. Several Latin authors such as Virgil mention yew foliage as poisonous to cattle and Caesar describes yew-leaf poisons being used for man. Although Greek tóxon is thought to represent ‘bow’ and not ‘yew’, a genetic connection between a word for arrow poison and the poisonous yew tree would reinforce an arboreal sense for tóxon (Friedrich 1970: 129).

The other Indo-European root for yew (now in Slavonic transferred to willow, as shown above) is *eiwā, giving Russian iva. However, Czech jiva denotes ‘yew’ as well as ‘willow, sallow’, but Kluge reckons that this reflects influence of the German speech community (see Friedrich 1970: 121).

The plane is Platanus, in Russian platan, which is the London plane P. acerifolia, platan klënolistnyj. The Russian is a bookish borrowing through French platane or directly from Latin platanus < Greek plátanosplatús ‘broad’, so named after its broad crown. It is recorded in dictionaries from the 1860s onwards (see Vasmer 1976–80, Černyx 1994: s.v. platan). There is also the Russian činar(a), which is the oriental plane P. orientalis, platan vostočnyj, and derives from Turkish çinar, originating from Persian chenár (Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. činar, činara; Palmer 1931: s.v. chenár).

The common hornbeam is Carpinus betulus, in Russian grab or grabina, in Ukrainian hrab or hrabyna, in Serbo-Croat grab or grabar, in Slovene grab, graber or gaber, in Czech hrabr or habr, in Slovak hrab, in Polish grab, in Upper Sorbian hrab and in Lower Sorbian grab. It is often confused with spindle tree (Euonymus europaea) because of its similar wood (heavy, hard and elastic, difficult to work but ideal for tools, weapons and armour). The Slavonic words for hornbeam are related to Old Prussian wosigrabis ‘spindle tree, Euonymus’. Hornbeam is found in most of Europe, especially central, south-eastern and eastern areas (particularly the Carpathian Mountains). It is not hardy in northern Russia and east of a line somewhat east of the middle and northern Dnieper. Common hornbeam is the predominant species in the former USSR, with extensive growth in the Ukraine, where it is outnumbered only by pine and oak. Although during the Boreal period it was practically absent from European Russia, today its greatest concentrations are in the former USSR, as already noted.

The Slavs, Teutons and Balts tended to perceive the hornbeam and beech as similar, whence the use in some Slavonic dialects of grab to mean ‘beech’ and of German Buche and some cognates to mean ‘hornbeam’. Lithuanian skirpstas can mean either (as well as ‘elm’). This and Lithuanian skruoblas ‘hornbeam’ have been doubtfully cited as cognates of PIE *grōbh-. They may go back to Proto-Baltic *skrebr denoting the hornbeam or similar trees. However, Berneker (1908–1913: 343) thinks the Slavonic is related to Lithuanian skruoblas (skroblus) if this is from *skrobrus with a mobile s-. The reflexes of *grōbh- are most clear in Slavonic (*grob-/*grab- may have been limited to Proto-Slavonic, from where it passed into neighbouring dialects such as Baltic and Greek). Such a Slav priority would be correlated with the physical prominence of the tree in the Carpathians, Ukraine and Caucasus. The Greek cognates are Macedonian Greek grábion ‘wood of a type of oak’, Modern Arcadian Greek gábros (grábos) ‘kind of oak’ and Umbrian Grabovius ‘god of the oak’, an epithet of Jupiter. If *grābh- or *grōbh- was borrowed into Greek, the most likely source would be South Slav dialects. Greek graboúna ‘large hornbeam’ might be native, but hornbeam is a rarity in southern Greece. Machek and Holub & Kopečný consider the Slavonic a loanword from a pre-Indo-European substrate (see Vasmer 1964–73: s.v. grab, grabina), but Preobraženskij dubiously mentions that it might be from Romance: Spanish carpe ‘hornbeam’ < Latin carpinus ‘hornbeam’. There is an obvious similarity between Latin carpinus and forms in grab- like grabina (*garbina). There was perhaps a restructuring of grab- on the model of the Latin verb carpo ‘reap, harvest’ (Friedrich 1970: 102). It seems likely that the PIE form (grābh-?) for a beech-like tree (hornbeam?) shifted to denote a type of oak in Greek dialects, while retaining its original sense in Slavonic.

The alder is Alnus (e.g. A. glutinosa), in Russian ol′xa, dialectally ëlxa, eloxa, vol′xa, ol′ša, ol′šina, elšina, lešina, in Ukrainian vil′xa, їl′xa, in Bulgarian elxa, in Serbian joha, jova (< *jeoxa), in Slovene jelša, dialectally olša, jolša, in Czech olše, in Slovak jelša, in Polish olcha, olsza, in Upper Sorbian wólša and in Lower Sorbian wolša. The PIE name was probably *alysō- or *alyso-, an ancient feminine o-stem. Proto-Slavonic had *jel’xa alongside *ol’xa (< Indo-European *elisā, *olisā), related to Lithuanian alksnis, alksnys, aliksnis, elsknis ‘alder’, Latvian elksnis, alksnis,3 Old Prussian alskande, Old High German elira and by metathesis erila, German Erle ‘alder’, Old English alor and Old Norse alr (both from *alaru*aleru and ultimately < *alizā), Latin alnus (< *al(i)snos or *alenos). The Proto-Slavonic is related further to Old High German ëlo ‘yellow, fawn-coloured’ (Černyx 1994, Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. ol′xa). The Proto-Germanic *alizā came from earlier *alisō. Also cognate are Spanish aliso ‘alder’ (for which a Gothic *alisa has been set up as the source) and Greek áliza (perhaps from *elisā), glossed by Hesychius as hē leúkē ‘the white poplar’ (the light colour of the underside of the leaf is a conspicuous feature shared by the white poplar and white alder). The Indo-European root is *el- : *ol- : *el- ‘brown, reddish’ (the wood of alder turns red when exposed to the air).

As regards the botanical referent of *alyso, four species are involved: the grey, bearded, mountain and black alders. Some botanists argue that the grey alder (A. incana) has always been the most prominent species in the north. Today it is a generally northern and highland tree ranging from England to western Siberia and southwards into the Caucasus. Yet in both the Cis- and Trans-Caucasus the dominant species is the bearded alder (A. barbata). The mountain or green alder (A. viridis) has long been present in many highland zones of Eastern Europe. In Germany, Poland and European Russia the most frequent and widespread has probably always been the black alder (A. glutinosa), which is today found everywhere west of the Urals except southern Spain and the south-east Russian steppe. It seems particularly significant that the alder apparently flourished during the last millennium of the Atlantic period, which can be regarded as more or less equivalent to the last millennium of PIE unity. The alder flourished precisely in those ecological niches where, according to the best archaeological evidence, many PIE speakers preferred to live, i.e. in river bottoms, along river banks or in swampy depressions, sheltered from the winter winds. One cannot be surprised at the wide linguistic attestation of the alder.

The birch (Betula) is one of the few tree names with reflexes in Iranian and Indic. The former is reflected in Ossetian bærz(æ)*barzā and the latter in Sanskrit bhūrjás. Reflexes of the PIE form are well attested in Slavonic. The Russian is berëza, the Belarusian bjaroza, the Ukrainian bereza, the Serbo-Croat, Slovene, Bulgarian and Slovak breza, the Czech bříza, the Polish brzoza, the Upper Sorbian brěza and the Lower Sorbian brjaza. The Common Slavonic was *berza. Cognate are Lithuanian beržas, Latvian bērzs, Old Prussian berse, Sanskrit bhūrjás, Old Norse bjork, Swedish björk, Danish birk, Old High German birihha : birche, German Birke, English birch. Related are Albanian bardhë ‘white’ and perhaps bredh ‘spruce’ (the source of Romanian brad ‘silver fir’), Gothic baírhts ‘light, clear’, Old High German beraht ‘bright’, Old Norse bjartr ‘bright’, Latvian birkstis ‘glimmering’, Russian berest ‘species of elm’ (see Cooper 2003: 177), perhaps because elm bast is used like birch bark, Sanskrit bhrājáte ‘it shines’ and Latin farnus, fraxinus ‘ash’ (perhaps because of the absence of birch in this area) < *far(a)g(s)nos. The Indo-European root is *bherəg’-, signifying something light or shining (Barnhart 1988: s.v. birch), because the birch was named after the colour of its bark, which is white, creamy or silvery (the usual species referred to is the silver birch B. pendula). The Indo-European stem is a feminine o-stem *bherəg’o : *bherəg’ā. The birch, which has been a female-virgin symbol for many Indo-Europeans for over 5000 years (Friedrich 1970: 27), is cold-hardy and present in the northern hemisphere, mainly in temperate to arctic zones. Three species are important in the central and east European region: B. pubescens, B. humilis and especially the widespread and rapidly growing B. pendula.

The elm is Ulmus, in Russian vjaz, il′m, berest, karagač and narvan. For discussion of these words for elm, see chapter 11 in Of Cabbages – and Kings (Cooper 2003: 173–182).

The box is Buxus (e.g. B. sempervirens), in Russian samšit, derived from Persian shamshád, with which compare Turkish şimşir (ağacı) ‘common box (tree)’.

The bay (tree) or bay laurel is Laurus nobilis, in Russian lavr blagorodnyj. Russian lavr has counterparts in other Slavonic languages, such as laŭr in Belarusian, lavr in Ukrainian, lavъr in Bulgarian, lavor in Serbo-Croat, lovor in Slovene and laur in Czech and Polish. It is recorded in Russian from the beginning of the eighteenth century (in dictionaries from 1731). Related are Italian lauro, alloro, Spanish lauro, laurel, French laurier (Old French lor) and English laurel; compare German Lorbeer ‘laurel’. Its original source is Latin laurus (Černyx 1994, Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. lavr).

The ash is Fraxinus, in Russian jasen′, especially F. excelsiorjasen′ vysokij’, the common ash. The other Slavonic languages have the word as well: Ukrainian jasen, Belarusian jasen′, Bulgarian jasen (dialectally osen), Serbo-Croat jasen, Slovene jesen, Czech jasan (dialectally jasen, jeseň, jesen), Polish jesion (obsolete jasion), Old Polish jasień, Upper and Lower Sorbian jaseń. The word was noted by Richard James (1618–19) as yesn ‘the ash tree’, evidently with a hard -n. The Common Slavonic was *jasenь : *jasenъ, the root *jas- being from *as- < Indo-European *ōs-. Bulgarian dialect osen goes back to Indo-European *ŏs-. The Indo-European stem is *ōs-en- : *ŏs-en-, and in the Baltic languages the stem is ōs-i(s), as in Lithuanian uosis, Latvian osis, Old Prussian woasis; compare Latin ornus ‘wild mountain ash’ (< *osenos), Welsh onnen, Breton ounnenn, Old Irish (h)uinnius (Common Celtic stem *onna-*osnā-). To Indo-European *ŏs-/*ōs- with extender -k- belong Old High German asc (German Esche, earlier Asche), Old Icelandic askr (Icelandic askur, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish ask), Old English æsc (English ash). The Proto-Germanic was *askiz (see Černyx 1994, Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. jasen′; Barnhart: s.v. ash). With the meaning ‘beech’ there are the related Greek oxúa : oxúē (stem *os-k-) and Albanian ah (< *oskā). The Greek was altered from earlier oskía by the influence of oxús ‘pungent, acid’. Classical Greek oxúa meant both ‘beech’ and ‘beechwood spear’. The ash illustrates well the link between the name of a tree and the products made from its wood; cf. also Old Norse askr, both the tree and the weapon, Latin ornus, both ‘spear’ and ‘mountain ash’, and fraxinus, both ‘common ash’ and ‘lance, javelin’. The common ash has a wide distribution from Ireland through western and central Europe and eastwards, well into northern middle Russia and the Caucasus. The prominence of F. oxycarpa in part of the PIE homeland opens the possibility that this species, and not F. excelsior, F. ornus or Sorbus aucuparia (mountain ash), was the original referent of PIE *ōs-.

The hawthorn is Crataegus, Russian bojaryšnik, which is related to bojarin ‘boyar’ or, more accurately, to bojarič (whence barič) ‘son of a boyar’. Bulič sees the same word in dialectal Russian barkí (genitive barkóv) ‘Crataegus’, from *bojarъkъ (Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. bojaryšnik; Miklosich 1970: s.v. boljarinŭ).

The elder is Sambucus, in Russian buzina or sambuk, especially the common elder S. nigra, buzina čërnaja. Sambuk is a bookish borrowing from Latin sambūcus with the same sense (Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. sambuk), while buzina, or in dialect buz(a), boz (see Dal′ 1912–1914: s.v. buzina), has cognates in other Slavonic languages, including Ukrainian boz (genitive bozu, bzu), buzyna, Bulgarian bъz, Serbo-Croat baz, baz(d)a, zova (< bzova), Slovene bez, bezeg, Czech bez (genitive bezu, bza, bzu), bezinka, Slovak baza, bazina, Polish bez (genitive bzu), Lower Sorbian bez, baz, and Upper Sorbian bóz ‘lilac’. The word is considered to be related to Latin fāgus ‘beech’, Greek fēgós, Doric Greek fāgós ‘oak’, Old Icelandic bók, Old High German buohha ‘beech’, Gothic bōka ‘letter’, which are traced, in view of Kurdish bûz ‘elm’, Icelandic beyki ‘beech forest’, beykir ‘cooper’, back to a stem with a diphthong, Indo-European *bhāug’- : *bheug’- : *bhāg’- : *bhug’-; cf. also Lithuanian bukas ‘elder’, borrowed from Belarusian buk ‘beech’ (see Vasmer 1976–80, Černyx 1994: s.v. buzina). The Common Slavonic was *bъzъ*bŭzo. In Russian one would expect b(o)zina (cf. dialectal boz alongside buz). The occurrence of elder only in the south of Russia and the Caucasus makes one think of an early borrowing into Common Slavonic from an Iranian source. A link with buk ‘beech’ as surmised by Vasmer following Walde & Hofmann is only possible if the name of beech varied in Indo-European and was not only *bhāg’os, as Pokorny supposes (1959: 107), but was *bhā(u)g’os in Slavonic territory. Moreover it is not clear why the name for beech should have been transferred to elder, which is so unlike beech. Both have fruit that in some cases can be eaten, but so do many other plants, as Černyx has pointed out (1994: s.v. buzina). Preobraženskij (1958: s.vv. buzina, buz, boz) gives a stem *bhā(u)g’- for the Greek, Latin, Old High German and Gothic, *bheug’- for buz(in)a and the Icelandic, and *bhug’- for bъz and boz. The suggestion that the Slavonic derived from buzgbusksbuk is quite fanciful. For further discussion see the section on beech above.

The sycamore or sycamore maple is Acer pseudoplatanus, in Russian javor, which has cognates in other Slavonic languages, such as Ukrainian javir, Belarusian javar, Serbo-Croat javor ‘maple’, Bulgarian, Slovene, Czech, Slovak javor, Polish, Upper and Lower Sorbian jawor. The Russian appears first in dictionaries in 1704. Its origin is obscure. One must assume that Common Slavonic *javor comes from *avor with iotization of the initial a- (cf. Old Church Slavonic avorъ ‘plane tree’). This form is close to some Germanic words, e.g. Old Danish ær (modern Danish ahorn is from German) ‘sycamore, maple’ < *ahir-, but is a little further from Old High German ahorn (current German Ahorn ‘maple’) < *aχurna-. The Germanic is linked with Swabian ochər- and Proto-Germanic *āhiro, *ahiro, but there is no firm basis for considering the Common Slavonic a loan from Germanic (Černyx 1994: s.v. javor). It is possible that Slavonic javor, Latin ācer and Greek (in Hesychius) ákarna ‘laurel’ (alongside ákastos*árkastos ‘maple’) were all inherited from an unknown pre-Indo-European language in southern Europe (Machek 1957: 172). However, Vasmer (1976–80: s.v. javor) thinks the Slavonic originated from Old High German ahorn ‘maple’ or Bavarian dialect āhor ‘sycamore’. It does not belong to the oldest borrowings from eastern Germanic judging by -v- from -h- and also by the beginning of the word, if *êhura (: Danish ær ‘maple’) is reconstructed for Proto-Germanic. These Germanic words are linked with Latin ācer and Greek ákarna. Berneker thinks that the loss of -n in Ahorn came about because the Slavonic borrowing *avorn was construed as an adjective in -ьnъ, on which basis the new noun *avorъ appeared. Moszyński (1957: 37) wonders whether javor might have been borrowed from some Germanic word, with weakly expressed -h- changing to -v- (āhor > āor > āwor > āvor); compare Lithuanian aornas from Germanic ahorn. Friedrich postulates a PIE root *akVrno- for the Greek, Latin and Germanic words (1970: 25–26, 65).

The maple is Acer, notably the sugar maple, A. saccharum; in Russian, maple is klën, as in klën saxarnyj ‘sugar maple’. The word occurs in other Slavonic languages, e.g. Ukrainian klen(ь), Belarusian klën, Bulgarian klen, Serbo-Croat klen, kljen, kun (< *klьnъ), Slovene klen ‘variety of sycamore’ (maple is maklen), Czech klen ‘sycamore variety’, Slovak klen, Polish klon, Upper Sorbian klon, Lower Sorbian klón. The Old Russian (end of the 15th century) is klenъ. The Common Slavonic was *klenъ and *klьnъ (cf. Ukrainian klen and Serbo-Croat kun). Cognates can be found in Scandinavian and some other Germanic languages: Swedish lönn, Norwegian lønn, Danish løn, all with loss of initial h- (cf. Old Scandinavian hlynr alongside modern Icelandic hlynur),4 Low German lōneläne, German dialect Lehne : LenneAcer platanoides’ (Old High German root lîn- in līnboum : līmboum, reflecting a shift from initial hl- to l- about AD 800). Compare also Old Welsh celin ‘maple’, Old Cornish kelin ‘holly’. Old English has the same referents in hole(g)n ‘holly’ and hlyn ‘maple’. These two forms and Old Norse hlynr ‘maple’ go back to Proto-Germanic *hluniz. In Latvian and Lithuanian there appears another formant (-v-): Lithuanian klevas, Latvian klavs ‘maple’. The Indo-European base is *kleno- : *klino-? (Pokorny 1959: 603; Černyx 1994, Vasmer 1976–80: s.v. klën). PIE *klen- was probably masculine and may have been a consonant stem in final -n, although the Baltic words indicate a w-stem. The original may have been a biliteral *kl to which the e-grade of an n-extension was added. Friedrich (1970: 4, 65) thinks the words may go back to a (Pre)-PIE *kL-n- where L stands for a liquid sonant.

The European maples are not very large in general. They are slow-growing and inclined to favour lowland areas and even swamps. The most widespread species is the common or field maple, A. campestris, which has been identified in Neolithic sites and extends today from England to the south-east Russian steppe and on into Asia. The area with the greatest growth of maples in the former USSR is the Bashkir republic.

The spindle tree is Euonymus, in Russian beresklet, though Dal′ gives quite a few dialectal variants: bereskled, meresklet, burusklen, beresdren′ and bruslina. Ukrainian has beresklet, beryklet and bruslyna, while Belarusian has bryzglina. Among the other Slavonic languages there are some with similar names for the spindle tree, e.g. Czech brslen, brsníl (Old Czech brsniel, břslen, bršlen), Serbo-Croat bršlenka and Polish (15th–16th century) przmiel, perhaps from brsniel. The Russian form is known from the 18th century and probably came into Great Russian from some southern or south-western source. Euonymus, especially E. europaea, is found in Russia mainly in the south-west. It is evidently connected with the old name for ivy among some Slavonic languages: Bulgarian brъšljan, Serbo-Croat bršljan (cf. Old Czech bršlen). It is possible that the old name for ivy passed to spindle tree; some species of the spindle tree family are of the liana type. The Proto-Slavonic form could have been *brъsk- : *brьsk-; compare Latin bruscum ‘excrescence on the maple tree’, ruscum ‘butcher’s-broom, Ruscus aculeatus’. Absence of the change e > ′o after l in the Russian is perhaps explained by a Ukrainian origin for the word. The effect on its formation of some other plant names, such as želtocvet ‘yellow rocket, winter cress, Barbarea vulgaris’ and klën ‘maple’, is apparent (Černyx 1994: s.v. beresklet). Vasmer (1976–80: s.v. beresklet) gives also the dialect forms beresbrek, brusklet and bružmel′ and notes that it is an obscure word which could well have originated from contamination of etymologically different names of the type berëza, berest and brusnika. Even reconstruction of the ancient forms presents difficulties; Vasmer proposes *bersk- : *bьrsk- (1976–80: s.v. beresklet).

The lime or linden tree is Tilia, in Russian lipa. There are cognates in other Slavonic languages, such as Ukrainian lypa, Belarusian lipa, Bulgarian lipá, Slovene, Serbo-Croat lipa, Czech lípa, Polish, Upper and Lower Sorbian lipa, and Polabian leipó ‘linden bast’. In the oldest Russian manuscripts only derivatives of the noun are found, but in Richard James (1618–19) we find lipa. The Common Slavonic form was *lipa, with which one can compare Lithuanian liepa (: lypa), Latvian liepa, Old Prussian lipe. It is a Balto-Slavonic word (*lēipā-) with no cognates in other Indo-European languages. It has no connection with Greek alífalos ‘genus of tree’ (Černyx 1994: s.v. lipa 1) in spite of Vasmer (1976–80: s.v. lipa), who also doubtfully relates it to Welsh llwyf ‘linden, elm’. Many etymologists link Common Slavonic *lipa with the Common Slavonic verbs *lěpiti, *lipati and Lithuanian lipti ‘stick to’ on account of the stickiness (melliferousness) of the linden’s flowers and bark (Černyx 1994: s.v. lipa 1). *Lěpiti (with ě of diphthongal origin) has an ablaut form *lьpěti and an iterative form *lipati (cf. Russian prilipat′ ‘stick’, lipkij ‘sticky’), whence the later Russian lipnut′, not to be confused with Russian l′nut′ (< Common Slavonic *lьpn-). The Indo-European stem is *leip- (: *loip- : *lĭp-) ‘rub with fat, stick’; compare the phonetically and semantically close Lithuanian lipti (with the first person singular limpu), Latvian lipt, Sanskrit lēpayati ‘sticks all over, rubs (with something)’, liptá ‘smeared, soiled’, lipti ‘ointment’ (Monier-Williams 1899: ad. loc.), Hittite lip- ‘smear, dirty’ and, more distant in meaning, Gothic laiba ‘residue’ (cf. prilepok ‘something stuck on’), Latin lippus ‘bleary-eyed’, Greek lípos ‘fat’ (Pokorny 1959: 670–671).

There is another Indo-European root denoting the linden or lime tree, *lentā, which gives the Germanic reflexes Old High German linta, Icelandic lind, English linden and lime (altered from line) < Old English lind. These are related to Old Saxon līthi, English lithe, Danish lind ‘flexible’, to Latin lentus ‘pliant, sticky’, to Lithuanian lenta ‘board of linden wood’, to Albanian lëndë ‘wood, material’, from earlier lentā or lendā, and also to Russian lutoxa, lutoška ‘stripped young linden’, dialect lut, lut′ ‘linden bast’ and lut′e, lut′ë ‘young linden grove ready for stripping bast’ (Friedrich 1970: 90–91; Dal′ 1912–1914: s.v. lutoxa).

The lindens are conspicuous for their sticky, viscous inner bark, fibre (or bast) and easily carved wood. They were present in the Caucasus and European Russia in the Preboreal, if not earlier, and were practically ubiquitous during the Atlantic period. They extended as far north as the Pechora River. In both central and eastern Europe Tilia declined rapidly during the late Atlantic and Subboreal. This is usually attributed to the advance of its competitors, the spruce, beech and fir, but may also be due to depletions by man. Even during the Subboreal, however, the lindens were present in significant numbers and have persisted ever since. There are about 25 species, of which two stand out, especially T. cordata, with particularly high frequencies in central and northern Russia. Second in importance is T. platyphyllos, which has a more southern distribution, running through western and central Europe and on eastwards into Greece and the Crimea. In northern Russia it is T. cordifolia which ranks after T. cordata.

Linden is of great economic importance. Its soft odoriferous wood is a favourite of carvers, while the flowers have medicinal uses and yield oil valued as a food. The bast fibre (Russian lyko, lub) was a major item in the material culture of eastern European (especially East Slavonic) peasants, who used it for making baskets, mats and shoes of bast. One might therefore expect some linguistic corroboration in PIE, but this is hardly the case, though some evidence has been adduced. Greek pteléa might have been borrowed into Latin as tilia and certainly underlies Armenian t’eli. The Greek and Armenian mean ‘elm’. Because its sticky bark was technologically important, the Proto-Indo-Europeans may have called linden ‘the sticky one’ or even ‘the sticky elm’ (cf. the American English ‘slippery elm’).


It is evident from this study how many tree names have changed over time the object that they signify. This can be seen by comparing several of the names that derive from original feminine o-stems (e.g. Greek fēgós, Latin fagus), which became a-stems in Germanic (Old High German buohha). Greek fēgós (Doric fāgós) is a type of oak, whereas Latin fagus is beech; the beech was not known in Greece proper. Farnus, fraxinus ‘ash’ is feminine, like all trees in Latin, but its original root was that of the birch, denoting brightness (cf. Latin fulgor, flagro and see under birch); it is related to Old High German birihha : bircha ‘birch’, Russian berest ‘elm species’, berëza ‘birch’. Latin ebulus, ebulum ‘elder’ is of the same ultimate root as Old Church Slavonic jela, Russian el′, Old Prussian addle, Lithuanian eglė ‘spruce’. This Latin represents the o-stem *edh-lo, parallel to the Slavonic and Baltic a-stem *edh-lā (cf. Polish jodła, Czech jedla). Russian has both ilem and il′ma ‘elm’, Polish both ilm and ilma, and Czech both jilm and jilma because of the old feminine o-stem (cf. Latin ulmus). Old Norse has the masculine álmr, and Irish lem is also masculine. Celtic has the o-stem masculine eo (Irish), yw (Welsh) ‘yew’, as do some Germanic dialects, such as Old Norse ýr and Old English ēow, īw, in opposition to feminines in -a, such as Old Church Slavonic jiva, Russian and Serbian iva, Czech jiva, Latvian and Lithuanian jeva, Old High German īwa. Old Prussian has the masculine inwis (iuwis?). The o-stem feminine is seen in Latin ūva ‘grapes’ (with ū- < Indo-European *oi-) and Greek óē, oíēSorbus’; other languages have o-stem masculines or a-stem feminines (see Meillet 1906–08: 478–479).

Many, but by no means all, of modern Russian forest tree names are ultimately from PIE originals. For example, sosna ‘pine’ is possibly from *k’asnos ‘grey’; el′ ‘spruce’ from *edhlo ‘sharp, prickly’; dub ‘oak’ from *dem- : *dom- ‘build’, *dheub- ‘hollow’ or *dheubh- : *dhoubh- ‘dark’; tis ‘yew’ from *tiksō > Proto-Slavonic *tisō, perhaps related to PIE *teg- : *tog- ‘fat, thick’; grab or grabina ‘hornbeam’ perhaps from *grābh- or *grōbh- ‘beech-like tree’; ol′xa ‘alder’ from *olisā : *elysā : *alysā, from *el- : *ol- : *el- ‘brown, reddish’; berëza ‘birch’ from the root *bherəg’- (stem *bherəg’o : *bherəg’ā ‘something light or shining’); jasen′ ‘ash’ from *ōsen : *ŏsen; klën ‘maple’ from a base *kleno : *klino; and lipa ‘linden’, ultimately from the stem *leip- : *loip- : *lĭp- ‘rub with fat, stick’.

Some modern Russian tree names are borrowed from other languages. For example, pixta ‘fir’ is from German Fichte ‘spruce’; kedr ‘cedar’ from Greek kedros ‘juniper’; cuga and gemlok ‘hemlock fir or spruce’ from Japanese tsuga ‘larch’ and English hemlock respectively; kiparis ‘cypress’ from Greek kupárissos ‘cypress’; kaštan ‘chestnut’ from Armenian kaskeni, the adjective from kask ‘chestnut’, via Polish kasztan or German Kastan(i)e < Latin castanea < Greek kástanon; topol′ ‘poplar’, probably from medieval Latin papulus with dissimilation of p–p to t–p; platan ‘plane’ borrowed (possibly through French platane) from Latin platanus < Greek plátanosplatús ‘broad’; samšit ‘box tree’ from Persian shamshád; lavr ‘bay laurel’ from Latin laurus ‘laurel’; and javor ‘sycamore’ probably from Bavarian āhor ‘sycamore’ via āor > āwor > āvor.

Some Russian tree names are formed using purely Russian resources. For example listvennica ‘larch’ is from the adjective listvennyj, in this context ‘deciduous’ from Russian list ‘leaf’. An original listvennoe derevo ‘deciduous tree (deciduous conifer)’ dropped the noun and added the suffix -ica to the adjective to give listvennica. Bojaryšnik ‘hawthorn’ is from bojarič ‘son of a boyar’. The suffixes -(n)ik and -(n)ica are fairly widely used in forming plant names, especially from adjective + noun terms, by dropping the noun and adding the suffix to the adjective (see Cooper 2003: 87–88, 94).

Tree names are sensitive to migration of the speech community into a new region. Fluctuation in the meaning of tree names is not unknown. The early Slavs lived in the area of yew and beech, the Russians calling them iva and buz(ina), but when they moved east they began to apply these words to respectively willow and elder. Thus iva < Indo-European *eiwā : *oiwā from *ei- : *oi- ‘reddish’ is now ‘willow’ (tis(s) is ‘yew’), while buz(ina)*bhā(u)g’o- is now elder (beech is buk from Common Germanic *bōkaz or *bōks). Russian pixta ‘fir’ is from German Fichte ‘spruce’ (‘fir’ is Tanne in German), whereas el′ is ‘spruce’ in Russian but ‘fir’ in most other Slavonic languages. Common Slavonic *smerka ‘spruce’ gave rise to some words which have changed their meaning to ‘juniper’, such as Serbo-Croat smreka, Bulgarian smrika, Russian smereka, and the Russian collective noun smerčie, a sort of coniferous tree mentioned in 1 Kings 19:4 and translated ‘juniper’. Juniper (Old Church Slavonic smrěč’) is also very similar to cedar (Old Church Slavonic smrěča). Russian beresklet ‘spindle tree’ is evidently linked with the old name for ivy among some Slavonic languages, such as Bulgarian brъšljan and Serbo-Croat bršljan. Perhaps the old name for ivy passed to spindle tree, some species of which are of the liana type.

Slavonic shows relative affinity in tree names to PIE. Some reflexes have shifted their meaning, usually to another tree; cf. the passage of *dorw ‘tree’ (Russian derevo) to ‘oak’. These shifts presumably reflect powerful ecological or cultural forces. Slavonic is the closest to Friedrich’s reconstructed PIE arboreal system (1970: 166). All three divisions of Slavonic (East, West and South, represented by Russian and Ukrainian, Czech and Slovak, and Serbo-Croat and Slovene) show 100% support of at least one term in each of Friedrich’s eighteen PIE tree categories. The support is particularly strong in Slavonic reflexes of the PIE birch (Russian berëza), maple (klën), yew–willow (iva), ash (jasen′), alder (ol′xa) and elm (vjaz), and is notably strong for names with otherwise weak support, such as aspen–poplar (osina), hornbeam (grab) and linden (lipa). To a greater degree than in any other language group Slavonic reflexes denote the same physical type of tree as one would posit for PIE. The widely branching and comparatively regular reflexes suggest that the speakers of the Common Slavonic period lived in an ecological (i.e. arboreal) zone similar to or identical with that of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, and that since the Common Slavonic period speakers of the various Slavonic dialects have for the most part continued to occupy such an area. It is largely in historic times that the Slavs expanded into parts of the Balkans, northern Russia, Siberia and so on.



1 The wood of the English yew was exploited for making bows by the early Celts and Teutons, and mainly for this reason European stands were depleted during the Middle Ages. The yew is not hardy east of a line from the Åland Islands to the mouth of the Danube, but does grow in parts of the Balkans (including Greece) and in northern Anatolia and the northern Caucasus, never in pure stands but together with spruce, beech etc.

2 Iranian taxša- fits well phonologically: the cluster follows the rule that PIE s goes to š in Iranian after k, r, y and w and k goes to x before š.

3 The k is secondary and the original form was *alisnis and ultimately *alisno-. The Lithuanian suffix is found in some other tree names, such as gluosnis ‘willow’.

4 These and Old English hlyn ‘maple’ and holen ‘holly’ go back to Proto-Germanic *hluniz- : *huli- from Indo-European *kel- : *kol- ‘prick’ (Barnhart 1988: s.v. holly; Friedrich 1970: 65).