name lumping thread

Dylan Hannon
Wed, 06 Dec 2006 19:58:27 PST
Dear Sirs:

I saw the recent(?) thread involving a discussion of recent name
changes by Manning, Goldblatt, et al. The last response was by Harold
Koopowitz. Please forgive my naivete, I am not sure how these threads
work but I did subscribe a few moments ago to the pbs discussion

Just a few thoughts on this subject. Poulson and Koopowitz both make
excellent points, and so the following may be somewhat redundant.

There are any number of roughly comparable 'conundrums' in plant
taxonomy- whether to split or lump Apiaceae~Araliaceae,
Campanulaceae~Lobeliaceae, and the classic example: whether the
legumes should be arranged in 3 families or 3 subfamilies. Does it
really matter? The purpose of a classification scheme is to allow
communication with others regarding recognizable groupings of plants.
Some of the original genera treated by Manning, Goldblatt and Fay are
no doubt artificial concepts and that some of them should go away
after a modern analysis is not surprising.

The usefulness or practicality aspect has in recent years often been
subverted, in my opinion, by the urge to act on the onslaught of
molecular evidence of how things "really are". This urge derives from
an almost obsessive focus on the phylogeny, or inferred evolutionary
history, of various organisms. On closer inspection some of these
taxonomic studies are "missing" various species or genera that could
not be obtained and sampling is generally broad and shallow rather
than narrow and in-depth. In addition, decisions about what type of
DNA and type of analysis will be used also diminish objectiveness, as
pointed out by Poulson. Having said this, much good has come from
molecular detective work, e.g., the resolution of the previous mess we
called the Scrophulariaceae or snapdragon family. New ways of looking
at morphology and other attributes have also come from gene

It is virtually impossible for any classification to reflect perfectly
the presumed phylogeny of a group, simply because the stream of data
is unending, including discoveries of new organisms. Therefore
compelling arguments need to be presented when familiar names and
older useful concepts are rejected. A fact that escapes many
frustrated growers, as pointed out by Harold, is that valid name
changes are in fact optional.

Some of the changes in the hyacinth family do seem jarring. I am not
surprised that Albuca turns out to be very close to Ornithogalum. But
if the same groups are still recognized at different ranks (i.e.
subgenus or section Albuca in Ornithogalum, vs genus Albuca), then it
is merely rearranging the furniture. The issue of ranking is one of
the key difficulties in classifying plants and accounts for much of
the subjective nature of various treatments. The point is that Albuca
should probably be recognized at *some* level.

It is a shame that we have "lost" some highly recognizable name
concepts, such as Galaxia, Albuca, Whiteheadia. I have heard botanists
chide growers for their attachment to names ("Are you collecting
plants or are you collecting labels?") but in many cases I think we
are attached to concepts, very often valid ones.

Dylan Hannon

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