Tunas and purslane

David Wright dcwright at prodigy.net.mx
Sat Nov 5 17:04:17 UTC 2011

Estimado Jonathan:


Thanks. This is all very useful.


Just last week I was talking Nahuatl etymology and botany over coffee with
Alejandro de Ávila in Puebla, at the annual Otopames conference. In fact,
his suggestion that you would have useful information on this topic was my
initial motivation to post my questions regarding tunas and purslane to this
list. He sent me a link to the order form for the Paper Museum volume and
it’s on my desk as I write. The publishers are selling it for $196 USD, so
I’m still thinking about it, but now that I’ve acquired a deeper awareness
of the importance of biology in iconographical and toponymical studies, and
having read your comments on the studies included in this volume, I probably
won’t be able to hold out much longer.


I noticed that Francisco Hernández also has “tetzmitl” (buried in his
description of tzonpachtli, book 1, chapter 161) and “aytzmitl” (twice: book
3, chapters 67 and 211). Your suggestion that this may be a semantic
contrast is duly noted, and tips the scale in my head in favor of te(tl)
rather than te:-. The fact that Molina also registers “tetzmitl” and that
the loss of the i: of i:tz(tli) doesn’t fit the usual pattern still sets off
a flashing red light, but there have been other times when Nahuatl doesn’t
seem to fit into our grammatical and morphophonological expectations.


I’m sorry about having slipped colons into the Acatlán word “itzmitl”. My
head was in automatic long-vowel restoration mode, and I was assuming that
the roots were i:tz(tli) + mi:tl. My only source is the *Vocabulario
náhuatl-español de Acatlán, Guerrero* by Marcos Matías Alonso and
Constantino Medina Lima (2nd. ed., CIESAS/Plaza y Valdés, 1996), and vowel
contrast is not marked. I just checked my main long-vowel-marking
dictionaries. Karttunen gives i:tztli, Bierhorst itztli, and Wolf both
i:tztli and itztli, so the i in this noun doesn’t appear to be long across
the board. It’s always long in mi:tl, though.


So tekono:xtli is just teono:xtli with an extra /k/. I never would have
guessed that.


I think you’re right about the botanical difference between teo:no:chtli and
teno:chtli. The 16th century sources make it clear that the former is an
organ pipe cactus (Pachycereus sp.) and the latter is a prickly pear
(Opuntia sp.) (see the Florentine Codex [book 11, chapter 7, paragraph 12],
Francisco Hernández’s botanical treatise [book 6, chapters 108, 110], the
Codex Cruz-Badiano [f. 17v], and the toponymical signs in the pictorial
sources, e.g. Codex Mendoza: “Tenochtitlan” [ff. 2r, 4v, 19r] vs.
“Teonochtitlan” [f. 42r]). Several authors have confused the two (e.g. Laura
White Olascoaga and Carmen Zepeda Gómez, *El paraíso botánico del convento
de Malinalco, estado de México* [Toluca, UAEM, 2005], where the organ pipe
cactus is unfortunately depicted and described under the heading
“Tenochtli”). In Nahua plant taxonomy the “generic” part of the word,
no:chtli, refers to cactus fruit, in contrast to modern botanical taxonomy,
where the morphology of the plant as a whole determines the genus. This
important distinction has confused a lot of people.


Thanks again for your invaluable input, which will be cited in my paper (now
over six weeks past deadline, thanks to my new interest in botany), using
the Nahuat-l Archives site as a reference.


Saludos desde Guanajuato,




De: Jonathan Amith [mailto:jdanahuatl at gmail.com] 
Enviado el: viernes, 04 de noviembre de 2011 21:44
Para: David Wright
CC: Nahuat-l
Asunto: Re: [Nahuat-l] Tunas and purslane


Hi David,


There is a commentary to the works of Hernández, vol. 7 in the UNAM series
(this vol. published 1984). A fantastic commentary is that of Alejandro de
Avila on The Badianus, published as The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo
Flora, Flora: The Aztec Herbal (Martin Clayton, Luigi Guerrini and Alejandro
de Ávila). I think it is $175 but I waited until Barnes and Noble had a 50%
discount for members on a book of their choice!. 


There seems to be a conflation of nomenclature referring to species of the
Aizoaceae and Crassulaceae families on the one hand, and the verdolaga
(Portulaca oleracea L.) on the other. One evidence is what I mentioned of
the tetsmitl look-alike being Trianthema portulacastrum L. (Aizoaceae). It
is an interesting coincidence that in Latin the species name is
portulacastrum (I am not sure what the latin suffix means here)

In the Balsas valley there is also a:itsmitl, Ludwigia peploides (Kunth)
Raven (Onagraeae), which suggests a division te+ itsmitl vs. a:+ itsmitl.
Both are very low lying plants. A further example is tli:ltik a:itsmitl
Bourreria spathulata (Miers.) Hemsl. (Boraginaceae).


Many have identified tetsmitl as a Sedum spp. (Crassulaceae) another of
those fleshy-leaved plants (cf Alejandro de Avila, p. 86). In the Sierra
Norte de Puebla Kalanchoe pinnata (Lam.) (Crassulaceae) is called
sese:kpahtli. It is not unusual for fleshy-leafed plants to be called
something along these lines given that the leaves can be cut open parallel
to their surfaces and are cool inside, often used as compressed.


Where did you get the information on vowel length in Acatlan?


There is documentation of teo:no:chtli as a Pachycereus sp as various
authors have given this for Hernandez and Badianus. In Ameyaltepec I have
teono:xtli and in Oapan tekono:xtli. I checked as much as I could until I
finally resigned myself to a short /o/ in Ameyaltepec. The local cognate for
classical teo:- is tio:-, not teo-, so perhaps this is a frozen form with
irregular length. The /k/ is unusual in Oapan, but clearly the same
etymology. Oapan has komitetl for 'bone' and in several other cases seem to
insert /k/ for no clear reason or established pattern. Most often it is
deleted (telesa for teliksa, ixitl for ikxitl, etc.). I do not think
tekono:xtli is related to teko:n+no:chtli. But I would think that
teo:no:chtli and teno:chtli are different.








On Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 3:40 PM, David Wright <dcwright at prodigy.net.mx>



Molina has “Tetzmitl. cierta yerua”. Since there doesn’t seem to be a noun
“tetztli”, I first thought of te + i:tz + mi:tl, but this combination should
take the form tei:tzmi:tl, considering the length of the first two vowels
and the usual patterns of elision (at least in 16th century central Mexican
Nahuatl), so I guess the first syllable must be the indefinite human
possessive prefix te:-, thus te:tzmi:tl, “someone’s obsidian arrow” or
“people’s obsidian arrow”, although I still miss the i: of i:tz(tli). The
fact that in Acatlán, Guerrero i:tzmi:tl is “verdolaga” is what most tempts
me to restore the i:.


Your tekono:xtli looks like the hypothetical classical Nahuatl word
teco:nno:chtli, (teco:ma - a)+ no:chtli (m + n > nn), “prickly pear of the
globular pot” or “globular prickly pear”. Both morphophonological changes
would be regular in early colonial central Nahuatl.


Teono:xtli as Pachycereus grandis coincides with the illustration of the
“Teonochtli” in the Codex Cruz-Badiano (f. 17v), depicting a single-column
organ pipe cactus. I suppose that would be teo:no:chtli (teo: + no:chtli) in
classical Nahuatl.


So far the strongest evidence I have that the word teno:chtli was used to
name a species of plant (other than the toponymical and mythical aspects
mentioned by Roberto) is the brief description given by Francisco Hernández
in the 16th century:

III_6_4.pdf#page=10 Other than this, the botanical use of the word seems
quite scarce throughout time and space.


(By the way, the Instituto de Biología of the UNAM put up a very functional
electronic version of Hernández’s botanical treatise last year. That’s where
the preceding URL is from; the home page is here:
http://www.ibiologia.unam.mx/plantasnuevaespana/ I’ve needed a resource like
this for years.)


Thanks again for your help. I’ll copy this to the list to see if anyone has
any more useful comments.



De:   Jonathan Amith [jdanahuatl at gmail.com]

Enviado el: viernes, 04 de noviembre de 2011 07:36

Para: roberto romero

CC:   David Wright; Nahuatl at lists.famsi.org

Asunto:     Re: [Nahuat-l] Tunas and purslane


Hi David,

In the Balsas valley of Guerrero tetsmitl is Portulaca oleracea L.
(verdolaga). There is a tetsmitl "look alike" í:tlatlá:k in Oapan, that is
an Aizoaceae, Trianthema portulacastrum L.

For the Opuntia I have tekono:xtli in Oapan, and teono:xtli (sic) for the
inside rods of a certain cactus, apparently Pachycereus grandis Rose, but
maybe also some Opuntias. .


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