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Disgruntled from Tunbridge Wells...

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

Where does one draw the line of acceptable change? At what point does being technically correct outweigh the value of common sense? When a perfectly acceptable status quo costs nothing, but change, arguably for its own sake costs time and money, should we adopt that change? My answer is no and this issue has annoyed me of late. Oh... and no, this isn't a Brexit blog post!

In 1753 the father of Binomial Nomenclature, Carl Linnaeus formally named the common Rosemary with the Latin name Rosmarinus officinalis (pictured above left), which until 2017 (technically) and 2019 (in terms of application) stood true. In 2017 botanists determined that the rather than being closely related to Salvia, Rosmarinus was in fact genetically so similar that it was technically a species of Salvia (Salvia turkestanica 'Alba' pictured above right) rather than a Genus in its own right. Since Salvia officinalis already exists as a name for Common Sage, not only the genus, but the species name must be changed for Rosemary to the newly named Salvia rosmarinus.

Now, I will say that this is interesting and I support the efforts of such activities to find parentage and genetic family lines, though I find the need for an implemented name change now to be utterly redundant. After almost 300 years of use without issue, appearing on plant labels, nursery bed cards, identification labels in botanical collections, on websites and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of books, what value is there in this change being formally adopted?

It can only represent a pointless cost.

The plant remains entirely the same. It does not change in terms of its cultivation needs or the way it grows. It won't even have implications on VAT change as it will still be considered a culinary herb. The only change here is in the form of cost in time and money to a huge number of individuals and businesses.

x Cupressocyparis leylandii

In the early to mid 2000s the much maligned Leyland Cypress (pictured above), then x Cupressocyparis leylandii experienced a name change when one of its parents (then) Chamaecyparis nootkatensis was reclassified to Xanthocyparis nootkatensis. The renamed x Cuprocyparis leylandii was proposed and accepted, although it was broadly ignored in the horticultural industry, with most books, websites and plant labels retaining the original name in the interests of simplicity and cost reduction. Since then, the nomenclature of Chamaecyparis/Xanthocyparis nootkatensis has changed and been questioned with several different results including Cupressus being proposed. These changes to one parent name should logically cause the hybrid leylandii name to change again, though this has not yet happened conclusively and I doubt it ever will.

The confusion you may have experienced reading the last paragraph only serves to highlight my point that while it is of use to be technically correct, doing so does not have to force change. We need not always look to accommodate it where existing naming is in place and there are no implications to anything other than inconvenience and cost.

Like Rosmarinus and x Cupressocyparis, the Genus Hebe (and other allied genera) (Hebe 'Blue Clouds' pictured above left) have been removed and reclassified as Veronica (Veronica gentianoides 'Robusta' pictured above middle and right) making the old common name of Shrubby Veronica more apt, but simultaneously expanding the 500 species strong Veronica making a broader and less well defined group than before. As a member of the Hebe Society, this isn't a particularly welcome change. Hebe is/was New Zealand's largest genus of plants and are the UK's most expansive genus of evergreen flowering shrub. Do we need the confusion of a name change? Do we need the cost of change? Do we even care if it technically a Veronica?

Personally, like Rosmarinus and X Cupressocyparis, I think it interesting to see the research findings in terms of botanical heritage in Hebe, but I can't see the point of enforcing these name changes. They become reductive as we move inexorably backwards towards a handful of distended genus with myriad species. Nobody benefits here except, arguably, for label printing companies.

Why waste our time and money? Just ignore it, or vent in a blog post just like me. Whether you call it Rosmarinus officinalis or Salvia rosmarinus hardly seems to matter except one works perfectly well already and the other makes everything done previously redundant and forces costly change. Anyone would think it was the 1st of April.


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