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The Name Game

  • Subject: The Name Game
  • From: "Jay Vannini" <interbnk@terra.com.gt>
  • Date: Fri, 13 Jul 2001 16:56:15 -0500 (CDT)

Greetings, all!

Wow - as Ron Iles notes, the debate over the flux in botanical nomenclature
has been remarkably civil thus far, given the depth of the "line in the
sand" that has been drawn by the parties.

And, albeit mixing my metaphors - time to muddy the waters...

I tend to side with those who argue for "proper" (given our state of
knowledge at any given time) placement of a species, taxonomically speaking,
even if it does irk the public. Knowing that the Brazilian "Laelia" aren't
"Laelia" at all, but rather Sophronitis sure helps me to sleep better at
night (Note to Lord Wilbert: Please don't have me kicked off the forum for
using a taxonomically-challenged orchid group as an example here). Anyone
who has had the good fortune to meet biologist colleagues who share an
interest, yet not a language, knows that the Latin & Greek binomials really
are the great unifiers. I, for one, would hate to have to learn all the
world's endangered species' common names in the principal languages in order
to enhance a "sign language & smile" conversation with a fellow natural
resources conservation aficionado at a conference!

In all fairness to the Philodendron 'Nice Legs' and Dieffenbachia
'Whoop-de-Doo' crowd, the horticultural trade has to deal with the lowest
common denominator - I can't imagine that you can expect the average
hausfrau in Denver or Leeds to keep abreast of Drs. Boyce & Hetterscheid's
pronouncements when they go to buy something green for that empty space
above the kitchen sink. You know, the one in the faux bay window overlooking
the neighbor's Volvo.

It is obvious to even the most casual observer that "new" species, greater
knowledge, and new tools and techniques continually give us a much better
feel for any given organism's genetic relationship to others within the (OK,
imperfect) Linnaean framework. Gross external morphology alone is sometimes
not the best way to identify things and those giddy guys & gals in white lab
coats are ever searching for new ways to skin the cat. The end result may
turn conventional wisdom on its head and, admittedly, rub some people the
wrong way, but that's Life. Joking aside, I don't believe that any bona fide
researcher ever "splits", "sinks" or "lumps" species in an arbitrary or
frivolous manner, however it may seem to outsiders. Anyone who has ever
taken a close look at little-known species complexes in the tropics,
particularly those that involve undescribed  taxa, knows the challenge of
trying to fit the pieces together properly and (oops!) the risks of
assembling them in what ultimately is shown to be the wrong way. Personally,
as a layperson, I find all this fascinating, even though I share the
frustration of those who "blink" and find that their favorite beast or
blossom has somehow changed genera on them.

Units of measure, Betsy? I think that everyone in the opposing camps looks
at the metric vs standard debate in the context of a GREAT quote from
Anatole France regarding foolish things.

As for "Golden Pothos" - nothing here that a judicious shot o' glyphosphate
won't solve...

Peace -


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