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The Problem with Taxonomists (2 Replies)

Posted November 8, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Plant nomenclature is a slippery subject because taxonomists are always fighting among themselves over terms and origins. Research, especially with the advent of DNA analysis, is constantly leading to new information which leads to new theories. Ego runs high as academic and professional credentials come into play. We here at the ACS are just trying to keep up and provide the best, most up-to-date information we can find.

Recently, with the naming of the 2014 CCOY conifer selections, there has been a raging internal debate about how to correctly describe one of the conifers, Abies koreana ‘Kohouts Icebreaker.’ Was it “Icebreaker” or “Kohout’s Icebreaker”? Is there an apostrophe or not? It got so bad that Ron Elardo, a German speaker, took it upon himself to write Herr Kohout in Germany to get his side of the story. We think we’ve got it right. At least for this week. But taxonomists are a difficult lot. Even Hitler had trouble with them, as this video shows.

Thanks to Dax Herbst and Sara Malone who found this clip, Ethan Johnson who is trying to arbitrate conflicting claims, and especially Dave Olszyk who has been laboring mightily to make sure the Conifer Database is accurate.

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Posted November 8, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Now that’s a funny video.

To me the taxonomy is pretty straightforward. It’s just hard science. They change names applying sound logic and most of the times for good reason. Personally I was amused a few years ago during the Alaska Cedar-go-round. First Chamaecyparis forever then bam-bam-bam Xanthocyparis, Callitropsis and finally settled (for now) with Cupressus. All because somebody found a Cypress in Vietnam. (By-the-way, my project over the past day has been moving all of the old Chamaecyparis nootkatensis cultivars over to Cupressus.)

It’s the trinomials (cultivar names) that can make a Conehead crazy unless he or she is constantly immersed in it and maintains a personal database (a scorecard, per se). Without a doubt, the most offensive thing I come across is a conifer properly named by the person who found it only to have some grower change the name because it’s more marketable in later years.

I’ll echo Sean’s praise to Ron Elardo who finally got to the end of the ‘Kohouts Icebreaker’ problem and established a good pattern to apply to possessive-type cultivar names coming from Germany.

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Posted November 9, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Ron has a secret weapon! He speaks German! I wonder if he has seen this video. He could tell us what they are actually saying. This same video has been subtitled many times with many different themes. It cracks me up that there were enough of us out there who would think that this was funny!

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