Eranthis hyemails 'Guinea Gold'

Jim McKenney
Tue, 18 Mar 2008 08:59:17 PDT
There are those who regard nomenclatural matters as mattes of right and
wrong: in their view, there is only one right way to do things. I don’t look
at it that way at all.

I’ve been thinking a lot about winter aconites lately, and these seemingly
simple little flowers offer some examples of just how opinion comes to
influence nomenclature. 

In the heading for this post I’ve deliberately used the provocative,
benignly provocative I hope, combination Eranthis hyemalis ‘Guinea Gold’.

Those of you who know your winter aconites know that ‘Guinea Gold’ was
raised in the early twentieth century and presented to the gardening public
as a hybrid between what were then known as Eranthis hyemalis and E.
cilicica. I believe it was Bowles who coined the name tubergenii for the
hybrid group. Until recently, the usual citation of the name would have been
Eranthis x tubergenii ‘Guinea Gold’.  

Some modern botanists regard Eranthis hyemalis and E. cilicica as
conspecific. In that view, ‘Guinea Gold’ is not a hybrid – at any rate, not
an interspecific hybrid. That allows it to be cited as Eranthis hyemalis
‘Guinea Gold’: both parents of this cultivar are of the species Eranthis

There is another formula one encounters: Eranthis hyemalis Tubergenii Group
‘Guinea Gold’.  I’m not sure what to make of this combination: I assume it
is tacit recognition of the existence of more than one ‘Guinea Gold’. In
this view, if I’ve got it right, although the original ‘Guinea Gold’ was a
clone, this combination of names recognizes that not only does  more than
one plant now go around under the name ‘Guinea Gold’, but also that the
true, original plant is seemingly lost in the crowd. 

Some people throw up their hands in the face of such complexities. I relish
them as a way of attaining more finely nuanced expressions of the
relationships involved.  Is one right and the others wrong? I don’t think
so.  Like everything else in science, the scientific basis of nomenclature
is an if…then proposition. If you believe that Eranthis hyemalis and E.
cilicica are discrete species, you write Eranthis x tubergenii ‘Guinea

If you believe E. hyemails and E. cilicica are conspecific, you write
Eranthis hyemalis ‘Guinea Gold’. 

If you believe the plants going around under the name ‘Guinea Gold’ cannot
with certainty be attributed to the original clone, then you write Eranthis
Tubergenii Group ‘Guinea Gold’ or even Eranthis hyemalis Tubergenii Group
‘Guinea Gold’. 

But is one of these right and the others wrong? Get out the boxing gloves!  

There’s more. 

I’ve also spent some time bugging some very tolerant friends and experts
about the gender of this word Eranthis. It’s been traditionally treated as
feminine, although some troublesome entries in the Flora Europaea suggested
that some at least were treating it as masculine (or were very careless in
their typing). Why the uncertainty? In short, because the etymology of the
word is uncertain. It looks like Greek, but search the lexica as you will,
there is apparently no word –anthis. Salisbury, the author of the genus,
complicated things by using a specific epithet, hyemalis, which can be
either masculine or feminine. 

Remember the discussion we had in the past about the gender of the genus
Acis? Same author, same problem: as far as I know, Salisbury’s intentions
remain unknown. It was not Salisbury who determined the gender of these
genera but rather subsequent users – and they by default.  

All of this gives me new appreciation of the simplicity of “winter aconite”.

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
7, where Lilium hansonii and Cardiocrinum cordatum are up.
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

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