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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Season one, episode four: Taxonomists Talk Back!

Gardeners LOVE to complain about taxonomists changing the scientific names of plants. I even went so far as to make a stupid music video complaining about it. But today the taxonomists get to give their side of the story: MaartenChristenhusz, a Kew botanist who has named abunch of species and has even has one named after him, and Tony Reznicek, a botanist at the Univeristy of Michigan who is the man behind the Michigan Flora, and an expert on sedge systematics.

Here are some of the key things I learned from this episode:
One, there is no official body or organization who accepts or declines new plant names – one scientist proposes a change, and if other scientists think it is good, they start using it. If not, they don't.
Which explains why it can be so hard for gardeners to keep up with what the latest names are – both Tony and Maarten agreed there is no easy answer, but recommended some websites where you can check and see what the state of the name of plants are: Kew Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Tropicos, USDA Plants, and efloras.
Then: It isn't your imagination that names are changing a LOT lately. New DNA technology has resulted in some major reshuffling of all sorts of taxonomic groups, sometimes resulting in new names.
And, it also isn't your imagination, there is a REASON it seems like the new names are always longer and harder than the old ones (Aster to Symphyotrichum anyone?)
And finally, there IS some good news: Though there have been a lot of major name changes lately thanks to new DNA sequencing technology, both agreed that newer name changes are likely to stand, and that there are likely to be fewer new name changes in the future as the new technology works its way through the system!

Oh, and finally, new, better plant taxonomies is giving us some exciting new plants out of the process, like this cool Franklinia hybrid that Tony mentioned.

1 comment:

  1. The study of plants and there relationship to other plants is fascinating.