ASK DR. BOLI.

Dear Dr. Boli: I recently read that all the plants I thought were in the genus Aster have been uprooted (so to speak) like a bunch of homeless squatters and plunked down in the genus Symphyotrichum, which nobody can even pronounce. Who do these botanists think they are? That’s what I want to know. —Sincerely, A Frustrated Amateur.

Dear Sir or Madam: Botanists, like nearly everyone else in an uncertain economic climate, are concerned primarily with job security. It is hardly necessary to say that, for an expert to be worth anything at all, there must be expertise: that is, there must be something to his science or craft that is not obvious to, and cannot be easily assimilated by, the average educated layman.

It should be patently obvious how miserably the genus Aster failed this test. Not only was the name of the genus easy to pronounce and remember, but in fact it was the same as the English common name, which is an unforgivable disqualification. An earlier generation of botanists did not have this problem, because an earlier generation of laymen knew the flowers as Michaelmas daisies; but now that the scientific term has become the common name as well, something obviously had to be done. Thus the removal of all the North American species to the genus Symphyotrichum, which botanists confidently predict will take at least a century, and more likely longer, to catch on as a common name.

For the same reason, the common florist’s geranium has been moved from the genus Geranium to the genus Pelargonium, and the ordinary garden rose is scheduled to be moved from the genus Rosa to the genus Klimentarkadievichtimiryazevia.

Comments

  1. C. Linnaeus says:

    Dear Dr. Boli,

    I’m not sure if a rose of the name Klimentarkadievichtimiryazevia would smell as sweet. Do you know any botanists who would be willing to conduct a series of experiments to verify if the aphorism is indeed defunct?

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