JARS v37n1 - A Clarification on Plant Names

A Clarification on Plant Names
August E. Kehr, Hendersonville, NC

The name change mentioned in my article, "The Case for Constancy in Plant Names" (See Journal of ARS, Vol. 36, No. 3, Summer 1982) needs clarification. The proposal presently before the International Association of Plant Taxonomists Committee for Spermatophyta is to change the name of Rhododendron metternichii to R. japonicum . Under this proposal the name "metternichii" could no longer be applied to any species of Rhododendron. In taxonomic terminology, it is buried. The deciduous azalea, now called R. japonicum , would also be given a new name if this proposal is accepted by the Committee.
The American Rhododendron Society is making an objection to such plant name changes. At their meeting in Washington, DC. in May, 1982, the ARS Board of Directors passed a resolution objecting to the all too frequent name changes of plant species. The Board stated that such changes cast an unfavorable reflection upon the entire system of plant classification and defeat the original concept of Linnaeus to bring order into plant nomenclature.
A copy of the Board resolution follows:


Whereas a stable nomenclature has far-reaching economic and scientific benefits, and
Whereas changes of plant names at the specific level have been made with a frequency that casts an unfavorable reflection upon the entire system of plant classification,
Be it resolved that the American Rhododendron Society urges the International Association of Plant Taxonomists Committee for Spermatophyta to reevaluate the existing International Code of Botanical Nomenclature with the purpose of conserving plant species names of long standing.
We cite as an example the proposal to invalidate the name of Rhododendron japonicum Suringar. This name has been used for 74 years as the scientific name for the plant commonly called "Japanese Azalea" in English and "Renget sutsuji" in Japanese. The name, Rhododendron japonicum , is in use by commercial nurserymen and plant breeders and is familiar to every rhododendron specialist. This species has been utilized as a parent in breeding for many decades and is a parent of the world famous Ghent, Mollis and other modern deciduous hybrids. Should this name be changed, not only will there by widespread confusion to all users but it will be a disservice to a plant which rightfully bears the name "japonicum" as significant in its native habitat, Japan. Rhododendron japonicum has as extensive a distribution as any Rhododendron of Japan and is the only representative of the Section IV Pentanthera G. Don native to Japan. It is of such interest in Japan that in Oita Prefecture this plant and its habitat has been declared a "Natural Monument."
In approving this resolution, the American Rhododendron Society is aware of the valuable scientific contributions that botanists in all countries have made toward achievement of the basic principles as stated in Division I of the Botanical Codes. On the other hand, the broader impacts of name changes to disciplines other than Botany must be considered. Not only do name changes create general confusion but the costs in terms of relabeling in all public collections, data files, thousands of nursery catalogs and plant inventories exceed the peripheral gains which might be derived by a comparatively small group of specialists in nomenclature. It has been estimated conservatively that a single species name change such as the example cited could far exceed the cost of $1,000,000 to plant users.
We believe that in instances where a plant name has been in constant use with no deviations for an extended period of time, and where the plant is of great horticultural and economic significance, there is valid reason, in the absence of any new discoveries about the plant per se, to conserve that name.
We, therefore, urge modifications accordingly be made at an early date to the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature in order to conserve such specific names of long standing.

Date May 8, 1982

George W. Ring, III
President ARS