Derek the Hybrid Detective

DD0113 Neoregelia ‘Bullis’s Margaret’
by Derek Butcher, January 2013

The word ‘homonym’ is a rude word to a botanist. In fact he/she ignores it. It relates to a situation that sometimes occurs when a plant found in the wild is given the same name as a previously named plant. The new name is illegitimate under the ICBN ( International Code of Botanical Nomenclature) rules and is ignored.

Cultivars (including hybrids) are governed by the ICNCP ( International Code of Nomenclature of Cultivated Plants) rules and they blithely follow the ICBN rules where first in, wins the prize. Regrettably, they do not allow for the fact that there are professional botanists who are sticklers for accuracy compared to gardeners and nurserymen.

Prior to 1998 there was some excuse for duplicate names because the Bromeliad Society International had no real source of reference. This was the year that the Bromeliad Cultivar Register was published and since that time reference could be made to the online Bromeliad Cultivar Register by those interested. Regrettably, many bromeliad growers only pay lip service to the needs for the existence of a Register. Many plants hit the market named but unregistered.

Let us now look at Neoregelia ‘Margaret’ which was a hybrid registered by Mulford Foster in 1956. While we have no photograph we would assume it would be vaguely like a Neoregelia carolinae. So it was somewhat a surprise to me in early 2011 when I heard about a variegated Neoregelia ‘Margaret’ winning prizes in Florida Shows. When I did get a photo of the plant concerned it was certainly not a variegated sport of Foster’s N. ‘Margaret’. Further investigation revealed it had been named by Bullis Company who would not reveal its parentage but assured us all that it was unique. We knew that Bullis and others would continue marketing the plant as ‘Margaret’ and at least we could warn the various local societies of the problem AND put the details on the Bromeliad Cultivar Register as ‘Bullis’s Margaret’. Any inquisitive grower who always likes to check up on names on labels – like myself – can enquire on Margaret in the search machine on to get several tantalising clues that can be investigated.

I had thought that the problem would stay in Florida but alas we know that ‘Margaret’ migrated to Queensland so is being grown in Queensland and South Australia. If you do have a Neoregelia ‘Margaret’ that is variegated I recommend you change the label to ‘Bullis’s Margaret’. It has been suggested by other astute Australian growers, this plant looks very similar to that Skotak hybrid called ‘Pemiento’which has been in Australia at least 20 years.
I wonder what ‘Pemiento’ grows like in Florida or don’t they grow ‘OLD’ hybrids there.

Photo Jeanne Hall.

Updated 25/01/13