Classification explanation

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Classification explanation

Post  Carolee on Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:48 pm

Abies balsamea is a balsam fir with the genus being abies, and the Norway Spruce is Picea abies with the genus picea. Both are pines (Pinaceae). So why is 'abies' in both names? What does Picea abies have to do with firs?

Also, living where I do, there are many fir. Do they back bud well? Does anyone have experience with them as bonsai? Thanks!

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Re: Classification explanation

Post  Russell Coker on Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:59 pm



Abies is the ancient Latin name for the European fir. In the caes you state it's used as the genus of one and the species of the other. I suppose in the case of Picea abies, someone thought it was a spruce with fir-like qualities, but I'm guessing.

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Re: Classification explanation

Post  David Brunner on Sun Jan 06, 2013 12:49 am

Hello Carolee – what a fun and interesting question you pose! It gets to the heart of botanical nomenclature – the rules and processes by which plant species are given their formal scientific names.

First let’s get to first principles: in botanical nomenclature the first validly published name of a species is the accepted name (with some exceptions I will not belabor here.) Next, the formal botanical name of a species includes both the genus and the specific epithet - sort of like a first and last name. If a species is determined to be better classified in a genus other than the one in which it was first described and published the new name consists of the new generic name plus the original specific epithet (again, there are exceptions, but…)

So – here come the taxonomy:
The genus Pinus was first published by Carl von Linnaeus in 1753 in his work called Species Plantarum. In that work he included the species name Pinus abies. Then in 1881, Gustav Karl Wilhelm Hermann Karsten reclassified the species from the genus Pinus into the genus Picea in his work called Deutsche Flora. Following the rules, the new species name became Picea abies. It really has nothing to do with the genus Abies. That genus was first validly published by Philip Miller in his work called The Gardeners Dictionary of 1754, although Linneus had mentioned the genus Abies earlier in his work Flora Lapponica of 1737, but for technical reasons that is not considered a valid publication.

In the end we must remember that botanical names are first just that, names. The do often contain descriptive or historical information about the species, but relying of the name itself to give factual information can lead to very incorrect assumptions. As an example there are a set of species from the American Southwest that all bear the specific epithet chinensis suggesting that they come from China. They don’t, the packing crate in which they were sent to Europe for naming got confounded with some from China – and hence they have correct and valid names that suggest a very wrong origin.

Thanks for the fun, I hope this was informative!
David B.

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Re: Classification explanation

Post  drgonzo on Sun Jan 06, 2013 1:11 am

David,

What a thourough and interesting explanation. Thanks for taking the time to share it with us. I know I'm not the only Taxonomy geek out there that finds that sort of information interesting.

Boy I'd love to be at a table with both yourself and Iris and just sit back and watch the magic happen! Very Happy

-Jay

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Re: Classification explanation

Post  John Quinn on Sun Jan 06, 2013 2:03 am

Indeed! We always can expect a scholarly report full of insight from David!

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Re: Classification explanation

Post  JimLewis on Sun Jan 06, 2013 3:19 pm

(with some exceptions I will not belabor here.)
and . . .
(again, there are exceptions, but…)

These often are what confuse us, but they're also sometimes interesting digressions into the History of Biology.

Thanks, David. Once again . . fun.

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