Karima Moyer, a once and future guest on the podcast, took me gently to task for something I said in the most recent episode. “Fastidioso in Italian means annoying, and is all too appropriate!” Having pointed out that scientific names are all Latin, albeit some very strange Latin when converted from another language, rather than Italian, I thought I had best investigate further.
Xylella – the genus – is obvious enough, from the Greek for wood, along with the diminutive ending -ella because it is a tiny thing.
What about fastidiosa, the species? An online Latin dictionary gives four meanings:
1. disdainful 2. exacting 3. nauseating 4. squeamish
All along, I had “exacting” in mind, and thought that perhaps the species name was a subtle little bit of taxonomic sarcasm, as I suggested in the podcast. But, as ever, worth checking, so off I went to the original description of Xylella fastidiosa. There I learned that fastidious is an adjective applied to a few genera of bacteria, where it means “nutritional fastidiousness” in the sense that these bacteria are picky eaters in the laboratory. They need a specialized growth medium, especially when they are first being isolated. And that’s why the discoverers called it Xylella fastidiosa.
(fas. tid. i. o’sa. N. L. m. adj. fastidiosus, highly critical; referring to the nutritional fastidiousness of the organism, particularly on primary isolation).
Obviously not as picky when it comes to the wild, with more than 350 plant species on its menu.