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It is a well known fact of Latin grammar, that trees follow natural gender and are always feminine, even when the word form would suggest masculine gender, as in populus "poplar".

What does motivate this kind of gender assignment? Is there an accepted explanation of that fact?

EDIT: fdb brought up this forum thread and the main information is that the gender assignment of trees was instable in the development of modern Romance languages, with Portuguese and Sardinian being the most conservative ones in this respect. There is a hint, that the predominance of the feminine gender might be inherited from Proto-Indogermanic.

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    "Natural gender" is totally the wrong word in this context. – fdb Jun 12 at 16:37
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    @fdb Why? My Latin teacher told us in school with this term ("natürliches Geschlecht" in German). Ok, school and research are different spheres, but does it make this terminology wrong? – jknappen Jun 12 at 16:45
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    Trees are not "naturally" female. – fdb Jun 12 at 16:47
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    While the terminology and the naturalness of femininity of trees are debatable, let us keep the focus on the actual question: Why are trees feminine? A discussion of the terminology would make a nice addition to any answer, but it is beside the main point. A separate question about the terminology is a good option. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jun 12 at 16:49
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    @fdb Agree! For instance, in present-day Russian, words for trees can be either feminine (береза, сосна) or masculine (дуб, клён). – Alex B. Jun 13 at 12:26

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