subspecies versus variety

Thomas Lammers lammers at VAXA.CIS.UWOSH.EDU
Tue Jan 29 07:52:00 CST 2002

At 02:58 PM 1/28/02 -0500, Dick Jensen wrote:

>Take a look at Tod Stuessy's book, Plant Taxonomy (1990, Columbia
>University Press; ISBN 0-231-06784-4).  He has an excellent chapter titled
>"Subspecies, Variety and Form."

Though I take exception with his idea that conspecific subspecies should
show some reduction in their ability to interbreed.  That seems to violate
the species definition, and members of conspecific subspecies are clearly
members of the same species.

IMO, the only infraspecific taxon worth naming is one that shows some
measure of geographic and/or ecological integrity.  I prefer to use the
term subspecies for that.  "Variety" (properly varietas) has been used and
misused so many ways (often means "species" to the layman, for example)
that it is a source of confusion and should be drummed out of the Code.  If
folks want to use the rank of forma for albino-flowered individuals and
such, well, OK, but I'll not take them up in any formal publicatuion
(though I do use them on herbarium labels sometimes if they are especially

Thomas G. Lammers, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor and Curator of the Herbarium (OSH)
Department of Biology and Microbiology
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54901-8640 USA

e-mail:       lammers at
phone:      920-424-1002
fax:           920-424-1101

Plant systematics; classification, nomenclature, evolution, and
biogeography of the Campanulaceae s. lat.

"Today's mighty oak is yesterday's nut that stood his ground."
                                                 -- Anonymous

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