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  • How do you do?
    I'm Jamie; an incurably-curious, hopelessly-idealistic, vegetarian, polyglot-ish plant scientist at Cambridge. I spend too much time listening to music, wandering around the countryside, and eating apples.


    penchants: forest walks, benjamin britten, mediaeval history & literature, eastern philosophy, obscure tea blends, copperplate, twilight by the sea, quantum mechanics, thunderstorms, fruit trees, early music, dragonflies, postcards, underground railways, gardening, vapour trails, tiny art galleries, volcanic islands, moths, Virginia Woolf, gin cocktails, travel journals, mountain air, handwriting, continental cinema, bow ties, Lebanese food, historical linguistics, archery, all things Icelandic, & bitter-sweet lemonade.
    Thank you for stopping by; do say hello.

    Taxonomic Synonymy: A Quaint Cautionary Tale.
This lunchtime I was listening to the Sunday gardening programme on my local radio station. The regular presenter was joined by the head gardeners of two Cambridge colleges (Clare and Newnham), and the panel were answering callers’ questions, as usual. One woman phoned in to ask for advice about what kind of climber she ought to plant on a newly-bought trellis, given the constraints of the soil/aspect of her garden. After the panel had recommended a couple of unusual clematises and rambling roses, the woman mentioned that she had read about a plant called the ‘snail vine’, which looked very attractive. She wondered if they could tell her more about it, and if it would be appropriate for her site. Unfortunately none of the professional gardeners was familiar with this common name, and so the woman did her best to remember its Latin name, and ended up providing them with a vague approximation to ‘Phaseolus caracalla’. They were still stumped by this, and half-jokingly applauded the woman on finding a plant species with which none of them was familiar.
Much later in the programme, the trio were discussing techniques for rotating between leeks and peas, and this led on to a broader conversation about leguminous garden vegetables. One of the panel pointed out that the pea family of course provides us not only with edible staples, but also some delightful ornamental species. He was particularly keen to praise Vigna caracalla, which he claimed was very easy to grow in British gardens, and produced exquisite bundles of papilionoid flowers. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson once described this plant as ‘the most beautiful bean in the world’.
Alas, P. caracalla and V. caracalla are one and the same! This was one of several species (including mung bean) moved from Phaseolus into Vigna. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the horticultural trade is an example of a sector that is quite resistant to change, and so new names take a long time to be accepted. In the intervening period, both the old name (basionym) and new name are current in the botanophile community, leading to the sort of unfortunate confusion exemplified in a quite entertaining manner in this afternoon’s radio show.

    Taxonomic Synonymy: A Quaint Cautionary Tale.


    This lunchtime I was listening to the Sunday gardening programme on my local radio station. The regular presenter was joined by the head gardeners of two Cambridge colleges (Clare and Newnham), and the panel were answering callers’ questions, as usual. One woman phoned in to ask for advice about what kind of climber she ought to plant on a newly-bought trellis, given the constraints of the soil/aspect of her garden. After the panel had recommended a couple of unusual clematises and rambling roses, the woman mentioned that she had read about a plant called the ‘snail vine’, which looked very attractive. She wondered if they could tell her more about it, and if it would be appropriate for her site. Unfortunately none of the professional gardeners was familiar with this common name, and so the woman did her best to remember its Latin name, and ended up providing them with a vague approximation to ‘Phaseolus caracalla’. They were still stumped by this, and half-jokingly applauded the woman on finding a plant species with which none of them was familiar.

    Much later in the programme, the trio were discussing techniques for rotating between leeks and peas, and this led on to a broader conversation about leguminous garden vegetables. One of the panel pointed out that the pea family of course provides us not only with edible staples, but also some delightful ornamental species. He was particularly keen to praise Vigna caracalla, which he claimed was very easy to grow in British gardens, and produced exquisite bundles of papilionoid flowers. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson once described this plant as ‘the most beautiful bean in the world’.

    Alas, P. caracalla and V. caracalla are one and the same! This was one of several species (including mung bean) moved from Phaseolus into Vigna. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the horticultural trade is an example of a sector that is quite resistant to change, and so new names take a long time to be accepted. In the intervening period, both the old name (basionym) and new name are current in the botanophile community, leading to the sort of unfortunate confusion exemplified in a quite entertaining manner in this afternoon’s radio show.

    1 year ago

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      Short version: Taxonomy is terrible, flowers are pretty.