Change Versus Progress
By David G. Leach, Brookville, Pa.
Anyone who reads horticultural publications with any regularity must have noticed the "new look" in plant names and be aware that some recent change is occurring in the way these names appear in print. The term "cultivar" is becoming familiar, single quotation marks enclosing the names of hybrid clones appear much more frequently, and even the Latin word "grex," indicating a group name, is seen in unlikely places.
This progress in plant names is a result of the work of an International Committee on Horticultural Nomenclature and Registration, composed of prominent plantsmen who have prepared a new code for the naming of cultivated plants. Its worthy aim is to promote clarity and to eliminate the confusion in plant names, of which we who specialize in Rhododendrons are all too painfully aware.
With one glaring exception the new Code seems to be a long step forward but it is an equally long step backward in that one important respect. It specifies that the parents be stated in alphabetical order when the name of a hybrid is written in formula form. Thus, to conform with the Code, we are directed to write the name of one popular hybrid, for example, as R. griersonianum x R. haematodes 'May Day' even though its parentage is actually haematodes x griersonianum under the customary system of stating the seed parent first.
This provision of the Code is, I feel, such a serious mistake that I urge the American Rhododendron Society to refuse to comply with it and to use its influence to defeat its adoption elsewhere in this country.
The established system of stating the female first in a written formula of parentage is universal and worldwide. It is used in every field of breeding, plant and animal alike, in every civilized country on earth by both amateur hybridists and professional geneticists. It has been employed for so many years that there is an immediate and automatic assumption by any informed reader that the parent first given in a formula is the female. To attempt to alter it now in our field so that we shall be in conflict with the system in universal use in all others is not progress. It is only change, and emphatically not for the better.
The adoption of this provision would impose on us a dual system, impeding our communication with other fields and causing vast confusion within our own. It would require endless explanations and definitions to be certain of clarity in the conflict between the assumed universal system and our self established provincial system. For precise comprehension it would be necessary to state with infinite repetition on every occasion that parentage formulae accompanying hybrid names were given in a non-standard, alphabetical manner, since it would always be assumed by any unwary reader that the universal system was employed. Even when the alphabetical method happened to coincide in individual cases with the custom of stating the seed parent first the confused reader might assume a reversed genetic status in the absence of explanation because of a presumed special usage within the field.
It is important for any breeder to be able to recognize the female in any stated parentage because of cyptoplasmic and other forms of maternal inheritance which can cause quite different results when the parents are reversed in a cross. Every hybridist who makes reciprocal crosses sees cases when the one lot of seedlings differs substantially from the other. And crosses which succeed one way may fail the other because the gene complement from the pollen parent is not compatible with the cytoplasm furnished by the seed parent. Thus arose the hybridist's interest in always identifying the female parent, and the system originated of invariably stating the female first in formulae of parentage in recognition of this important aspect of inheritance.
The Code suggests that the seed and the pollen parent can be identified by printing a sex symbol immediately following the name of each but I do not feel that this cumbersome device is a satisfactory solution. Only printers dealing with genetics and allied fields on the highest technical level ordinarily have these symbols in type. Their use has been so restricted that the average amateur breeder neither recognizes them nor understands their meaning. Authors would have the inconvenience of drawing in the symbols by hand since typewriters are not usually equipped with them. So obscure, cumbersome and superfluous is the proposal that it seems much like a doctor breaking his patient's legs in order to justify the use of crutches. Even with the awkward introduction of sex symbols it is entirely Likely that many readers will unconsciously and automatically reject their significance, so ingrained is the universal custom of assuming that the first parent is the female in a formula. At the very least it would require conscious and determined concentration on the part of the reader to break the associations of so many years which result In the instantaneous assumption of female precedence in a statement of parentage.
In quite another realm our friends abroad have themselves inherited, and we have acquired from them, the lamentable convention of using the same name for all progeny of a primary cross between two species whenever and wherever the mating is duplicated; and of applying a group name to all of the seedlings of whatever quality which may result from a single cross. This lack of precision reaches its wretched limits in the Loderi hybrid group where even the second generation is now given the collective name of its parents. Thus we find 'Princess Marina' listed as one of the Loderi hybrid clones. As most enthusiasts know, the parentage of the Loderi group was griffithianum x fortunei, fine species from Asia. But the parents of R. 'Princess Marina' were given as R. (Loderi g.) 'King George' x R. Loderi g. 'Sir Edmond,' according to the record published at the time it received an Award of Merit in 1948. So it is that we have the grotesque spectacle in a field with some pretension of scientific accuracy, of sober public record proclaiming the second generation to be identical with the first from which it descended. This, I submit, is the ultimate absurdity which springs from a custom which is fundamentally unsound.
Group names have brought substantial commercial loss to our member nurserymen and the confusion they have engendered has resulted in disappointment and loss of confidence by gardeners in the integrity of some sellers, themselves the victims of misunderstandings with growers abroad.
We should have the courage and independence to cease the use of these group names forthwith, because the situation only grows worse with the passage of time, as has been acutely demonstrated to me in the preparation of the book on Rhododendrons on which I have been working for several years. At the very least, let us not slavishly adopt still another confusing and inept custom in this provision of the Nomenclature Code that hybrid names in formula deviate from the universal, world-wide usage.