Crocus k. kotschyanus var. leucopharynx and C. karduchorum; was: RE: Crocus kotschyanunus ssp. kotschyanus 'Reliance'

Jim McKenney
Mon, 24 Oct 2005 13:53:51 PDT
Thanks, John. You've confirmed what a lot of us have long suspected: that
this var. leucopharynx is in fact simply part of the normal if infrequent
variation of Crocus k. kotschyanus. 

It's interesting that among the various forms of Crocus kotschyanus, there
are variants which have white tepals yet retain the yellow throat spots, and
other variants such as so-called leucopharynx which keep the tepal color yet
lose the spots. 

This name leucopharynx is a bit of a problem. As gardeners, it helps us to
distinguish a particularly nice form of this species. But since it is not
based on a sexually reproducing population (i.e. presumably no where in the
world in the wild is there a field of sexually reproducing "leucopharynx"),
it's suspect from a taxonomic point of view. 

Why? Because if the only criterion for inclusion in the concept
"leucopharynx" (or the "albus" forms which sometimes appear on lists) is the
presence or absence of what is evidently a simple mutation which presumably
has occurred more than once and will occur again in the future, then these
names do not correspond to sexually reproducing populations. 

More to the point, these names are apt to come to refer to polyphyletic
entities. For instance, if these white-throated forms or white-tepaled forms
are likely to occur in all the subspecies of Crocus kotschyanus (or for that
matter, any species of flowering plant), then the white-flowered forms
derived from one subspecies cannot have the same name as white-flowered
forms derived from another subspecies (that's where the polyphyletic bit
comes in). You're setting yourself up for chaos if you think you have a
Crocus x-us ssp. y-us var. albus and a Crocus x-us ssp. z-us var. albus,
which is bad enough, and it becomes meaningless when it's reduced to Crocus
x-us albus.   

Entities assigned to rank varietas (abbreviated var.) are often just a step
or two away from taxonomy's trash bin, and that may well be where
"leucopharynx" is headed as a taxonomic entity. But for gardening purposes,
let's not lose track of this handsome plant.

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where the crocuses were open
for several hours today, but will probably be closed for the rest of the day
and tomorrow, too. 

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