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Binomial nomenclature

Posted by purpleinopp 8b AL (My Page) on
Wed, Jun 22, 11 at 17:40

I love binomial nomenclature, except when "they mess with it."

Is there a way to keep up with all of this sudden renaming of plants lately? Or is it just me noticing it more? What is the practical difference between ICBN and ICZN? Who decides what the official names are? Who decides to change the names? I thought a lot of the latin plant names were arbitrary anyway, depending upon the mood of Linnaeus that day. Or is that just the species names that are arbitrary? Who cares if some scientist discovers something new about a plant's genetics? I don't think that's a good reason to change the names. If it is, please tell me why it's important enough to cause all this confusion.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Binomial nomenclature

Well, generally some factoid comes along that warrants rethinking and reclassifying. And with DNA matching now in the mix there could be more to come. For example Chamaecyparis nootkatensis (not a houseplant, to be sure)was bandied about as belonging to the genus Xanthocyparis, Callitropsis, or Cupressus (all gaining favor at one time or another) instead of Chamaecyparis. This was started when a new conifer was found in Vietnam (Xanthocyparis vietnamensis) and the nootkatensis was its closest relative. DNA sequences, however, show Cupressus is where it belongs and a final word will be given in July. The more exact we want to be, the more likely for name changes.

And so it goes.

tj


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RE: Binomial nomenclature

I appreciate your response. I know the renamings are the results of genetic observations but I think everyone is just breezing past the fact that there was no knowledge of molecular genetics when these plants were named. They are mostly translations of local common names from many languages into a universal format - latin. Why is it supposedly necessary now to use plant names to perform a function for which they were never intended?

This seems analogous to a government deciding to do genetic tests on citizens and then telling them their names are wrong and need to be changed if they are adopted or in other situations (family secrets) where the genetics don't match. "The government says I'm really a Smith."

What I don't understand is why anyone feels it necessary for the latin names to now be genetically correct. If scientists want to come up with some convention or formula to indicate the genetics of plants, that's great and I support that. (But they better be quick about it and then plan to redo it constantly in regard to GMOs.) What is bothering me is these scientists using the plant names to do it. It's not necessary and serves no practical purpose except for scientists using the information on a molecular level.

If someone has an explanation of how this can be useful or have any kind of benefit to anyone else, please share it.


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RE: Binomial nomenclature.

Either nobody with a valid reason for this has read this post, or a valid reason is nonexistent.


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RE: Binomial nomenclature

The correct classification of living organisms is important to the scientific world. To ignore genetic blueprinting not acceptable...in those circles. Whether it's important or not to you is irrelevant, in terms of the bigger picture. It's probably not important to most people!

I, for one, am endlessly fascinated by new classifications. I would much rather be certain of a plant's true lineage then be satisfied with the status quo, no matter how 'inconvenient'. Sometimes, I find myself scratching my head, but not often.

The change of names, though it may cause confusion to some, is necessary (in science) because in the world of scientific nomenclature, the names are so often tied into a specific genera or species. They are changed, not on whimsy, but in an effort to be more precise. Name changes are, clearly, not so essential in the world of the market place, where the newer, more accurate nomenclature might not come to use for twenty or thirty years. Latin nomenclature has nothing to do with the typical common name, hybrid name, cultivar, etc.

Again, accuracy is important to many. I taught plant identification classes for many years, so I REALLY had to keep up with changes in plant classification. I taught the students the most recent genus and species, but also as many common names as I could come up with as well as the older names.


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RE: Binomial nomenclature

And remember that science changes. First the world was round, then it was flat, then it was round again.

If you want to use a scientific nomenclature then you must be amenable to change.


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RE: Binomial nomenclature

Thanks for your response. I always like reading what you have to say.

The correct classification of living organisms is important to the scientific world. To ignore genetic blueprinting not acceptable...in those circles. Whether it's important or not to you is irrelevant, in terms of the bigger picture. It's probably not important to most people!

Touché! That's one of my points, stated very clearly.

I would much rather be certain of a plant's true lineage then be satisfied with the status quo, no matter how 'inconvenient'.

The only reason to have a name for a plant is so you can differentiate it from other plants, specify exactly which plant you have. Any info beyond that is just a detail about the plant. Scientists are making new discoveries (which is GREAT, btw) and insisting we all change what we are doing since they've hijacked the names as the facility through which to make note of their new info.

The change of names, though it may cause confusion to some, is necessary (in science) because in the world of scientific nomenclature, the names are so often tied into a specific genera or species. They are changed, not on whimsy, but in an effort to be more precise. Name changes are, clearly, not so essential in the world of the market place, where the newer, more accurate nomenclature might not come to use for twenty or thirty years. Latin nomenclature has nothing to do with the typical common name, hybrid name, cultivar, etc.

This is exactly why it should not be done. A name is just an label. For example, I have an unknown plant so I post a picture to the NTP forum. Once I know the label, I can research any pertinent details. The newly discovered scientific info should be appended to the details. Changing the label just creates confusion back to the identification level AND makes it necessary to constantly research any possible label changes for EVERY plant. This the exact opposite of efficiency for all involved. So much time is wasted searching for name changes and keeping track of them.

Again, accuracy is important to many.

That's my point, also. This changing of names/labels is CREATING innacuracy. We had a way to accurately discuss/research plants until "they started messing with it."

I taught plant identification classes for many years, so I REALLY had to keep up with changes in plant classification.

The insistence of scientists to use the names/labels according to microscopic discoveries made this necessary. Not accuracy.

I taught the students the most recent genus and species, but also as many common names as I could come up with as well as the older names.

I think this is a complete waste of a lot of people's time although I understand and support what you did and how you did it since you are a victim of this scientific bullying. Unless you are going to do scientific research on a plant, there is no need to know the molecular details. It is that small number of people who are going to research anyway who should bear the burden of gathering and using this information. Not the average person who wants to grow a few veggies or house plants, or even folks like landscapers and garden center owners. What difference does it make at any of these much more common levels what is scientifically going on with these plants. It doesn't change anything about how to have success with them in terms of their placement, care, etc...

I go back to my analogy about a government doing genetic testing to change the names of the citizens to reflect their genetics. Unless I am visiting a doctor, there's no need to change my name to Smith. It's just a detail of my medical records that is only important at a scientific level. It is irrelevant in regard to what I am called, my name.

What about all of the other words we have? I've heard etymological discussions about how some of the words are "wrong." There are incorrectly spelled translations, words that have picked up added letters or lost letters... What if etymologists suddenly dictated that (made-up arbitrary info for purposes of analogy) the word "desk" is wrong. It was originally translated from the French word desque, and the French pronounciation is "des-kay." So although we may continue to write "desk," it should now be pronounced "des-kay." Knowing the name is technically wrong is not a good reason to change it. We need to communicate and labels of things are the most very basic component of communication.

And remember that science changes. First the world was round, then it was flat, then it was round again.

Right! A perfect analogy of why changing the name of something each time the scientific knowledge changes is detrimental to society in terms of lost time and confusion. What our ancestors knew should always be important and that info maintained, even if it loses its' relevance which, as you make clear, Albert, is likely tempory. Who knows what will be relevant in the future. People used to eat dandelions. Now they spray them with RU. If some drastic change occurred in society, knowing that dandelions are edible could be very important.

Binomial nomenclature has been the facility through which people have been able to share knowledge about their natural surroundings for over 200 years. They have used these labels to share and use current and past info. It works the same if you're trying to make a poultice or find a cure for a disease. Changing the names may save some scientist some time some day, but the potential for loss of info associated with a particular plant exists. If the scientists would append their (malleable) research findings to the volume of knowledge about particular plants it would be a much better, complete, and reliable system for everyone. Messing with the most basic component of this system is arbitrary, unnecessary, unstable, and dangerous in regard to lost info.

I sincerely want to understand this, so nobody think I'm arguing. I used to have completely different opinions over the years about some issues too controversial (and extraneous) to mention here as examples. Suffice it to say that they would be issues that would spark the question, "How can you change your mind about something like that?" So if you disagree with anything I've said or see it from a different angle, please continue this discussion. I may end up agreeing.


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RE: Binomial nomenclature

I have found that in life, things in all areas, scientific or cultural, are way more complex than we can deal with a lot of the time. I see us as busy little monkeys doing our busy little monkey things, rather than grand and glorious paragons of knowledge and virtue. But I can understand your angst here as we are supposed to be able to retain no more than 100 names at a time, so if we are trying to remember plant names and associated info, having three or four for each plant is really stretching our abilities to know what we are talking about. I suppose we can be fighting this all the time, and I think of science and its scientific nomenclature as just one way to try to deal with this difficulty in "knowing what we are talking about". It gets confusing, sure, I agree. But you have to decide what is important to you. If you want the detailed info made available by scientific research, then you have to play by their rules, because the accuracy of the info is guaranteed only by the way it was produced, which is often very esoteric and convoluted. I thank god for computers, which are pretty good at bringing up a lot of the names for a cultivar, so I feel like I am at least pointed in the right direction when I search for info on a plant, whichever name I type into the search field. Compys can remember whatever names and info we have typed into it, and all the connections between them. They are better at remembering than we are. But the crux here is that the info has to be entered correctly. The little monkeys have to be very busy and clever to get it all connected and together where we can find it. They often aren't as diligent as we would wish them to be. Sometimes I think the system breaks down there because the person researching plants is doing that because that is what he/she is interested in, but for us to benefit, he or she has to also have some interest in making the knowledge gained available to us. Often times I think the communication ball is dropped, due to lack of interest in that aspect. Computers are a pain in the butt when you are creating content. Who really enjoys fighting with Microsoft products?

We had books and lists and manuscripts etc. as the data storage extensions of our minds before, and I find that the info is harder to bring to my fingertips, but if I can find it in printed form, it might be more extensive once I get there.

That said, really I've never lost a plant due to getting wrong information on care listed under a name that I was mistaken about, but I have lost plants due to my own negligence and laziness, so I tend to work on the things that I can affect directly. I've never been efficient, or particularly clever. I just let the bath of life and all of its confusions wash over me, and most things work out okay in the end.


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RE: Binomial nomenclature

A name is just a label.

To you maybe. But binomial nomenclature is closely tied to classification. The genus and species names along with the other ranks (family, order, class, etc) form a hierarchy meant to show relationships between organisms. The most definitive and enlightening relationships are evolutionary relationships, which have been a part of binomial nomenclature since Darwin introduced the theory of evolution long ago. Since we do not have a complete understanding of evolutionary relationships, and new discoveries are frequently made, name changes are necessary. But without these changes, there would be no point in having a hierarchy. We may as well just have a single name for each species.

The fact is, as hobbyists, we are borrowing binomial nomenclature from science. We really can't expect to separate it from classification just for our convenience. And many of us would not want to because we find the evolutionary aspect very interesting.


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RE: Binomial nomenclature

aseedisapromise...I got a kick out of your comment about 'no more than 100 names at a time'. We were told that in college, but I think just to scare us into studying. Truth is, at least for me, once you get past the first 50 or so, it comes a lot easier! Thank goodness. But those first 50 names were tough; I thought my brain was going to explode.

purple, I assure you that I am in no way a 'victim of scientific bullying' and rather resent you saying so. (I'll get over it, lol!) What I am is a fully practicing professional, and as such have a working knowledge of the language and terminology of my chosen field. Plant nomenclature is one of the tools of my trade, so to speak. The fact that it requires tweaking and adjusting from time to time is a testimony to the fact that science is ever-changing.

Up-to-date nomenclature is important to me and my peers. I couldn't function very well at professional conferences or plant shows as an attendee and I would certainly have to forget about any further speaking and/or training sessions! If I didn't share the language with my students, I wouldn't have been doing my job of teaching college level horticulture. Then, their many hours spent earning a degree WOULD have been a big waste of time, as you so curtly put it.

Much more than a mere label, a plant's scientific name tells the story of its heritage and even of its future. A name will give me insight into the family characteristics, which can translate into how a plant should be cared for. I instantaneously categorize a plant in my head somewhere when I know its proper name.

When names are changed, it is certainly not done capriciously. This science is vital, vigorous, and must be open to change. As scientists in their big labs and white coats peer into microscopes, or plant explorers unearth strange new species that might not be so strange after all, or archeologists find ancient fossils of
leaves or pollen... new insights into heritage are often unearthed. To close our eyes to the reality that our world is NOT a fixed one is not possible.

Now! How one deals with the occasional changes in plant nomenclature depends upon the person and the need and interest. I've yet to see that it caused confusion to run rampant amongst gardeners, garden centers, etc. Let's allow the common names to do that for us. You will be able to easily look up ANY plant you wish and find it readily under the old name you're comfortable with. Synonyms are commonplace on line, in books, and catalogs.

Keeping up with horticultural binomials is not necessary for the vast majority of people. It's a burden that you certainly don't need to shoulder, purple. But to lash out at the science is...hmmmm, I'm stumped for a word. It certainly boggles the mind.


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RE: Binomial nomenclature

Sometimes I think that science is taught in lower levels in such a way that we get the idea that what science is is a bunch of scientists doing experiments which leads them to the "right answer". Since most of us don't go that far with science study, we tend to bring some of those false expectations into our adulthood. Really, I don't think there is a "right answer", but only what seems to work the best or fits best with the knowledge we have at the time. Sometimes the knowledge gained is just so darned useful!

I am a hobbyist, but I find the Latin names helpful for the reasons rhizo stated above-I can know someone else will know exactly what plant I am talking about. They give me a clue what to expect from a plant, to see connections, etc. Sometimes just knowing the ways things are catagorized can help you get a sense of an unfamiliar plant, even without knowing a name. I think it's really cool how it works.


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