Australian Acacia
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International Botanical Congress 18 Melbourne #IBC18

Australian Acacia
This Acacia or wattle from Albany, Western Australia, can keep its generic name!

This week, a good proportion of the world’s botanists will be meeting in Australia for the 6-yearly International Botanical Congress. Actually, the hard work started a week ago – with the long, scholarly and dry sessions making far-reaching decisions about plant and fungal nomenclature. Of course, it is pretty important to know what plant one is seeing or working with, and bad news if two people work on the same thing under different names. We also need to know how things are related, and while a string of GGCGAATGTCGATT in the DNA may answer the question, it is much better to have a hierarchy of species, genera, families and on upwards. So the international congress makes decisions about major issues. We will all vote on ThursSaturday for their ratification – the Nomenclature sessions will have done the rigorous preparation so expect everything to pass! But votes by hands or on cards are regular in the Nomenclature discussions. Preserved specimens have been recognized as the type specimens – the reference for all organisms that are given that name – for all plants and fungi up to now, but a vote is being held on whether fungal cultures should be admissible as the type.

Social media has had an interesting impact on these nomenclature sessions: waking up each morning, I have been able to read my #IBC18 Twitter feed!/search/%23ibc18. Thus I have been able to find what is happening the debates and discussions, and feel part of these proceedings (and vicariously join the dinner!), even if I am now writing this in the plane, on my way to join the conference for the scientific sessions starting on Sunday.

Perhaps the most important decision from a publication point of view is that electronic publication of plant names will soon become valid. While Annals of Botany only occasionally publishes new names (usually in the context of other research) and taxonomic revisions, we have needed to be careful not to publish these papers on-line before the print version appears. Now, the on-line version of the paper can be uploaded as soon as the author’s proof approval has been processed, as with all other papers. Nature has carried a useful summary of the new rulings –

Another important decision is to allow English language descriptions of new species, replacing the Latin which has been required up to now.

Hypericum geminiflorum - the original description
But Latin for plant names has gone the way of the Romans: English descriptions of new species become allowable. This is part of Hemsley's original description of Hypericum geminiflorum, published in Annals of Botany

There are also a number of nomenclatural changes – or agreed lack of changes – coming through too. With the conference being held in Australia, many will be happy that the genus Acacia, in the Leguminosae, will continue to include the Australian wattles that are well known in cultivation. I’ll be interested to find out, though, what will happen to the Fabaceae /Leguminosae family name. Leguminosae has a long-standing history and is well understood to cover the 730 genera and 20,000 species in this big family, but there is no genus ‘Legumus’ on which it is based. Having myself only slowly adopted the name of Fabaceae (although Leguminosae remained an acceptable alternative), I don’t know what will happen to Fabaceae now that the type genus of Faba has been subsumed under Vicia!

I’ll be tweeting and add some more blogs from #IBC #IBC18 over the next few days – the technology is working in the conference centre – although my hotel charges A$16.50 per day, only a bit less than the €22.50 that I couldn’t afford in Portugal last week (so my blog on 50 years of X chromosome inactivation was posted several days later – ).

24 July: minor edits and replaced the Lorum ipsum Latin holding text with a real description of a species.

Editor Pat Heslop-Harrison

Pat Heslop-Harrison is Professor of Molecular Cytogenetics and Cell Biology at the University of Leicester. He is also Chief Editor of Annals of Botany.


  • IBC Melbourne @IBC11 on Twitter rightly points out:
    “Great blog entry, but the hard work started MUCH more than a week ago. Think the Rapporteurs never sleep!”
    I expect the work started the day that the Vienna IBC finished.

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