Nectaroscordum meliophilum
Tue, 27 May 2003 19:39:17 PDT
Jane McGary <> wrote:
There are some likely reasons for the use of unfamiliar synonyms for plants 
collected and/or grown by people in the former Soviet Union (and China):
(a) They are deriving the names from their authorities, which are often 
floras and journals that were "out of the loop" of the system of 
publication and peer review in the West.
(b) They did not have the opportunity to travel and compare their material 
with specimens from other areas and have difficulty evaluating whether it 
is really different enough to warrant species status.
(c) They are aware that Western plant enthusiasts will pay good money to 
take a chance on "new to cultivation" species, and so they deliberately use 
unfamiliar synonyms to entice seed buyers to purchase species they would 
otherwise ignore.

Might there be some other reasons, perhaps a trifle less cynical.  Europe 
experienced much the same botanical synonymy problems and taxonomic evolution as 
did North America.  Taking for example, the genus Allium, I see just as much 
synonymy in the European onions (including Russia) as I do the North American 
onions, perhaps even more so.  Many names were described in the latter 1800s 
and early 1900s, without benefit of quick communication, often the taxonomy 
limited to floristic studies by state in the USA, or by country in Europe, and not 
studied holistically over large geographical areas.  I find it amusing that 
most European floras, when discussing Allium species distribution, simply 
ignore North Africa, even on the common Mediterranean species, when many species do 
exist there.

But back to Nectaroscordum, there are only a handful of names that were ever 
described... I highly doubt this is a case of a trumped up name for the sake 
of plant sales.  The species was collected by a highly respected name in 
geophyte taxonomy, not a nurseryman, so I have to believe the name was retained for 
a reason; if nothing else to align the collection with the type.

Regarding the suggestion that botanists in the Soviet Union and China are... 
"out of the loop of the system of publication and peer review in the West"; 
well... at least with the genus Allium that I have studied, there's about the 
same level of synonymy, or even less synonymy in play in those regions, than in 
Europe.  Looking at the Flora of China, with the Alliaceae published, there's 
no over abundance of species, but it seems a reasonable number of species, the 
majority of which are indeed endemic to the vast land area that is China.

I've observed in writing a number of times... little quips that mock the long 
russian species names as if they can't possibly be.  Yet we drool and lust 
over every impossibly romantic south american alpine species name without 
question, with epithets equally as unpronounceable and seemingly as prolific as the 
long Russian names; there's an obvious bias here. The same used to be true of 
English writing about American plants.  My favorite line from Sampson Clay's 
"The Present Day Rock Garden" is within a passage describing about 20 western 
American species in which he admonishes "There is obviously a redundancy of 
'species' here", neatly illustrating a bias whereby American taxonomy was mocked 
unless sanctioned by British taxonomists.

No, I prefer to keep the possibility open.  I remember a taxonomist at the 
USNA (US National Arboretum) giving me a plant of Allium "komarovianum".  This 
name has long since been put in synonymy with the well-known, autumn-flowering 
Allium thunbergii.  But he urged me to review this plant to see what I 
thought.  And indeed, it has very similar, almost identical purple balls of bloom in 
October, with yellow or orange protruding anthers, indeed looking just like 
thunbergii... but the leaves and rootstalks are completely different.  Allium 
thunbergii has keeled leaves, moderately to strongly trigonous and fistular, and 
dark green in color.  This floral look-alike plant on the other hand, has 
very broad, absolutely flat shiny light green leaves.  In foliage, you'd never 
guess that the two species could be remotely related!  There's much more that I 
could say about the taxonomic mess so misrepresented by today's 
thunbergii-virgunculae delineations... the whole group is in obvious need of study.

It should be noted, that after a hundred years of Allium blandum being placed 
in synonymy with the Himalayan A. carolinianum (not from North America in the 
Carolinas as the name indicates, another famous gaff), that the latest Flora 
of China resurrects A. blandum as validly separated from A. carolinianum.  
Sometimes there's reason to hang on to those old names, particularly when dealing 
with extremely diverse, polymorphic groups of plants.

So yes... maybe Nectaroscordum meliophilum... I'll inquire why it's been so 

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