In Cultivation

When I first begun exploring for plants in the Himalaya, when visiting the gardens of specialist gardeners who grew some plants
with Himalayan names, the owners would sometimes show me a prized specimen, informing that I would, of course, recognise it.
Being relatively knew to Himalayan expeditions and its flora (which runs to thousands of species), this seemed often an unrealistic
expectation, despite my botanical background and passion for plants!  Memory is a fallible thing, plants often vary a lot, such that even
if I had seen the same species in the Himalaya (and had been able to recognise it whilst in the mountains or subsequently), its appearance
may well have been rather different. I also started to realise that a significant proportion of plants in cultivation in Western Gardens under
names of species from the Himalaya, were in fact, impostors - having been misidentified!

This was brought home to me when I was given 5 plants with Himalayan species names grown from a well-known rock garden seed exchange
at an early meeting of The Himalayan Plant Association in Scotland.  I grew them on in what was to become The Kohli Memorial Himalayan Garden -
ALL FIVE TURNED OUT TO HAVE BEEN MISIDENTIFIED; ALL BELONGED (MORE OR LESS) TO THE CORRECT GENUS BUT THE SPECIES NAMES WERE INCORRECT.
My informal investigations over the past 30 years suggest AT LEAST 50% of plants grown under 'Himalayan' names are misidentified....

Let me provide some examples:

I realise that the Alpine Garden Society, one of the UK's leading specialist horticultural societies, prides itself on its standards, yet misidentifications are clearly widespread - few judges, now matter how senior and experienced they might be, have expertise in plant identification.  If deciding whether a specimen in a pot on a show bench (or in a garden) are 'true to type' or how 'difficult' or straightforward' a species is supposed to be cultivate, should the examples being compared and judged, actually belong to different species to those they so-called 'experts' think they are, a major problem arises. Those submitting plants, in this case in their gardens, are at best guessing which species they belong to and the judges often are in the dark - even if they think otherwise. 

In the case of Class 73, Araceae on the 2013 AGS Online Show, of the 5 entries, there are 3 of Arisaema.  There is an out-of-focus shot of an unknown species; I cannot easily make any suggestions and since the foliage is not shown, naming would be a challenge unless one is a specialist in this genus, which I am not.  Next, there is, it is suggested A.propinquum - just before opening the flower!  Well, the photographer has not understood that this is as 'open' as this species gets; definitely not A.propinquum but seems to actually be A.griffithii var. pradhanii see: https://www.plantdelights.com/products/arisaema-griffithii-var-pradhanii .  Finally, we have a plant labelled as A.jacquemontii, which receives third prize; unfortunately it bears no resemblance to this species whatsoever!  Hard to be sure what it is, as the 'flowers' are not shown close-up.  To check yourselves, go to:


Perhaps the misidentification of Arisaema jacquemontii should come as no surprise, as the reference about this species within the AGS' web-site has a supposed line-drawing of this species which is misidentified, see: http://encyclopaedia.alpinegardensociety.net/plants/Arisaema/jacquemontii

Such incorrect reference information is widespread.  Hardly surprising that my investigations have led me to conclude that such a high proportion of plants in cultivation are NOT what they are labelled as.  If the 'leading' societies struggle, with access to taxonomists and 'leading' botanic gardens and the world's top herbaria, then the average nurseryman, specialist gardener or plant enthusiast with a web-site, is going the struggle.  I have raised my concerns about this fundamental problem with senior figures, yet am dismissed.  Nobody is willing to grasp this inconvenient 'nettle'.  Yet HOW CAN PLANTS BE CONSERVED IN CULTIVATION UNLESS THEY ARE RELIABLY IDENTIFIED IN THE FIRST PLACE?  IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO ACCURATELY ASSESS HOW COMMON OR RARE A PLANT IS IN CULTIVATION, UNLESS THERE ARE LARGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE CAPABLE OF RELIABLY IDENTIFYING THEM....



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