Allium zebdanense
Sun, 22 Apr 2007 20:18:31 PDT
Jim McKenney <> wrote: "Mark, aren't there really at least two separate issues involved here?"
No, I don't think so.  It is well established that the name "cowanii" or "cowani" as originally cited in 1823, is invalid and just a synonym for A. neapolitanum.  This is just a blunder, where a mediterranean plant was imported to South America (Peru), then returned to Europe by someone named Cowan, then misinterpreted back in England as a new species.  The description by John Lindley in 1823 was based on a specimen sent from Cowan cultivated in a garden in Chiswick, near London, England. 
In Dilys Davies' book 'Alliums, the Ornamental Onions', she confirms the long known synonymy diagnosis, and adds "the name [cowanii] has also been used to suggest that A. cowanii is a selected superior form of A. neapolitanum".  However, the evidense clearly suggests the name is merely a provenance blunder, not a name based on a so-called superior selection.  The very early date of this dubious taxonomic transaction should give further witness to the obvious error.  
>If growers suddenly decide to be correct in
>nomenclature, then the distinction between 
>the tall form and other shorter forms will be lost.
Suddenly???  It's been almost two centuries since the blunder was made.  I have grown plants (in pots, because they are not hardy here) of A. neapolitaum, and those labelled as A. cowanii, and they've been more or less identical.  If there are tall and short forms, maybe someone should separate and grow on such distinctions as named forms with proper current nomenclature.
>The fact that growers have maintained this 
>distinction for a long time suggests that many 
>growers believe that, from a horticultural point
>of view, it's an important distinction. 
One must realize just how entrenched the parroting of botanical misinformation is through decades, and centuries in some cases.  I find the Allium neapolitanum - cowanii "thing" very similar to the Allium unifolium - "murrayanum" thing... the name "murrayanum never actually published, but after many many decades, it is still a widespread epithet used interchangeably with the true species Allium unifolium, particularly in England.  Now, the question comes, do plants identified nearly 2 centuries ago as Allium "cowanii" represent a superior form of Allium neapolitanum that shouldn't be lost?...  I think we're grapsing at straws on this.
>The plants I've received under the name 
>Allium neapolitanum have varied enough 
>to suggest that some sort of monkey business 
>is going on. Some have been short, some have 
>been taller, some have had smooth green leaves,
>some had had leaves with short hairs, some have
>smaller individual flowers than others
Wide variation in Allium species is well known.  However, if your "neapoiltanum" plants are hairy and not perfectly glabrous, they are not Allium neapolitanum... probably one of the closely allied species such as A. subhirsutum, subvillosum, or trifoliatum. 

>With respect to the name Allium cownaii, maybe 
>the reason this name persists is that it is not 
>simply a horticultural faux pas, it is a validly published
Whether the name was validly published in the true sense is in question, because a true type specimen and collection data were never identified.  In the voluminous work "A Revision of the Genus Allium L. (Liliaceae) in Africa" by Brigitta E. E. De Wilde -Duyfjes published in 1976, lists extensive collection data and exhaustive synonymy.  Among the many synonyms cited for Allium neapolitanum, only one is listed with a question mark thusly:

? A. cowanii Lindley 1823: t.758 ('Cowani'): Sprengel 1825:36: G.Don 1827:85 ('Gouanii').  Type: cultivated in the botanical garden of Chiswick from specimens sent by Cowan from Peru.
Now, back to the issue of superior forms.  Allium neapolitanum falls within a similar catagory as another popularly grown species, Allium roseum.  In cultivation, all forms of Allium roseum seem to be propagated from one original clone, so it might be surprising to learn of the true variability of the species in terms of height, size and aspect of the foliage, the disposition of the umbel (many flowered and dense versus few-flowered and open), the fact flowers are usually pink but often pale pink or pure white, stems tall or short, etc.  For such a species as A. neapolitanum, found throughout the Mediterranean area, if someone wants to select obviously different and superior forms, then sure... that's fine, go ahead and do so.  But in the case of "A. cowanii", I'm quite convinced it is just a centuries old blunder that gets passed on ad infinitum as a species, or at least justified as a superior form of A. neapolitanum, which I don't believe it is. 

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA (near the New Hampshire border)
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