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Flora, Now in English

Susan Notes:

No longer will botanists have to write sentences like: "Arbor usque ad 6
m alta. Folia decidua; lamina oblanceolata vel elliptica-oblongata, 2-7
cm longa," as I did in 2009, describing a new species from Mexico.
Instead, I could simply write that Bourreria motaguensis was a
six-meter-tall tree with deciduous leaves that were 2 to 7 centimeters
long.
--James S. Miller

Ohmygoodness, the next thing you know educationists will declare that reading involves kids choosing books.


By James S. Miller

BOTANISTS long thought the tallest trees on Madagascar all belonged to
only three species of the genus Canarium, but two scientists have now
determined that there are actually 35 species of the genus there, of
which 29 are new to science.

To make this startling discovery, Douglas Daly of the New York Botanical
Garden and his Malagasy colleague Jeannie Raharimampionona hiked through
rainforests for months in 2006 and then toiled in scientific collections
to sort out all of the species. Only then did they start the laborious
process of formally describing each of the new species in Latin for
publication in scientific papers, a requirement for making a new species
public.

Considering all the work involved, perhaps it's no wonder that, despite
centuries of research and exploration to create a complete inventory of
the world's plant life, there may be as many as 100,000 plant species
that are not yet known to science, waiting to be cataloged --- if we can
find and describe them in time.

The requirement to use Latin --- which has been in place, officially,
since 1908, and in practice since the 18th century --- doesn't make this
process any faster. At a time when deforestation, the spread of invasive
species and climate change are putting as many as one-third of all plant
species at risk of extinction in the next 50 years, we don't have time
for traditions like these. That's why, as of Jan. 1, the International
Code of Botanical Nomenclature no longer compels botanists to provide a
Latin description

of a new species. Perhaps even more significant, the code now recognizes
publication in online academic journals as equally valid as print
publication. Both changes will help to speed up the race to catalog the
world's plant life.

No longer will botanists have to write sentences like: "Arbor usque ad 6
m alta. Folia decidua; lamina oblanceolata vel elliptica-oblongata, 2-7
cm longa," as I did in 2009, describing a new species from Mexico.
Instead, I could simply write that Bourreria motaguensis was a
six-meter-tall tree with deciduous leaves that were 2 to 7 centimeters
long.

Simplifying the process for describing and publishing new species will
undoubtedly help, but cataloging all our planet's plant life will
require much more than that. Plants are a vital source of materials and
medicine; they are the basis of the food chain; they produce the oxygen
we breathe. If a species becomes extinct before it is found --- a
phenomenon known as "anonymous extinction" --- there is no way to
explore its potential. We must prevent that from happening.

That will take concerted efforts to conduct research expeditions to the
parts of the tropics that still remain unexplored, to generate financial
support for the scientists needed to do the work and to train a new
generation of botanists. They will have enough to do without having to
memorize Latin declensions.

James S. Miller is the dean and vice president for science at the New York Botanical Garden

— James S. Miller
New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/23/opinion/plants-in-plain-english.html?scp=1&sq=Botanists&st=cse


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