Jim McKenney jimmckenney@starpower.net
Wed, 30 Mar 2005 06:04:27 PST
John Grimshaw wrote, in response to my post: "It is not true to say that all
bulbs are monocarpic;"

Perhaps my sense of humor got in the way of things here. This is precisely
what I was saying. But I would go a step further and say that few if any
bulbs (i.e. bulb taxa) are monocarpic. I say 'few if any' because I can not
think of one off hand, but perhaps someone can cite an example. 

One may argue that monocarpic is 'dubious' for the reasons which John
Grimshaw has cited. To do so is to deny (as many properly will) the role of
metaphor in descriptive science. When John writes "The term itself is
dubious. What is a 'carp'? A carpel is a single female part of a flower
consisting of stigma, (style) and ovary including ovules. Monocarpy suggests
a solitary carpel (although this would be strictly termed monocarpellate)
and can really be viewed as a nonsense term." he is making much too much
sense. I suspect the word was coined with a simpler meaning of carp in mind:
carp as fruit. Monocarpic taxa are taxa which fruit once. 

And if we are going to insist that our scientific terms be literally
accurate, then the question arises: is hapaxanthic really a more accurate
description of what is happening? This word implies that a plant flowers
literally once: if you want to be literal, plants with multiple flowers do
not qualify. After the second flower sets seed, they do not qualify. The
point is that the connotation of the word has to be manipulated to make it
work. As a word, is it really an improvement on monocarpic? The only
improvement it offers (and this is not to be denied or undervalued) is that
it avoids the ambiguity now associated with the term monocarpic. But does it
solve the uncertainties which have brought the word monocarpic into
disrepute? I don't think so, and when and if hapaxanthic should come to be
commonly used, its meaning will almost certainly suffer the same
distortions. The problem is not with the word, it is with the people using
it.  : )

That business about the primary and secondary axes, principal and secondary
bulbs is a subterfuge: if the terms are applied to taxa rather than to parts
of individual plants, a clearer meaning emerges. And that approach makes
sense, if only because the words in question will be used to describe a wide
range of plants, many of which do not have bulbs. 

It makes no sense to apply either term to parts of plants (i.e. to the
primary bulb of a plant with primary and secondary bulbs). All inflorescence
is by its nature a one way street. Does any plant ovary ever set seed and
then becomes fertile and receptive to pollen for a second round of seed
setting? I don't think so.  All individual ovaries are monocarpic (if even
that). Thus every flowering plant is at that level, in that aspect,
monocarpic. That's my reductio ad absurdum for the argument that the term
can properly be used to apply to particular parts of plants. If it applies
to all plants, then what discriminative meaning can it convey? 

For the terms to make sense, they should be applied to taxa, not to the
various parts of individual plants. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where I'll now add
hapaxanthic to my list of hapaxlegomena. 

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