We’re all going to Lamprocapnos!

Sorry, but to me ‘Lamprocapnos’ sounds more like a Greek holiday destination than a traditional cottage garden plant, but then its close relative ‘Dactylicapnos’ sounds more like a flying dinosaur than a climbing plant! What am I talking about? Dicentras, or what used to be Dicentras.

Dicentra cucullaria

Name changes nearly always annoy gardeners; occasionally someone asks me why they can’t buy a Stransvesia anywhere anymore (it’s now Photinia and has been for over a decade), why Schizostylis with its various pronunciations has been changed to the easier Hesperantha (honestly, it should have always been Hesperantha), and why I refer to Azaleas as Rhododendrons (again a quite legitimate change, moving two genera that were all but identical together). I always raise a smile when people rant that they can’t get used to Pelargoniums not being a part of Geraniums anymore; Pelargoniums were split from the genus Geranium in 1789, more than 220 years ago!

Pelargonium, not Geranium, ‘Paton’s Unique ‘

But who keeps changing things? Like it or not, gardening is full of science. When you think about it, do you not make sure your plants always have the right amount of light, of water, of nutrition? Yes you do, because science tells us this is what our plants need. Gardening also uses chemistry, history, and a less well known branch of botany called taxonomy.

I could go on flights of fancy and tell you taxonomists live as hermits in caves… they might as well do because most people are highly unlikely to ever meet one, and I’d be hard pushed to name any living taxonomists. Taxonomists focus their efforts on identifying, naming and classifying plants botanically and exploring the relationships between them. It’s a specialist job, requiring a keen eye for detail and an organised mind. Mostly taxonomists don’t really affect the gardening world, concentrating on more obscure genera, but sometimes they like to ‘rock the boat’ by proposing a new name for a well known garden plant; this is what has happened with Dicentras.

Dicentra formosana ‘Alba’ hasn’t been changed??

It used to be that Dicentras were simply Dicentras, until someone somewhere noticed that of the non-climbing species there was an odd one out; one species always grows with small leaves on its flowering stems while the rest all produce a single bare stem that comes straight from the ground. The odd one out became Lamprocapnos spectabilis, changed from Dicentra spectabilis. Of course you couldn’t have the climbing species still as Dicentra when they too were odd ones out, so the climbing species were all put into a new genus, Dactylicapnos. It does make sense, and the differences are there for all to see, but this change has caused a lot of grumpiness amongst gardeners and nurseries.

Dicentra spectabilis is now Lamprocampos spectabilis

The fact is that if the odd one out of the Dicentras was a lesser known species then most people wouldn’t care if it changed; it’s the change to the most popular and well known species that seems to have caused fuss. Because the climbing species aren’t as widely known or grown the impact of being lumbered with a name like Dactylicapnos has been much reduced.

So should we go with this new name, or should we insist that Lamprocapnos is still Dicentra for the next 220 years like some people are still doing with Pelargoniums and Geraniums? I say we should change and adapt; taxonomy as a science is as legitimate a part of horticulture as any other, and we should just have to adapt as we go, much as it might pain us to do so.

But it would be nice if the taxonomists didn’t give our plants such cumbersome new names though…!

Keep up to date with Ben’s botanical musings here!


3 thoughts on “We’re all going to Lamprocapnos!

  1. Conor Gallinagh says:

    I really enjoyed reading through this blog. Particularly the references in regards taxonomists, I am currently studying Horticulture and considering furthering my studies and doing an MSc in Taxonomy. Maybe one day I’ll be that annoying fecker that keeps changing the names. Great blog, absolutely enjoyed. Cheers


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s