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Vol. 11(10), pp. 6-7The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalOctober 2010

The Several (Successive) Names of Orchids

R J Ferry

Fig. 1. Epidendrum laterale Rolfe. (35mm slide #xx0868-3 as Epidendrum rousseauae) Lager & Hurrell archives; Digital scan Sun-10Oct10.

Your editor continues to go through old color transparencies to record them in the records. In many cases this includes digitalizing the transparency and doing some color restoration on the digital image prior to filing the color transparency. In some cases the name remains the same. In others the name has changed. The slide is filed under the correct name, but the computer's slide records also reflect the obsolete name under which it was originally photographed. Thus, a slide originally photographed as Epi. rousseauae (and noted as such on slides of this species) is filed as Epidendrum laterale (Fig. 1).

The procedure differs with some other species with changes in the name of the genus. Of course, with some genus name changes, we see a change in the way the species name is expressed, and this makes the files slightly more complex.

For example, consider a species that entered the records originally as Epidendrum atropurpureum, which is how Willdenow described it back in the early 1806, and how your editor's hand-written records show it in 1975. Of course this was revised to show it as Epidendrum atropurpureum var. roseum in 1854, but that presented no problem in the hand-written records. However, years later, it was discovered that Epidendrum atropurpureum was really Psychillis atropurpurea, and that the "variety roseum" actually belonged in an entirely different genus, notably, Encyclia cordigera (Knuth) Dressler, 1964!

It gets a bit more complicated!

Fig. 2. Dinema polybulbon growing on tree fern. 35mm slide #151276-15; Digital scan Mon-10Oct10.

Records from the '60's and 70's show a diminutive species known as Epidendrum polybulbon described by Swartz in 1788. By the 1970's this had been transferred to the genus Encyclia, subgenus Dinema, and that's how the 35mm transparency was labeled. When your editor inked the data on the slide, it was so noted with some photographic data added. The transparency was subsequently labeled as "slide#171276-15." However, time marches on and as we learned more about the orchid family, the name changed once again. E. polybulbon (Sw.) Dressler, Brittonia 13: 265 (1961) is a synonym and the accepted name is Dinema polybulbon (Sw.) Lindl., Gen. Sp. Orchid. Pl.: 111 (1831). Once one navigates through all the name changing, the orchid species itself is a small plant known from Mexico into Central America and the Caribbean (Fig. 2).

The problem is not really with the orchid or coping with the name changes; it's actually only with having slides that were taken under an obsolete name filed under an accepted but different name. This problem has to be taken care of within the computer's filing system and the slide cabinet as well. In the computer, under "Epidendrum," one finds a folder labeled "slide records." Within this folder is a list of the species by slide number and alphabetically by name. When one comes to "Epidendrum polybulbon" one simply sees the remark, "This name is a synonym, see Dinema polybulbon." In the metal cabinet, the 35mm transparency is filed under the correct genus: Dinema. Occasionally one comes to older slides (or even plants tagged!) as Epidendrum belizensis, Encyclia belizensis, Encyclia belizensis sub species parviflora, or Encyclia parviflora. All have been broadly reclassified as Encyclia alata.

All of the above may give the impression that it's a fad or "in group" obsession periodically to change the name of this or that orchid species. It's not! The orchid family is a worldwide group, and the botanical literature goes back a few hundred years. As Dr. Russell put it, the orchid literature is really that "long conversation" where we can see how our botanical predecessors have looked at orchids, reasoned about them with each other, and shared their logic. The orchids don't care what they're called. Nor do their pollinators. We do! If we couple the body of literature with these name changes, and trace what was known in the days of candles, quill pens, and kerosene lamps, and compare it with what is known in our current age of petroleum and solar power, electric lights, and a worldwide computer network, it all fits together. It used to take months for the "long conversations." Now it takes only minutes or a few days.

Many of the 35mm transparencies, date back to the 1960's and the 1950's. Some photographs going back to the 1890's, ... and some of the literature was published over two hundred and fifty years ago. The job is to say what today says while not discarding what was known, how it was learned. When put together, we (hopefully) get a better concept of what best reflects an accurate picture of the natural history of these orchid species. When that's done, the task becomes one of sharing this information with each other.

Copyright © 2010 R J Ferry