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Journal American Rhododendron Society

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Volume 51, Number 1
Winter 1997

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Commentary: The Naming of Hybrids

 

To Name or Not To Name
Keith Adams
New Plymouth, New Zealand

        Maybe I'm opening a can of worms! It has long been a contention of mine that far too many hybrid rhododendrons have, and continue to be named and registered. In the early part of this century and late last one, the great plant explorers were sending back hundreds of species for cultivation. As a natural corollary there started to appear an ever expanding variety of hybrids - a virtual explosion, and thankfully many of them are still available today. But only the best have survived - the others have fallen by the wayside. That proliferation is, I fear, repeating itself. Everyone seems to be "having a go," and who can blame them? Rhodos must be one of the easiest of plant genera to hybridize, many with astonishing results. And so it must continue.
        One can't altogether blame the hybridizers, both amateur and professional, for random naming. The grower nurses his plants into flower and thinks, "Gee, that one's pretty good," and promptly gives it a name and applies for registration. I take the registrars worldwide to task for not thoroughly researching the hybrid's parentage and ascertaining whether something very similar hasn't already been registered. I know of many crosses of various species - R. griersonianum comes to mind, fairly dull in itself but an excellent parent - which have produced a host of hybrids and a whole heap of them named, when only about half a dozen would have sufficed. In the early days R. fortunei and R. griffithianum were used a lot, and some superlative hybrids resulted. But really you could cut the Loderi hybrids down to about three - and I'm not saying which.
        Hybridizers need to be a lot more selective in naming a new hybrid. Test it for a few years against all sorts of growing conditions, resistance to disease and insect pests, ultimate growth habit and check whether the cross hasn't been done before and produced a somewhat similar flower. I appreciate it's a difficult decision when a person produces what in his mind is a beautiful flower which he hasn't seen before. It becomes a "pet" and his or her natural thought is, "Wow, I've got to register this one."
        Hybridizers should be much more selective when considering naming a plant. At the risk of being called an iconoclast, after seeing on many occasions the original Dexter hybrids in flower at Heritage Plantation in Sandwich, Cape Cod, I would have named only 10 at most. Since yakushimanum came onto the scene it seems everybody is hopping on to the bandwagon, hybridizing like mad and outdoing the seven dwarfs in naming the damn things. Sure, it's got a lovely indumentum and compact form, but I've seen so many hybrids that I find it difficult to make dramatic distinctions.
        Thank God, if anyone discovers a new species, which is not likely among the temperate ones but still a possibility with vireyas, Dr. George Argent and Dr. David Chamberlain at Edinburgh will give it the appropriate name. Proper names are out - no more wardii, fortunei, delavayi, etc. I am a vireya plant hunter, always hoping for a new one, and people say, "If you find a new one will it be R. adamsii ?" "No way," says George. "We only name plants after people when they are dead." So - I get the message!
        This article is deliberately written to arouse controversy, and maybe I have stirred up a hornet's nest. Sure, the amateur grower, and even the professional one, will continue to grow their plants on, and continue to name them. And so the vicious circle goes on. Give a thought to the poor old average gardener who has to sort all this out!

Much Ado About Names
Robert A. Murray
Colts Neck, New Jersey

Keith Adams has a valid point in protesting the proliferation of plant names. I endorse his thought that a name should be conferred only when a plant possesses some quality which marks it as unique or which makes it a distinct improvement over comparable existing plants. This applies to naming selections from a species as well as for hybrids. However, he injects registration into the discussion and this aspect deserves further comment.
        Registration is a means for promoting correct identification1. Registration rules are established by an international body as set forth in their publication2. The Preamble of this document states, "The purpose of giving a name...is not to indicate its character or history, but to supply a means of referring to it..."It is important to identify plants.
        Proper identification is highly desirable so that a genealogy can be maintained. Since others may use the plant in breeding, if pollen or cuttings are distributed, this is especially true. Plants can be identified without using a name. A simple code3 can be very efficient. For example, many use "96-12-3" to identify the third seedling to bloom from the twelfth cross of 1996. Prefixing the code with one's initials (RAM96-12-3) would make the identification almost unique. This should be as easy as a name to write on a label, and it conveys information that a name does not.
        All names should be registered. To name and not register is irresponsible, as it creates chaos and confusion. A name should identify a specific plant. Registration is not about quality; it is about identification. While it is to be hoped that only desirable, quality plants be named, it should be recognized that even if the plant is a dog, if it has been named, its name will identify it so it can be avoided.
        Without exception a plant should be named and described if introduced to commerce. After all, plants in commerce are, presumably, desirable plants and deserve to be correctly identified. This can be assured only if the names are registered. Unfortunately, because of non registration, it is possible to buy a plant by name and not get the plant that was expected. Sadly, many plants are being sold under a name that has been registered for another plant.
        I believe that Mr. Adams is unrealistic in "taking registrars to task." The rules2 make it very clear that registration is about identification, not quality judgments of the plant, or for that matter, of the name being proposed. The person who names the plant must accept full responsibility for wisdom (or lack thereof) in deciding to name. As to the proposition of the registrars "thoroughly researching the hybrid's parentage and ascertain whether something similar exists," it is not within the scope of registration nor is it possible. A cursory look at the record will show that a vast number of hybrids are reported as having "unknown" parents, hence there is no information to research. Further, consider the resources that would be required to compare a nominated plant to the over 20,000 names in the International Register.

1 An excellent discussion by Dr. Alan Leslie can be found in The Rhododendron Story p. 49, edited by Cynthia Postan and published by the RHS, 1996.
2 International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants-1995, edited by P. Trehane, published by Quarterjack Publishing, 1995.
3 Under the newly revised registration rules, most hybridizers' codes could be acceptable as names if the hybridizer were interested in putting the results of his work in a public record.


Volume 51, Number 1
Winter 1997

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