Naming plants

Barry Meyers-Rice (
Mon, 30 Jan 1995 12:49:36 -0700

I just finished writing a note to another CPer re: the appropriate way
to note plants on their lists. Some of the questions were...

>What the %^&*$# is the right way to list plants?
>When do you use ( ) " " and ` '
>what is the difference (if any) between TYPE and typica?
>should it be anthocyanin free, heterophylla, or alba
>furthermore, how about var., subsp., form etc.....

I've spent a lot of time on this matter, because I want to make sure my
list is botanically accurate but also I wish to include information about
each of my plants (I'm pretty anal about accuracy on these matters). So
I thought I'd post my response to the group as I think it may be helpful.

****The botanical name****

There are two parts of the plant's botanical name. The first part is
the correct latin name of the plant, consisting of the genus and species.
The genus should be capitalized, and the entire genus+species should be
italicised. For email purposes I approximate this with underscore characters
like this... _Utricularia sandersonii_. If some botanist had legitimately
described some additional subdivisions like subspecies or variety or form
these should also be included, still in italics like _D.binata var. multifida
f. extrema_. These correct botanical names are listed in Jan's database
available via the web page or the listserv.

The second part of the name you may wish to include is the botanist's name
that described the plant. I've rarely seen horticulturists do this, but this
information is also available via Jan's list. If the plant has been renamed
a few times in its botanical history, parentheses may be used in this part
of the name and so should probably be avoided in optional descriptions you
may wish to use (see below)

****Horticultural add-ons****

In tracking the plants in your descriptions you may wish to tack on more
information. Now Jan hates it when I do this, because he is concerned
(and rightly so) with people mistaking these add-ons for botanically
significant descriptions. But it is simply human nature to want to note
which plants in your collections you have, whether for trading purposes
or simply greenhouse records.

1) Cultivars

The first kind of add-on description (and the only one that Jan doesn't
mind) is for a cultivar, which is a plant which has been selected as special,
and has been described in an article published in a journal of large
circulation. The cultivar name is enclosed in single quotes. For example,
the cultivar _S.leucophylla_ `Sonoran Song' (which doesn't exist---I just
made it up for this example).

2)Interesting characters

What about plants that we have in our collections that have interesting
characteristics that we wish to note, for example a taller than normal plant
or a plant from Waycross Georgia? You can note such plant any way you want,
just as long as it doesn't conflict with the special codes already reserved
for the botanical name (italics) or cultivar (single quotes). For example
you could call it:

_U.juncea_ ``tall, from Waycross GA'' or
_U.juncea_ (tall, from Waycross GA) or
_U.juncea_ ---tall, from Waycross GA or
_U.juncea_ ***tall, from Waycross GA***

or whatever you want, but NOT
_U.juncea_ `tall, from Waycross GA' or
_U.juncea tall, from Waycross GA_

I think you should avoid parentheses for the reasons I noted above.
Also, as I recall you should not latinized your descriptors since they might
be confused for botanical names. I use a long dash since to me it seems the
most grammatically appropriate. Double quotes seem dangerously close to
single quotes, so I avoid them.

3)TYPE and typica

Allan Lowrie refers to some plants as TYPE, for example
Byblis liniflora TYPE

I think this is probably wrong since the word TYPE refers to the single
plant that is used to describe the entire species. So unless Allen got seeds
from the original herbarium specimen, TYPE is misleading. I think he means
that the plant conforms to the appearance of the plant in the original
description, in which case just _Byblis liniflora_ would be fine, or maybe
_Byblis liniflora_ ``normal plant'' would be fine. Using the word
``typica'' (often italicised) is bogus for the same reason, and with the
error compounded by the latinization sin.

4)Alba and Heterophylla

Unless in the botanical or cultivar name, such as _S.purpurea purpurea
f. heterophylla_ or _D. rotundifolia_ `alba' (which I just made up
as an example), you shouldn't use these as they are latinised and also by
themselves not very informative. For example, alba means white. What is
white? The flower? The leaves? I'm reminded of how some growers call their
plants things like _S.psittacina_ alba-foliate. What's so fancy about the
bogus latin descriptor, when _S.psittacina_ `little red colour in the leaves'
is far more descriptive and accurate than ``white-leaves''.

Heterophylla means ``different-leaf''. This is usually used when the
plant has two types of leaves (perhaps phyllodia). Since it was
unfortunately used for the pigment free _S.purpurea purpurea_, it is
mistakenly thought among CPers that the term can be pegged onto any
plant with this mutation. Instead you should use non-latinised
descriptors like _S.leucophylla_ ``very little red pigment'' or
_U.calycifida_ ``white flower.'' In the rare genetic case where there is
no red pigment in the plant you may which to note the plant as
_S.leucophylla_ ``no anthocyanin pigment'' or something like that. In
the case of _S.purpurea purpurea f. heterophylla_ this would of course
be redundant information.