Explaining current taxonomy

Jane McGary janemcgary@earthlink.net
Fri, 06 Dec 2002 09:53:34 PST
Harold Koopowitz responded to Julian Slade's posting on recent work on the
genus Ornithogalum: 

>... With regards to [the report summarized by Slade], Remember that much
of the molecular 
>genetics is only based on one or a few genes (I am not sure of the 
>situation here) and the cladograms displayed are only one of many 

It would be most valuable for nonspecialists who are strongly interested in
plants to gain a better understanding of how taxonomy is currently being
done. I would like to encourage specialists (such as Drs. Koopowitz and
Meerow) to think about presenting this information in an article accessible
to many readers of the "Rock Garden Quarterly" and "Bulbs." My own
specialty is editing scholarly prose, and I would be happy to assist in the
preparation of such an explanatory article. One of my mottos is "You can
explain [almost] anything to [almost] anyone," although in this case it is
surprising how many people are engaged in breeding plants and animals
without even the kind of basic understanding of genetics one gets from an
introductory biology course.

Because cladistics is also used in linguistics, I was familiar with it
before I encountered it in biology, so I'm not put off by statements like
"only one of many possibilities." However, I also know that many readers
are NOT comfortable with them and believe they are being "jerked around" by
"those botanists" whenever a name change is proposed. 

Some of those confused by current taxonomic practice are in the
horticultural publishing industry, too, so as an editor I am called on to
make decisions about synonyms that I am by no means qualified to make --
and that I'm not sure NEED to be made. Authors can respond with surprising
rancor to editorial changes regarding plant names.

Jane McGary
Northwest Oregon

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