Intergeneric and interspecific hybrids

Jim McKenney
Thu, 10 Jun 2004 02:06:17 PDT
Dear All:

When, in the early nineteenth century, the handsome Magnolia now widely
known as soulangiana appeared, it was described as a hybrid between
Magnolia denudata and M. liliiflora. Magnolia xsoulangeana proved to be
very fertile, and soon there were lots of little xsoulangeanas in gardens

It surprises me that in the century and a half since, so few people have
questioned the significance of what really happened. In the early
nineteenth century, M. denudata and M. liliiflora were part of the received
canon. Because they are readily distinguished (but then, so are wolfhounds
and chihuahuas), no one called into question their status as distinct

Some of us would say that the vigor and fertility of M. xsoulangeana is all
the proof anyone needs to assert that M. denudata and M. liliiflora are in
fact the same species. 

In a post to this list months ago, it was mentioned that there are orchid
hybrids the ancestry of which involves plants from eight different genera.

Some of us would say that that suggests that those eight purported genera
are actually just one very polymorphic species.

What better proof of relationship and similarity can there be than the
ability to produce viable, fertile progeny? People are too much hungup on
what things look like. And that hangup seems to apply not only to those
looking at gross morphology, but also to those looking at chromosomes, dna
or the results of the latest and greatest technological innovations. 

I wish that those about to name genera and species - notho or otherwise -
would keep these things in mind. Once a name is validly published, it
becomes a part of our cultural virus load: it will always be there,
weighing us down, and there is no way to get rid of it. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where luckily there are no
viable, fertile progeny to distract me from my present interests.

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