Cultivated Plant Taxonomy - Historical Development - 1900 To 1950 – The Botanical Code and Cultigen Nomenclature

1900 To 1950 – The Botanical Code and Cultigen Nomenclature

As the community of people dealing with the cultigens of commerce grew so, once again, the divergence between taxonomy serving scientific purposes and utilitarian taxonomy meeting human needs re-emerged. In 1865 German botanist Karl Koch, who became General Secretary of the Berlin Horticultural Society, expressed resentment at the continued use of Latin for cultigen names. Many proposals to deal with this were made, perhaps the most prominent being the Lois de la nomenclature botanique submitted in 1867 to the fourth Horticultural and Botanical Congress by Swiss botanist Alphonse de Candolle who, in Article 40 stated:

Seedlings, half-breeds (métis) of unknown origin or sports should receive from horticulturists fancy names (noms de fantaisie) in common language, as distinct as possible from the Latin names of species or varieties.”

This Article, making provision for the cultigens of horticultural nomenclature was to remain in the Botanical Code (with a minor amendment in 1935 suggesting the use of the letter ‘c’ before the horticultural name and antedating formal recognition of the cultivar) through 1906, 1912 and 1935 until the separation, in 1953, of the Horticultural Code, precursor to the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (Cultivated Plant Code). In 1900 there was the first International Botanical Congress and in 1905 at the second Congress in Vienna an agreed set of nomenclatural rules was established, the Vienna Rules, which became known from then on as the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (now the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants). After World War II the responsibility for the Botanical Code was taken up by the International Association for Plant Taxonomy and meetings to discuss revisions are held at six-yearly intervals, the latest being in 2005

In horticulture at this time there existed all the problems that had confronted botanists in the 19th century – a plethora of names of various length, written and published in many languages with much duplication. The period between 1867 and 1953 was an uneasy time in which American horticulturists and other groups in Europe, such as the specialist orchid community, made attempts to put order into this chaos within their particular group of interest and devising their own rules for naming the plants of commerce. Friedrich Alefeld (1820–1872), who used Latin variety names, in a monographic study of beans, lentils and other legumes distinguished three infraspecific taxonomic categories: Uterart (subspecies), Varietaten Gruppe and Kultur-Varietat, all with Latin names. In doing this he was probably laying the ground for the later establishment of the cultigen classification categories cultivar and Group. In conjunction with the Brussels International Botanical Congress of 1910 there was an International Horticultural Congress having a horticultural nomenclature component.

As a result of general dissatisfaction and a submission from the Royal Horticultural Society the Règles de Nomenclature Horticole was established. The use of simple descriptive Latin names (e.g. compactus, nanus, prostratus) for horticultural variants was accepted and so too were names in the local language – which were not to be translated and should preferably consist of one word and a maximum of three. This first Horticultural Code consisted of 16 Articles. With the intercession of a World War I it was not until the 9th Horticultural Congress in London in 1930 that the rules of a Horticulture Nomenclature Committee were agreed and added as an appendix to the 1935 Botanical Code. The rules established in 1935 were accepted but needed to be extended to include the cultigens of agriculture and forestry, but it was only a result of discussions at the 1950 International Botanical Congress in Stockholm and the 18th International Horticultural Congress in London in 1952 the first International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants was published in 1953. The American horticultural botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey was responsible for coining the word cultigen in 1918 and cultivar in 1923, the word cultivar only coming into general circulation with the new Code of 1953. The use of these two terms belies the multitude of classification terms and categories that had been suggested as designations for cultigens.

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