Question about Naked Ladies

Jim McKenney
Thu, 20 Dec 2007 16:08:37 PST
Alani Davis wrote: "There are so many name issues relating to common names
which is one of the
of the problems with common names" and then went on to give lots of good

However, I would like to play devil's advocate in this discussion.  Those of
us fluent in botanical names may be misleading ourselves and others. The
correct application of botanical names in my experience is sometimes a much
more difficult undertaking than we give it credit for. Here's an example
I've been wrestling with for the last week or so. It ties in to some recent
discussions we've had on the topics of speciation, evolution, cladistics and
related topics. 

About a week ago I had one of those serendipitous experiences in which
several seemingly unrelated threads of cognition came together into a
seeming revelation. I had been going through some old lily books to check
something or other out and, in passing, I noticed an old photograph and
suddenly had an inspiration. The photograph, in George Slates Lilies for
American Gardens (Scribner's, 1939) was captioned Lilium grayi. I'm
convinced that the plant portrayed in not Lilium grayi but rather one of the
lilies which occur in the northern range of Lilium grayi where it and Lilium
canadense exist in what is in effect a species-like relationship. Such
lilies are routinely called hybrids and given the name Lilium pseudo-grayi.
As I've said before, I'm of the school which says if they are interbreeding
and producing viable progeny which themselves are capable of interbreeding
and producing viable progeny, then they are not hybrids; the reality is that
the parental populations are members of the same species. 

The photograph in Slate also suggests something else. In the Flora of West
Virginia there is a line drawing of Lilium canadense editorum. The line
drawing is so odd that for a long time I assumed that it had been drawn from
a bad herbarium specimen. But that line drawing matches fairly well one of
the images (a sort of photographic collage) provided by Fernald, the author
of editorum.   

At this point in my understanding, I am just about convinced that Lilium
pseudo-grayi and Lilium canadense editorum are  based on either the same
population or on  related populations which show varying degrees of
introgression with Lilium grayi. 

In this view, Lilium grayi and Lilium canadense emerge as a single species,
the apparent morphological differences notwithstanding: they form a
population which not only interbreeds but interbreeds and produces viable
progeny. These two species have long been recognized as being closely
related. Presumably in the distant past they were one species; over time,
their populations separated enough for the apparent differences to become
stabilized. Now those formerly separated populations are in contact and are
interbreeding: these "species" are merging before our eyes. 

And what's the point of all this? I for one would not want to be too
dogmatic about the identity of any of the Lilium grayi material I've seen.
In particular, I would be very reluctant to draw a sharp line of separation
between what traditionally have been known as Lilium grayi (such as the ones
in my images on the wiki)  and the evidently numerous plants found in
southeastern Virginia which clearly show the influence of both Lilium grayi
and L. canadense. There is a long history (going back to the early twentieth
century) of this material coming into commerce under the name Lilium grayi. 

In cases like this, where the conventional nomenclature does not reflect the
reality on the ground, the use of botanical names easily becomes misleading.
In a case like this one, botanical names are not adequate to express what is
really happening. There are plants in the trade being sold as Lilium grayi.
But how would one know? The best that can be said is that some authorities
will say yes and some will say no. To those who have to have botanical
accuracy, this is torture.

To those happy and content to have a red thimble lily, it's irrelevant. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7 where Crocus ochroleucus is
still in bloom and where there has been no sigh yet of C. laevigatus. 
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

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