[Taxacom] Why character-tracking doesn't happen?

Karl Magnacca kmagnacca at wesleyan.edu
Mon Sep 15 05:23:31 CDT 2008

On Mon, September 15, 2008 8:11 am, Jim Croft wrote:
> The version I heard was about Harold St John in Hawaii naming three
> separate sheets taken from the same vine as three separate species.
> Told by an ornithologist who knew a botanist who knew the collector so
> it *must* be true.

Tom Lammers is the one who knows, since he dealt with that mess, but
given that St. John described 74 species in two papers totalling 15
pages it's hardly surprising.  He seems to have gone a little over the
edge in his latter years.

> The pattern of the same situation with different protagonists is
> fairly indicative of urban myths.

Often it is, but in this case I think it's actually a case of it really
happening multiple times.  Given that plants are variable and
taxonomists often deal with specimens that they didn't collect
themselves, it's not terribly surprising.  My own anecdote was directly
from a fellow grad student (a botanist, of course) who undertook an
arduous trip to Nepal to collect specimens of three rare cypress species
that were distinguished by their cones - only to find all three cone
types growing on different sides of the same tree.

Karl Magnacca
Postdoctoral Researcher
Department of Zoology
Trinity College, Dublin 2

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