Derek the Hybrid Detective

Herbaria are a major frontier for species discovery.
by Derek Butcher, August 2011

The amount of botanical material you can find on the internet is astounding and sometimes thought provoking. In this case I was referred to an article in PNAS 107(51): 22169-22171. 2010, where the title caught my eye. What was it all about? I’ll quote from a few areas to show what I learnt:
“The data from our sample of new species published between 1970 and 2010 show that only 16% were described within five years of being collected for the first time. The description of the remaining 84% involved much older specimens, with nearly one-quarter of new species descriptions involving specimens >50 yr old. Extrapolation of these results suggest that, of the estimated 70,000 species still to be described, more than half already have been collected and are stored in herbaria. Effort, funding, and research focus should, therefore, be directed as much to examining extant herbarium material as collecting new material in the field.”

First, I must say that in my experience things are not that bad in Bromeliaceae but it does show a bias as far as taxonomists are concerned to the dead dried plant.
I can think of what 5 years delay can mean when going back to the place of discovery only to say “Whoops!” Where are they?
The habitat has been changed by man! How do you look realistically at plant conservation especially with our epiphytes which regrettably rely on trees to survive!
Many of us do acquire plants or seeds from the wild which have not been properly identified. We should not immediately rush in to hybridise so we can make money out of them, but should consider their conservation. We should not just give them any name and forget about it. Instead, we should retain as much information of where the plant or seed were collected for future reference. For really outstanding ones a Cultivar name should be given and put into the Cultivar Register with photos and other data.

In other words taxonomists may be responsible for the dead plant, but we, as growers are responsible for living material.

Updated 08/11/15