Mon, 22 Dec 2003 20:50:10 PST
I read a couple of sound responses to the proposed reorganization of Scilla.  
It was asked "What reaction to these proposed changes do Scilla enthusiasts 

Tonight, when I watched 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' by Dr. Seuss, I 
couldn't help but sense a parallel, when hearing such unlikely names as Schnarfia, 
Prospero, Pseudoprospero, Spetaea, Pfosseria, and a litany of other names for 
a small genus that previously seemed readily discernable, that it implies a 
Dr.Seussian language made up just for the sheer fun of it.

My impression of the proposed Scilla ultra-breakup is that it is splitting to 
an unnecessarily excessive level whereby monotypic genera are many, and 
genera with but a few species equally proliferate.  This seems polar to a prevalent 
recent trend to condense taxonomic vernacular whereby genera are lumped and 
there's a condensation of species.  This dichotomy and apparent randomness of 
species delineation, depending on genera and taxonomists personal inclinations 
and motives, is what's so disconcerting to us on the sidelines.

It's interesting too, to see the impact and radical direction that DNA 
studies has taken the science of taxonomy.  A recent trend, it seems to me, is the 
use of DNA research to the seeming exclusion of other traditional taxonomic 
considerations, resulting in a roller coaster redifinition of taxonomy that's 
hard to fathom, let alone accept.  Soon, I think, most plants will be shown 
conclusively to be related to rutabagas (joking), redefining taxonomy in it's 

Just imagine what a young, ambitious taxonomist could do with the genus 
Allium.  The minor botanical differences cited for Scilla regrouping (size and 
shape of seed for example), could easily apply to the 850+ species in Allium, to 
break the genus apart into several hundred new genera. I also find it 
interesting, that the supplied bibliography lists two taxonomists, each with genera 
named after themselves!  Although, I'm sure these botanists have but the most 
modest of intentions ;-)

I find it interesting, curious, inconsistent, and contradictory that even 
within a genus such as allium, that North American species (about 130 taxa) are 
largely defined by microscopic bulb coat reticulation patterns, whereas in the 
rest of the northern hemisphere, delineating approximately 720 taxa, such 
criteria is largely irrelevant, and other characteristics are involved in species 
determination.  Looking at such widely dispersed genera as Allium, it seems to 
the lay-person that taxonomy can be a crap-shoot, dictated by incoherent, 
randomized, geographically localized, and often contradictory series of taxonomic 
criteria for species delineation when "the whole" is considered.

Back to Allium for instance, we have the species with true bulbs. There is 
also a large group with rhizomes.  Given the criteria applied to Scilla, should 
not these two very different rootstalk characteristics in Allium require the 
split into two separate genera?  But then there are some species, while 
rhizomatous, have well defined bulbs attached to each other by a horizontal iris-like 
rhizome, surely this should be another genus.  There are some species that 
only have rhizomes present during a certain period in the active growth cycle, 
might not these become a new classification altogether, perhaps considered one 
new genus when the rhizomes are present, and another genus for the other part 
of the year where the rhizomes disappear... a new realm of morphing polygenera.

How about pedicels.  Typically in allium, they are all equal length.  
Although in some, they are "subequal" resulting in oblong heads (new genus here), 
while others have vastly different length pedicels... some short, some 
exceptionally long, all in the same head such as in schubertii and protensum, another 
new genus here.  Most alliums have very dense heads, certainly a solid 
characteristic worthy of unique genus status, whereas others have very open airy heads 
(yet another new genus).  Those with drooping flowering, a new genus without 

Seed charactistics use to differentiate genera!  Wow, we can go nuts with 
that one.  We'll add a dozen new ex-Allium genera from that alone.  Most alliums 
have linear leaves, but what about the whole group with stalked leaves; e.g. 
leaves with a long narrow basal petiole and then a broad multi-veined leaf, 
looking more like a Convallaria or hosta leaf than any sort of Allium.  That has 
to be a new genus. There are alliums where all the leaves are basal, and those 
where the leaves sheath much of the stems.  Plentiful new genera to be sure.  
The fruiting (seed) structures are equally diverse, with different quantities 
of seed in each "locule", ovaries crested or crestless, stipitate or not, 
many more new genera belong here I should think.  Of course I am joking bluntly 
in the last several paragraphs, and I hope no such nonsense gets applied to the 
genus Allium as we know it today.

My honest reaction to the proposed Scilla redefinition is that it is overly 
analayzed.  I could well imagine 2, 3, maybe 4 genera emerging, but the 
proposed delineation seems as fruitless and evanescent as the endless shakedown on 
the old Liliaceae.

Mark McDonough Pepperell, Massachusetts, United States "New England" USDA Zone 5
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