Notes on the BOTANICAL SYNONYMS of bamboo names


Visitors to our site will be familiar with the sentence on top of every page of our dictionary :
" Species on this page ( A = names approved by most authorities, s = approved as synonyms) : "
and may be wondering why these two letters seldom appear next to botanical names anywhere within the bamboo section. The reason is that the botanical names of bamboos are far from stabilised and taxonomists from various parts of the globe still have to agree on preferred names and acceptable synonyms. We do not see our task as encompassing these sorts of decisions. We are merely pointing out the inconsistencies in the systems and occasionally pointing out possible solutions. A case in point is the name for Shibataea kumasaca. This name appears to be accepted by many authors as if it were totally divorced from its Japanese origin. We are very much in favour of "Latinising foreign names" following the same rules as for any other European name. The only point to keep in mind during the process though is the preliminary romanisation. In this case the Japanese word is "sasa", sometimes becoming "zasa" depending what comes in front. So "sasa" should be the basic word to start from. "saca" on the other hand sounds like a bad choice of romanisation. I am not even sure if the sound is reflected correctly in any language, although I suspect it must be, because just about anything is possible with languages. Possible does not equates understandability however. Presently there are two groups around the world : one in favour of Shibataea kumasaca and one preferring Shibataea kumasasa. As yet, no official verdict has come down from the taxonomic authorities in support of either option.

What should be considered as a preferred name
I thought for a long while that a reference book such as Wiersema & León's World Economic Plants : a Standard Reference, reviewed by 150 experts and backed up by a major database of the US Department of Agriculture (GRIN) would be a minimum requirement. Then I consulted the Asian literature on bamboos and found differing points of view supported by large numbers of Asian experts, so I lost my confidence. Should these two blocks come to an agreement on some names, I think it would be a good starting point, even if other smaller groups disagreed. Why ? Given that a large proportion of all bamboos used worldwide are either of Chinese or Japanese origin and have been studied in details by scientists of those countries, it seems logical to trust their taxonomists' classifications first and foremost, unless they omit details relating to species issued from countries foreign to theirs. A non-coincidental detail is that the Chinese & Japanese languages are closely related so from a linguistic point of view it makes the whole nomenclatural business clearer if we take those languages as the basis for world names. This is in fact happening to a large extent as far as vernacular names are concerned and to a lesser extent with botanical names. Hence this is one large part of the problem of stabilising the botanical names of bamboos. This applies again to other groups of plants such as Citrus, classified principally by Tanaka, Asian Brassica and many more. The good news is that a Westerner has in fact adopted this approach in his monumental work on bamboos of the world : Prof. Dieter Ohrnberger.


Why authority names are an important part of botanical names.

What is an authority name or author name ? a qualified scientist called a botanist or a taxonomist who has named a plant - given a name to that plant in botanical-Latin, the language of botany. These people only are allowed to name plants at any classification level above cultivar. "Authors" are not necessarily "authorities". Any author or horticulturist can name a cultivar but they cannot name species, varieties or forms.

A small but non-negligeable number of specific names have been applied to different species by different authorities over the years. If one only lives by the current preferred botanical names, like most nursery people do, there is no problem. Most reference books however span a few decades and consequently refer to botanical names that can be outdated, or misapplied, even illegal (in taxonomic jargon). So even nursery people can be mislead when they consult reference books published a few years ago or indeed in countries slightly isolated from the western world such as Nepal, Burma etc. Other countries such as Japan and China which have very strong communities of botanical scientists tend to rely on themselves more than on the outside world. This leads to parallel classification systems which can be very close or as far apart as one can imagine. The best example would be the classification of Citrus. The Japanese Tanaka's classification, relied upon by anyone in the world caring about bio-diversity, is extensive and detailed. It can be contrasted with the American Swingle's classification simplified to the extreme. Needless to say most Asian countries are significant in regard to bamboos, and so are the classifications by experts from those countries. Bamboo enthusiasts are blessed by having the most complete cross-cultural botanical reference in the form of D. Ornberger's book. Some examples follow (larger names are the currently preferred and valid names, abbreviations in blue indicate the main references in which those names have been mentioned and correctly classified).

Example 1

Bambusa angustifolia Mitford (GRIN) -> Pleioblastus chino (Franch. & Sav.) Makino f. elegantissimus (Makino ex Tsuboi) Muroi & H. Okamura (OHRN)

Bambusa angustifolia (Kunth) Nees von Esenbeck (OHRN) -> Guadua angustifolia Kunth subsp. angustifolia (OHRN)

Example 2

Nastus arundinaceus Smith. (Masman) -> Bambusa arundinacea (Retz.) Willd. (GRIN)

Bambusa arundinacea Humboldt & Bonpland (OHRN) -> Nastus borbonicus J. F. Gmelin (OHRN)

Example 3

Bambusa capitata Trinius (OHRN) -> Guadua capitata (Trinius) Munro (OHRN)

Bambusa capitata Willdenow ex Ruprecht (OHRN) -> Ochlandra capitata (Kunth) Camus (OHRN)

Bambusa capitata (Kunth) Willdenow (OHRN) -> Ochlandra capitata (Kunth) Camus (OHRN)

Bambusa capitata Wallich & Griffith (OHRN) -> Cephalostachyum capitatum (Wall. & Griff.) Munro (Bykov,GRIN,OHRN)



Names of "Asian" species.

A number of species or forms as well as the more common cultivar names are derived directly from one Asian language or another. Examples are the species Shibataea kumasasa of Japanese origin, the genus Qiongzhuea of Chinese origin (now reclassified within Chimonobambusa), the specific epithet lumampao (Schizostachyum lumampao) of Tagalog origin (one of the many languages of the Philippines Islands). This is an old fashion trend that should be retained and I believe that if some newer synomyms are invented or manufactured they should remain as such: synonyms, so that the origin of the plant is always hinted at, if not fully expressed in the botanical name. Following that train of thought there are a number of forms of better known species that are crying out for Latinised names. Examples are the 3 forms of Gigantochloa pseudoarundinacea (Steud.) Widj. recognised in West Java (Indonesia). Why not adopt a local name to define the form as well ? Why not indeed, but then again synonyms can be very useful to transmit the same message to different audiences so a Latin name does not exclude any synonym if it proves more practical in some situations, as long as both are remembered and cross-referenced.



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Date created: 28 / 01 / 1999
Authorised by Glyn Rimmington
Last modified: 17 / 01 / 2001
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