pbs Digest, Vol 51, Issue 9

CHRISTOPHERW christopherwhitehouse@rhs.org.uk
Tue, 10 Apr 2007 02:08:29 PDT
>This is why the work of the RHS Advisory Panel on Nomenclature and 
>Taxonomy (APONAT), whose advice informs the use of names in The RHS 
>PlantFinder, is so valuable. Not everyone agrees with their 
>judgements but it seems to me that the existence of a freely 
>available publication (and I mean free - 
>http://rhs.org.uk/rhsplantfinder/plantfinder.asp/) standardising 
>the names of plants in horticulture the world over is invaluable.

>What's more the minutes of the meetings of APONAT are now available 
>for all to read online here: 
>And they welcome comments and information about individual issues.

As secretary to APONAT, I would very much like to thank Graham for
pointing out to the wider horticultural world the work that this panel
does for the RHS and the horticultural community in general.  I would
certainly like to emphasise the main reason for its existence is to
provide the RHS with a standardised taxonomy for all our publications
and work, and it is not there to force everyone else to agree with it.
As John has pointed out in the discussion of Amaryllis and Hippeastrum,
there are two aspects to every horticultural name: a nomenclatural and a
taxonomic.  Everyone needs to follow the nomenclatural rules appropriate
for that name (whether according to the Botanical Code or the Cultivated
Plant Code) if there is not going to be anarchy in plant names.  These
rules include priority of the name, valid publication, correct spelling
and conservation of the name (e.g. Amaryllis), etc.  However, nobody is
obliged to follow the taxonomic aspect of a name, although as John and
Graham remind us, we should probably have a strong argument for
dismissing someone's well-reasoned consideration of a name change.
APONAT makes decisions on both aspects and the minutes need to be read
with this in mind.

The RHS Plant Finder is certainly a useful resource for anyone just
wanting to follow a good taxonomy without making their own decisions for
every potential name change.  However, the RHS Plant Finder was designed
for gardeners in the UK to locate plants at nurseries and the database
is actually based on the larger datasource of the RHS Horticultural
Database.  This can be located at the following link:
The advantages of using this over the Plant Finder search page is that
more taxa are included (e.g. Lachenalia kliprandensis which is not found
in the RHS Plant Finder but is on the RHS Horticultural Database) and it
gives some indication of the status of the name.  Take another example,
going a bit off topic but using Graham's example of Helleborus Wester
Flisk Group, this is given on the Horticultural Database as only
tentatively accepted.  That basically means that there is nothing
obviously wrong with the name but it has not been investigated in detail
enough by the RHS botanists to confirm that it has been validly
described somewhere.  With over 4000 plant names added to the database
each year, I hope you can understand that the RHS botanists do not get
time to check that there is a proper description for every name on the

If the members are interested then I can highlight if there are any
particular issues on the APONAT minutes relevant to bulbous plants once
they have been published to the internet.  Over the last year there have
been small discussions on Nothoscordum, Typhonium & Sauromatum, and
South American Oxalis.  The most relevant minutes available on the
internet are probably 4 August 2005, where Merwilla & Scilla and
Leucojum & Acis were briefly discussed.

As Graham says, in using the databases, if you feel there are aspects of
it that are incorrect then please do get in touch we me and I can ask
APONAT if they ought to consider changing it.


Dr Christopher Whitehouse
Keeper of the Herbarium
RHS Garden Wisley
Surrey GU23 6QB
Tel: 01483 224234
Fax: 01483 211750
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