Aff - able?

Tue, 18 Mar 2008 20:14:14 PDT
I would like to follow up John Grimshaw's response by mentioning the term
"cf." (literally = "compare with"). It is also a staple of botanists and
plantsmen and serves a similar but different purpose. My interpretation and
experience of "affinis" is that it is used where the entity in question is
decidedly or most probably does not belong with the name given, such as
Narcissus aff. bulbocodium, but represents an allied or affiliated taxon
that is in need of further study and could prove to be new to science. By
contrast "cf.", as in Narcissus cf. bulbocodium, indicates that the plant in
question could very well be this species but needs confirmation.
Both cf. and aff. are temporary designations, though they can be appended to
a plant for many years, and they serve mainly to bring attention to the fact
that taxonomic sleuthing is needed. They are steps in a process that have
led to important increases in knowledge and understanding and can also
prevent plants being named incorrectly.
Both of these designations are very useful when the name of a plant is in
doubt. Since this uncertainty is an unavoidable condition for plant
aficionados at times it is well to take advantage of these abbreviations
that are normally more a vexation to data bases than to growers. The
alternatives range from using the mystic "?" in connection with a doubtful
name or abandoning the nuances of plant identification altogether.

Dylan Hannon

On Tue, Mar 18, 2008 at 3:21 PM, John Grimshaw <>

> I am surprised at the usually so-precise Jim McKenney's outburst against
> the
> invaluable word affinis, abbreviated to aff.
> > Paul mentioned the despicable practice (no bad reflection meant on you,
> Paul) of using the abbreviation aff. in naming plants. Aff. is neo-Latin
> for
> "beats me, I guess it's [fill in the blank]" Since all living things are
> presumably related at one level or another, every living thing is "aff"
> every other living thing to some degree. And so this aff. business doesn't
> tell us much.
> Aff. means quite clearly and simply, 'akin to, bordering' (see Stearn's
> 'Botanical Latin'), and this is the sense in which it is used by every
> competent botanist. Those of us who attempt to identify wild (or even
> garden) plants will inevitably come across specimens that do not quite
> seem
> to match a description, or a comparative specimen, but seem to be akin to,
> or bordering on it; these will rightly and properly be annotated as aff.
> species X. It indicates that further study is required, perhaps to reveal
> a
> wider variation than previously recorded in a species' morphology, or
> perhaps indeed suggesting that it is a hitherto undescribed taxon - that's
> when aff. becomes fun.
> John Grimshaw
> Dr John M. Grimshaw
> Sycamore Cottage
> Colesbourne
> Nr Cheltenham
> Gloucestershire GL53 9NP
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