Botanists of the International Botanical Congress (IBC) have dropped the requirement that newly discovered species be described in Latin, offering the option to use English or Latin descriptions instead, The Washington Post reports. These changes to the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature went into effect on January 1.
“The part that is being relaxed is the Latin description, which is likely a good thing,” says Allan Armitage, Greenhouse Grower columnist and University of Georgia professor. “All plants will still require a Latin binomial to appear in the literature.” Read more about what Armitage thinks about Latin names in his column Common Names: Making Gardening Accessible.
The reason for the switch is because of bottlenecks in getting new plants named and introduced. From the commercial perspective, this move doesn’t change much for day-to-day operations, but the Latin versus common plant name conundrum lives on.
The industry sees pros and cons to the new changes.
“My fear is that ‘dumbing’ down the taxonomic names is going to result in confusion for growers who are like me and the consumer that is going to come running in and say they want an ‘umbrella tree,'” says Denise Schreiber, columnist at North Hills Monthly Magazine. “To me that is Sciadoptys verticillata but it could also be Magnolia tripetala. Common names from different parts of the country already make us crazy and I think in the long run this will contribute to that problem.”
These changes, however, will help the process of introducing new species, says Jared Barnes, garden writer and lecturer with Harvest and Snow.
“Now, plant discoverers no longer have to go through the arduous task of converting the English descriptions into Latin,” Barnes says. “And, if the descriptions are in English, then introducing the species to horticulturists/industry professionals will be less intimidating; the change has the potential to ease communication between botanists and the hort industry.
“However, as the article pointed out, Latin was once the gatekeeper for newly introduced species because only a few people are fluent in it,” Barnes continues. “Now, we have the potential of people introducing new species for their own personal gain. I could also see where the same species would be introduced. Overall, I think the change can encourage a better relationship with botanists and horticulturists, and that’s always a plus.”
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