Beyond Genus and Species

While researching on the previous post about the T. 'Druid', I came across an interesting article for the Club News, January 2011 issue of The Illawarra Bromeliad Society.  

(Off-topic, I'm starting to be more and more interested in Illawarra because friendly and helpful Nev from my NOID Surprise post hails from there and the bromeliad articles of their society are quite interesting.) 


Close-up of the trichomes of the Tillandsia 'Druid'

I was quite surprised to find out that bromeliads are named differently from orchids.  

I am reposting the article with the kind permission of its author, hopefully to shed more light on the naming of cultivars.  The article was originally published in the Newsletter of The Bromeliad Society of Victoria, Inc (Australia).  Click here for further information on The Bromeliad Society of Victoria.


By Chris Larson

(Reprinted J. Bromeliad Society of New Zealand, November 2007, Vol. 47(11)[with comments from Gerry Stansfield], in turn reprinted from September 2007 issue of the Western Australian Bromeliad Society’s BROMELIAD NEWSLINK, with comments from Herb Plever, editor of New York Bromeliad Society’s BROMELIANA.)

I’ve had a couple of people come up to me recently with a lack of understanding of the nature of plant names, specifically with cultivars masking the identity of species.  This has become more important over the last few years, as there have been a number of members starting to collect species plants, rather than hybrids.  Sometimes the rules by which our plants are named, under the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Planets (ICNCP), create some confusion.  The term cultivar in the BSI (Bromeliad Society International) publication “A Bromeliad Glossary” is: ‘A plant produced as opposed to one growing in habitat; a horticultural clone or strain.  A plant type within a cultivated species that has recognizably different characteristics.’  Most of us understand cultivar to mean the plant produced in cultivation such as hybrid or sports.  Many don’t consider the second part of the definition where it can mean a particular form of a species, which doesn’t have the necessary criteria to gain the status of a variety, or even assume the title of a forma.

The ICNCP rules state that all genera, species, varieties and forma names are Latinized, and all cultivar names are not to be Latinized (although it was usual to Latinize cultivar names until early last century).  The rules also state that when the cultivar name is used, the species name should not be included.

So the upshot of all this is that where we have a naturally occurring species, like Tillandsia ‘Druid’, many may mistake it for a hybrid.  T. ‘Druid’ is a form of T. ionantha occurring naturally in Vera Cruz, Mexico, and is distinct in that the plant has white flowers and blushes yellow instead of red.  Taxonomists don’t consider it different enough to give it varietals status, like T. ionantha var. maxima, so botanically the plant rates as T. ionantha.  However, as collectors, sometimes we find the need to differentiate between different clones of a species, and as a result someone registered the name ‘Druid’ for this plant.  Under the ICNCP rules, which the BSI (Bromeliad Society International) follows, the plant becomes T. ‘Druid’.  Orchid societies do not follow the ICNCP rules and, if it were an orchid, it would be T. ionantha ‘Druid’.  When I write tags I often use the ICNCP rules, but at other times I write a tag ‘the orchid way’—especially if I’m giving the plant to someone else, as I feel it conveys the identity of the plant more fully.  However, when you are reading bromeliad literature, or buying plants, be aware that sometimes the name may not present all the information you are looking for.


Herb Plever, editor of the New York Bromeliad Society ‘Bromeliana’ comments:

There is much to be said for labeling ‘the orchid way’ for naturally occurring forms of a species like Tillandsia ‘Druid’.  Using T. ionantha ‘Druid’ gives better information about the identification of the plant, especially for newer growers (still using the single quote marks to indicate it is a registered cultivar).  The ‘Druid’ form of T. ionantha is so consistently distinct from the species (white flowers instead of dark blue and yellow or orange colouring at flowering instead of red), one wonders at the reluctance of taxonomists to at least title it as forma druid.  They have done so for the variegated form of Neoregelia carolinae forma tricolor.  When I label or refer in writing to a variegated or albo-marginated form of Guzmania lingulata var. minor or of Aechmea fasciata, I always write ‘variegated’ or ‘albo-marginated’ on the label or in the article.

Our Registrar, Gerry Stansfield, comments:

I have long since held the same view as both Chris Larson and Herb Plever that the ‘orchid way’ of naming plants is the best.  How the so-called bromeliad experts of the world were allowed to move away from this system—which, incidentally, dates back to the 18th century with Sanders and Co., London and Sam Mosher of the Dos Pueblos Company in Santa Barbara, California, USA in the 1920s—is beyond me.  Tillandsia ‘Druid’ is typical of what, in my opinion, is very bad nomenclature in Bromeliaceae.  If you asked someone what they thought the plant was I am sure they would say it looks like a yellow form of Tillandsia ionantha, and that’s exactly what it is.  So why don’t we call it just that, Tillandsia ionantha ‘Druid’?

For another example, take Aechmea ‘Ensign’.  Unless we know the plant’s background, we have no idea where it came from; however, if we were to say Aechmea orlandiana cv. Ensign or var. ensign then we would know exactly where the plant came from.  We may not know if it was a seedling or a sport mutation, but we would know that it came from orlandiana.



Bom, Plant Chaser, comments:

Despite my preference for bromeliads over orchids, I find myself agreeing with the gentlemen above.  The 'orchid way' seems better for newbie gardeners such as myself.  What do you think?