Conflicting Epithets in
Donald H. Voss
In 1983, Chinese botanist P. C. Tam designated a new variety of Rhododendron championiae [often incorrectly spelled championae] (Tam, 1983). Tam named this variety ovatifolium (p. 73, bottom) and in the Chinese-language text (p. 74, top) described the leaf form as egg-shaped. This spelling was repeated in the index (p. 188). The Latin description (p. 112) states "foliis ovatis," but the caption above it was printed as "ovalifolium" - evidently a typographical error.
Discrepant spelling of the epithet appeared in two recent English-language publications dealing with Rhododendron nomenclature. The Genus Rhododendron: Its Classification and Synonymy (Chamberlain et al., 1996) lists the variety as ovatifolium in both the "Alphabetical List" and "Taxonomic List." But The Rhododendron Handbook 1998 (Argent et al., 1997) styles the epithet as ovalifolium.
The Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae [Flora of the People's Republic of China], Vol. 57, Ericaceae part 2 (1995) lists Tam's variety as ovatifolium. On the Internet, this is cited as the source for acceptance of ovatifolium in the Flora of China Checklist and TROPICOS data base (Missouri Botanical Garden, 2000a, 2000b). The Index Kewensis, as included in the International Plant Names Index, lists ovatifolium.
The Botanical code (Greuter et al., 2000) provides in Article 61.1: "Only one orthographical variant of any one name is treated as validly published." And one aim of the Code is to avoid and reject "the use of names which may cause error or ambiguity or throw science into confusion."
It seems evident that ovatifolium is the intended form of the epithet and ovalifolium is a typographical error. The Botanical Code (Article 60.1) states that typographical errors are to be corrected. The name of the variety must therefore be R. championiae var. ovatifolium Tam. Three major references have used this spelling of the varietal epithet: the Chinese-language Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae, The Genus Rhododendron (Chamberlain et al., 1996), and The Flora of China Checklist (Missouri Botanical Garden, 2000a). In view of this, use of the spelling ovalifolium would at a minimum "cause error or ambiguity."
In The Rhododendron Handbook 1998 (a volume primarily concerned with cultivated members of the genus), the entry on page 9 under Rhododendron championiae should be corrected to "var. ovatifolium P. C. Tam". Note also the corrected spelling for the species and the autonymic variety championiae, to be made in conformity with Article 60.11 of the Botanical Code.
Although the Botanical Code states that "giving a name to a taxonomic group is not to indicate its characters or history but to supply a means of referring to it," many names are in fact selected to highlight characters or history. The acceptance of ovatifolium not only provides a means of referring to Tam's variety but also suggests the nature of an important distinction from the rest of R. championiae. While "ovate" and "oval" can both be used to mean egg-shaped, "oval" has also acquired the meaning of elliptical. Thus ovatifolium has the ancillary merit of clearly distinguishing the leaf form of Tam's variety from the elliptic to obovate leaf form of R. championiae var. championiae.
1. Argent, G., et al. 1997. The Rhodo dendron Handbook 1998. London: The Royal Horticultural Society.
2. Chamberlain, D., et al. 1996. The Genus Rhododendron: Its Classification & Synonymy. Edinburgh: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
3. Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae, Vol. 57(2), Ericaceae part 2. 1995. Beijing: Science Press. [Printed copy at Missouri Botanical Garden was examined by Dr. Alan Whittemore to verify the Flora's use of var. ovatifolium in R. championiae; the author has not seen this volume.]
4. Greuter, W., et al. 2000. International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (St. Louis Code). Koenigstein, Germany: Koeltz Scientific Books.
5. International Plant Names Index. (http://www.ipni.org/) [Includes Index Kewensis, Gray Card Index, and Australian Plant Name Index.]
6 . Missouri Botanical Garden. 2000a. Flora of China Checklist. (http://mobot.mobot.org/W3T/Search/foc.html)
7 . Missouri Botanical Garden. 2000b. TROPICOS Data Base. (http://mobot.mobot.org/W3T/Search/vast.html)
8. Tam, P. C. 1983. A Survey of the Genus Rhododendron in South China. World-wide Publications.
The author expresses appreciation to Dr. Alan Whittemore, taxonomist at the U. S. National Arboretum, for substantial assistance in preparation of this note. Errors and infelicities are wholly the responsibility of the author.
Don Voss, a frequent contributor on plant nomenclature, is a member of the Potomac Valley Chapter.