Warning: For plant geeks only

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Way back in 1993 a large, imposing and impressive book was published by UC Press. The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California, edited by James Hickman, was a revision of Jepson’s 1925 Manual of the Flowering Plants of California. It became the go-to reference for all serious California native plant geeks. When there were disputes about the spelling of botanical names, Jepson was the final arbiter.

But science changes. With new tools for looking at genetic characteristics of plants, and lots of graduate students climbing mountains and scouring deserts, many botanical names and families just didn’t hold. In January of 2012 the second edition of Jepson hit the stands. There was a lot of buzz about changes in plant keys and nomenclature. As word got out that coffeeberry was no longer Rhamnus californica and that needlegrass was switching back to Stipa from Nassella,  I began to sweat. Yes, people disagree on common names, but botanical names were meant to stick. Now it seemed that if I wanted to be understood by anyone outside of the scientific community I would have to learn – and use – common names.

Over the years I had been handling botanize pretty well. It is true that I made mistakes, many mistakes. It seemed to me that Rhamnus californicus made more sense than the Jepson spelling, Rhamnus californica. I mean shouldn’t the names agree? Isn’t the ending -us masculine while -a is feminine. Nevertheless, with a bit of arrogance, I kept track of the Berberis – Mahonia schism, wondering why people couldn’t just get over it and use the “proper” name (Berberis). Even the change from the simple Yucca to Hesperoyucca for our chaparral yucca was going okay. Though Epilobium doesn’t roll off the tongue as well as Zauschneria I could remember both. With the new Jepson, however, there were going to be many, many more changes, and I am not getting younger.

At first I thought I could get away with just pretending that nothing happened. Unfortunately my role in the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) – San Gabriel Mountains Chapter requires more. I pull together the plant list for our annual plant sale. Not only that, we set up the plants alphabetically by botanical name. How will I know where to put coffeeberry? Will it be in the R’s (Rhamnus) or F’s (Frangula)? Can’t use common names, though it does appeal. Common names have even more issues. Should Ceanothus (mercifully keeping it’s genus name intact) be located under wild lilac, California lilac, or just plain ceanothus?

Finally facing up to it, today I spent some long, tedious hours checking the names of plants commonly sold at native plant sales on the Jepson Interchange and came up with a three-page list of name changes.

There are many types of changes in JM2. For example, flannelbush (Fremontodendron) has moved from the family Sterculiaceae to Malvaceae. All well and good, but I was not as interested in families as I should have been anyway. The second common type of change is that some infraspecific ranks… sorry, let me try that again. Some var.’s became subsp.’s (variety to subspecies) and vice versa. Again, not a big deal for me since we don’t sell that many plants with these designations, and knowing why it would be one way or another is above my pay grade. In fact, a lot of the changes are to include or get rid of these distinctions. So, although we used to sell a plant called Heteromeles arbutifolia subsp. macrocarpa to show that it had especially big berries, Jepson hasn’t for a long time accepted this as a taxonomic distinction. Fine! For the time being I will ignore these too. Which brings me to the big problems, changes in genus.

Although you can check the three-page list, the following short list of changes to genus names should take me (and you) through the most common and problematic ones. I left out specific epithets when they remained the same. Remember this is just a very short list of common garden natives.

Aster: Aster is now Symphyotrichum
Barberry: Mahonia is now Berberis
California aster: Lessingia is now Corethrogyne
California fuchsia: Epilobium canum is still Epilobium (not Zauschneria)
Catclaw: Acacia is now Senegalia
Chaparral yucca: Yucca is now Hesperoyucca
Coffeeberry: Rhamnus is now Frangula
Coreopsis: Coreopsis is now Leptosyne
Deerweed: Lotus scoparius is now Acmispon glaber
Desert Lavender: Hyptis is now Condea
Island snapdragon: Galvezia is now Gambelia
NeedlegrassAchnatherum and Nassella are now Stipa
Ryegrass: Leymus is now Elymus
San Diego sunflower: Viguiera is now Bahiopsis
Tanbark oak: Lithocarpus is now Notholithocarpus
Tree mallow: Lavatera is now Malva
Wax myrtle: Myrica is now Morella
Yerba buena: Satureja is now Clinopodium

If I missed any other common ones, please let me know.

Hope to see you at the California Native Plant Society – San Gabriel Mountains Chapter plant sale.

Saturday, November 9, 2013, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Eaton Canyon Nature Center, 1750 Altadena Drive, Pasadena, CA  

 A good variety of reasonably priced California native plants and wildflower seeds appropriate for gardens in the Los Angeles basin will be available, including plants for attracting birds and butterflies to your home garden. Knowledgeable chapter members will be on hand to answer questions.

7 thoughts on “Warning: For plant geeks only

  1. Sula

    Monkeyflower has changed too…. 🙂

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  3. Hey Sula! Yup, Bart told me that Naomi was behind the monkeyflower confusion 😉 <br /><br />I looked on the Jepson Interchange and it still shows M. aurantiacus as accepted name. M. longiflorus is shown as M. a. var. pubescens. Do you know where this info is published?<br /><br />Until otherwise told we&#39;re sticking with Mimulus … but I may put Diplacus on the plant signs, just to be ready.<

  4. all of our native Cupressus are now Hesperocyparis.<br /><br />Many lotus sp. changed to Acmispon.<br /><br />

  5. JoYouDog

    I feel so guilty for not being enough of a plant geek. I donated my new Jepson to TPF. I&#39;m just keeping up my conversion from typical tract yard to natives in relative ignorance. The gods will forgive me.

  6. I was so bummed when <i>Aster</i> changed. <i>Symphyotrichum novae-angliae</i>, really? Just doesn&#39;t seem right.<br /><br />And the whole <i>Yucca whipplei</i> to <i>Hesperoyucca whipplei</i> was jarring too.<br /><br />Don&#39;t get me wrong, I understand the changes and applaud the corrections to better reflect evolutionary relatedness…I guess I&#39;m just reaching that age where I can

  7. Thanks for posting this…I updated my &quot;geek&quot; spreadsheet. I&#39;m over 100 varieties now! 1/8th of an acre in Hyde Park (near LAX)…

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