Here are two fun botany stories I learned today from Lou Jost.
The decline and fall of the Roman Empire
I thought Latin was a long-dead language… except in Finland, where 75,000 people regularly listen to the news in Latin. That’s cool, but surely the last time someone seriously needed to write in Latin was at least a century ago… right?
No! Until the beginning of 2012, botanists reporting new species were required to do so in Latin.
Arbor ad 8 alta, raminculis sparse pilosis, trichomatis 2-2.5 mm longis. Folia persistentia; laminae anisophyllae, foliis majoribus ellipticus, 12-23.5 cm longis, 6-13 cm latis, minoribus orbicularis, ca 8.5 cm longis, 7.5 cm latis, apice acuminato et caudato, acuminibus 1.5-2 cm longis, basi rotundata ad obtusam, margine integra, supra sericea, trichomatis 2.5-4 mm longis, appressis, pagina inferiore sericea ad pilosam, trichomatis 2-3 mm longis; petioli 4-7 mm longi. Inflorescentia terminalis vel axillaris, cymosa, 8-10 cm latis. Flores bisexuales; calyx tubularis, ca. 6 mm longus, 10-costatus; corolla alba, tubularis, 5-lobata; stamina 5, filis 8-10 mm longis, pubescentia ad insertionem.
The International Botanical Congress finally voted last year to drop this requirement. So, the busy people who are discovering about 2000 species of plants, algae and fungi each year no longer need to file their reports in the language of the Roman Empire.
The first person who publishes a paper on a new species of plant gets to name it. Sometimes the competition is fierce, as for the magnificent orchid shown above, Phragmipedium kovachii.
Apparently one guy beat another, his archenemy, by publishing an article just a few days earlier. But the other guy took his revenge by getting the first guy arrested for illegally taking an endangered orchid out of Peru. The first guy wound up getting two years’ probation and a $1,000 fine.
But, he got his name on the orchid!
I believe the full story appears here:
• Eric Hansen, Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy, Vintage Books, New York, 2001.
You can read a summary here.
By the way, Lou Jost is not only a great discoverer of new orchid species and a biologist deeply devoted to understanding the mathematics of biodiversity. He also runs a foundation called Ecominga, which runs a number of nature reserves in Ecuador, devoted to preserving the amazing biodiversity of the Upper Pastaza Watershed. This area contains over 190 species of plants not found anywhere else in the world, as well as spectacled bears, mountain tapirs, and an enormous variety of birds.
The forests here are being cut down… but Ecominga has bought thousands of hectares in key locations, and is protecting them. They need money to pay the locals who patrol and run the reserves. It’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things—a few thousand dollars a month. So if you’re interested, go to the Ecominga website, check out the information and reports and pictures, and think about giving them some help! Or for that matter, contract me and I’ll put you in touch with him.