Taxonomy help

Jim McKenney
Mon, 13 Nov 2006 14:57:31 PST
I agree with Leo's basic idea, and think it's good for this group.

Another similar approach would be to use the designations s.s. and s.l. with
these family names. This came up a few weeks ago in one of Joe Shaw's
postings. For those of you who don't remember that exchange, s.s. = "in the
narrow sense" and s.l. = "in the broad sense". People who like to speculate
about relationships like these designations because they sidestep the
philosophical problems evoked by rigid family assignments and, just as
importantly in many discussions, they indicate a beginning point and an
ending point when things start to move around. And of course they also
provide diplomatic wiggle room when the going gets hot.  

Because these new family assignments often represent not so much a newly
established relationship as a finer granularity of existing representations
of relationship, citing both the former and the more recent ideas about
relationships will help to keep everyone on the same page. 

And once more people loosen up about this and realize that these family
assignments are not an objective reality but rather informed opinions, then
we gardeners might stop worrying about getting it exactly "right".   

Nearly fifty years ago I acquired a copy of Hutchinson's Families of
Flowering Plants (I have the 1960 reprint of the second edition; the work
was first published in 1934). That was my introduction to the splitting up
of the old Liliaceae into numerous smaller groups (Hutchinson called many of
them tribes) whose members were obviously more closely related. I paid
careful attention to these and learned a lot. 

I would never have known about the genus Semele but for Hutchinson's
grouping it with its relatives Danae and Ruscus. This could go on and on. 

I definitely think there is something to be said for indicating familial
relationships at several levels of exactitude, and for getting away from the
notion that these family assignments are objective realities. 

Has anyone else ever noticed how when one travels in rural areas of the
country, the young people often still effect styles which long ago were
supplanted by newer styles in the big urban areas? There is something
similar to that happening with writers: as one moves further away from the
primary literature of taxonomy, one is more likely to encounter old, now
discredited beliefs about relationships. To this day, writers about food are
likely to assign the onions to the "lily family", a style which went out of
fashion in the fast lane generations ago. 

We've come a long way since Hutchinson's groupings back then - or maybe I
should say some have come a long way.

And here we are, still earnestly discussing some of the groupings stated in
Hutchinson so long ago. If nothing else, perhaps there is some solace to be
had in knowing that backwards as we've been all this time, it really hasn't
hurt us a bit. Hmmmm....what are those folks at the back of the lecture hall
snickering about?   

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

More information about the pbs mailing list