crocosmias and montbretias

Jim McKenney
Tue, 30 Jul 2013 08:35:28 PDT
Jim Waddick asked "ps Isn't the generic name Montbretia dead and all of the previous named are now Crocs? "

Jim, were you asking this because of the subject line in my original post (crocosmias and montbretias)?

Yes, the generic name Montbretia is a synonym of the currently used generic name Crocosmia. 

Note that the words "crocosmias" and "montbretias" are not botanical names. They are vernacular names derived from botanical names: thus the lack of capital initial letters, the lack of italics (in formats which support that) and the plurals formed in English style with the "s" ending. 

To my way of thinking, the vernacular word "crocosmias" is appropriate for all of these plants since they are all now included in the botanical genus Crocosmia. It was really the introduction of 'Lucifer' which brought this genus name to the general gardening public; before 'Lucifer' the name Crocosmia was known mostly in the name of Crocosmia masoniorum (although back then it was apt to be spelled masonorum) , a species which for some reason never seems to have caught on with American gardeners. 

The hybrids which were raised a century ago, when the botanical name Montbretia was current, were widely called "montbretias" in everyday speech. Some of us still use the name "montbretias" for these early hybrids because they are so distinct from Crocosmia masoniorum and the mid-century hybrids such as 'Lucifer'. The nothotaxon Crocosmia × crocosmiiflora is available for these early hybrids, although not only is that a much bigger mouthful than "montbretias" but it also preserves the now discredited nineteenth century style of pigeonhole taxonomy based on morphology rather than gene pool.    

Also,  I note that the RHS now gives "giant montbretia" as the preferred common name for C. masoniorum. 

I think there is a widespread tendency to try to make the botanical names and the common names coordinate: thus, the members of the genus Lilium are called lilies in vernacular English. But sometimes vernacular names preserve or attempt to make distinctions which the botanical names ignore, and in those cases the correspondence between common names and botanical names is inexact. The common English word "thistle" is an example: it does not correspond to any botanical taxon in particular, and attempts to make it do so do violence to the vernacular language. 

To my way of thinking, the early twentieth century hybrids with wide, flattish,  down- or out-facing flowers will always be "montbretias", a group horticulturally distinct from the crocosmias of the 'Lucifer' sort.  

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7

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