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Usage trumps priority

Anne Vézina Sunday, 02 January 2011

Two Finnish botanists try to set the record straight on the names Musa balbisiana and Musa velutina.

Markku Häkkinen
Markku Häkkinen

The rules of botanical nomenclature dictate that the first name used to describe a plant has priority over all later names. In two instances, however, Henry Väre and Markku Häkkinen from the Finnish Museum of Natural History propose deferring to usage.

In the first of two notes published in Taxon, the journal of the International Association for Plant Taxonomy, the authors note that even though Musa dasycarpa was described before Musa velutina, (left photo) the name dropped out of favour after the Kew botanist John Gilbert Baker treated it as a synonym in a 1893 paper, rather than as the legitimate name. To support their case for conserving the name M. velutina, the authors performed a Google search in which M. velutina racked up 16,500 hits, compared to 143 for M. dasycarpa.

In the second note, the authors propose conserving the name Musa balbisiana after establishing that it is the same species as the previously described Musa rosacea. They argue that changing the name of this well-known species to M. rosacea would only create confusion given the checkered history of that name. They also point out that the name M. rosacea has often been erroneously given to plants that belong to a different species, Musa ornata (right photo).

At its next meeting, the taxonomic committee will vote on all the proposals published in Taxon over the preceding year. If the committee accepts these proposal, M. velutina and M. balbisiana will become valid names and the older ones will automatically be rejected.