What is the difference and relationship between the four characters "苹" (traditional character), "苹" (simplified character), "蘋" and "𬞟" (⿱艹频)? Which character should be used to express the concept of "蘋科植物" in the current simplified Chinese literature?

The simplified character inferred by analogy, "𬞟" (⿱艹频), seems to be in the "CJK Unified Ideographs Extension E" and is not in the General List of Simplified Chinese Characters (简化字总表), so is it in line with the standard to use this character?

I think "苹" should be used to express the concept of "蘋科植物" because the corresponding English translation of this word is "apple plants", and "apple" stands for "苹果" (simplified) / "蘋果" (traditional) in Chinese.

Thank you to answer this question.

  • 1
    Note 科 is used in modern scientific Chinese for taxonomic families; thus 蘋科, which in simplified is 𬞟科, represents Marsileaceae, the family that water clover ferns belong to. Apples, pears, quince etc. are classified with roses under the family Rosaceae, 薔薇科/蔷薇科, a whole different taxonomic family. Thus 蘋科植物 can only refer to Marsileaceae, and is only simplified as 𬞟科植物.
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Feb 14 at 9:19
  • @Michaelyus I think that's more than good enough for an answer.
    – Mou某
    Commented Feb 14 at 20:09

2 Answers 2


蘋, which is itself a variant of 薲 (⿱艹賓), where its phono-semantic structure is clearer, meant duckweed in Classical Chinese. Thus it is semantically the same as 萍, despite the slight difference in phonetics (符眞切 vs 薄經切 in Middle Chinese, *bin vs *beng in Old Chinese as reconstructed by Zhengzhuang).

In the Wei period, as Old Chinese headed towards Middle Chinese, the crab apple Malus asiatica, was introduced from Central Asia. 林檎 became the most common loanword for this in Middle Chinese, and this is preserved as the Modern Standard Japanese りんご, expanding to all species of the Malus genus, and attested from the 900s CE. Throughout Tang China, this was the predominant way to refer to the crab apple.

In Sui & Tang dynasties, with the influx of trade and new ideas, we have another loanword, the 頻婆, from Sanskrit बिम्ब bimba, the ivy gourd (Momordica monadelpha), with its bright red fruit, came to refer to a specific cultivar of red Malus domestica apple. This lexeme is then written with a variety of characters 㰋 (bjin in Middle Chinese, and pín in Modern Standard Mandarin; 蘋 (which became the modern traditional form); and 苹 (which had been a variant of 萍 previously, but by the Ming seemed to take on the role of a variant of 蘋).

Thus, 蘋 came to have two pronunciations in Modern Standard Mandarin, the original pín, which was increasingly obscure as the meaning was taken over by 萍, and píng, which was 蘋果, ever increasing in popularity as the fruit itself became more common.

Meanwhile, the 'original' meaning of 蘋 evolved somewhat, as modern biology narrowed the definitions in the 19th century. In Modern Standard Chinese 蘋科植物 does not refer to apples, and does not generally refer to duckweed, but to the Marsileaceae family of aquatic ferns, to which the water clover (田字草/四葉蘋) in the genus Marsilea belongs.

Note that the 科 here specifically refers to the taxonomic level "family". In modern botany, apples, pears, quince and roses all belong to the family Rosaceae, 薔薇科. Thus, there can be no confusion between 蘋科植物 and 蘋果, as they are at different taxonomic levels: one is a family of aquatic ferns, and the other is a collection of mostly domesticated cultivars within a single species, Malus domestica, and others in the genus Malus.

However, in the 20th-century simplification of Chinese characters, 蘋 was simplified to 苹 in 1956. The "aquatic fern / apple" distinction was thus contextual in the writing system, with 四叶萍 in Simplified Chinese for the water clover being attested even in 2023.

In 2013 the 𬞟/苹 distinction was introduced into Simplified Chinese, with a specific note:


Thus 蘋科植物 can only refer to Marsileaceae, and is 'prescriptively' only simplified as 𬞟科植物; whereas 蘋果 can only refer to the genus of apple Malus, and can only be written in simplified script as 苹果 (note that botanically, Marsileaceae, as true ferns, do not produce 'fruit'). Nonetheless, due to limited availability of the 𬞟 glyph in contemporary typefaces, it is still 'common' in mainland Chinese botany to see Marsileaceae referred to as 苹科植物.

Other plants with 蘋 in the name where it is derived from a Sanskrit root, such as Sterculia monosperma (蘋婆, also called 鳳眼果 / Chinese chestnut / seven sisters' fruit), get simplified in the same way as the name for the apple, thus 苹婆.


"I think "苹" should be used to express the concept of "蘋科植物"...." - See text below.


  • 苹: 浮萍又名大萍(duckweed) - 蕨类植物,苹科. 多年生浅水草本.

  • 蘋:植物名, 蘋科蘋屬, 简化作“𬞟”.


  • “苹”字最早见于小篆,本义指浮萍,后分化出“萍”,又引申指艾蒿。

  • “蘋”字最早见于小篆,本义为白蘋,后引申指蘋果(apple. 近代将“蘋”借“苹”来表示,后简化字吸收了这一点, 今“蘋”通“苹”

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