New mystery bulb

Jim McKenney
Thu, 07 Jul 2005 14:57:07 PDT
Roger, I share your apparent sense of frustration over the instability of
botanical names. But I don't respond to this the way you do.  

Speaking very broadly, natural classifications are based on purported
relationships; artificial classifications are based on something else,
typically some superficial aspect of appearance. There are important roles
for both, but it's a big mistake to conflate them. 

There is nothing wrong with using artificial classifications: people who
stage flower shows do it all the time. Some of the great botanical works of
the recent past used artificial classifications (Engler's great
Pflanzenreich is an example if I'm not mistaken; I'm taking that from memory
and maybe I don't have the name right). The classifications for imperfect
fungi are artificial - at least until the sexual forms are discovered.  

Roger, it seems that you want an artificial classification which is based on
relationship. That does not make sense.

You said: 
" The whole point of taxonomy is to identify plants. If you can't 
make the identification without carrying DNA analysis equipment 
in your backpack, somehow it seems rather counterproductive."

Some would counter that if you have not taken into account all of the
evidence, including DNA analysis, then you have not really identified "the

The reduction ad absurdum on that one might run something like this (in
terms of progressively less refined technologies): if you can't make the
identification without analyzing the DNA, if you can't make the
identification without knowing the chromosome count, if you can't make the
identification without a microscope,  if you can't make the identification
without reading a key, if you can't make the identification without seeing
or tasting the plant...

Also, I suspect that many will take exception to your assertion that the
"whole" point of taxonomy is identification. Identification is certainly an
important part, but is it the whole thing? 

You also said: " However, this position leads to stupid anomalies when both
a parent (ancestral) species and one of it's children (descendant 
species) are still with us, no matter how distinctive they may 

Roger, can you cite an example of that? 

One final comment: this is an old issue. We are not the first generation to
deal with the sometimes disparate goals of formal botany on the one hand
and, on the other hand, the purely practical need to be able to name things
in such a way that repeated iterations of the question "what is that" evoke
the same answer. There are solutions which have been in use for centuries.
The simplest one is to add the word auctorum (or hortorum, mercatorum or
some similar term) to the botanical name. This indicates that the botanical
name is being used not in its proper botanical sense but in the sense of,
respectively, authors, gardens, or merchants.

Thus, Drimiopsis kirkii hortorum until you know better. Once you know
better, you can call it Ledebouria botryoides J.C. Manning & Goldblatt. And
now you know why it is important to attach the author's name (or in this
case, authors' names) to plant names.   	

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where I'm surrounded by bulb
catalogs (and waiting for Jane's list) and determined to be a firm amicus

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