New Year, New Family Names

Happy 2011! The latest Oregon Flora Newsletter just arrived, and I was pleased to see the Oregon Flora Project is ready to adopt the latest family classifications from the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG). “What is the APG?,” you may be wondering. When I first started pestering the professional botanists around me with questions about who decides what the proper botanical name for a plant is, I was surprised that there didn’t seem to be some governing body making those kinds of decisions. An individual could do research on a plant, decide it should be reclassified, and it was up to others whether they felt the research warranted adopting this new name or classification. So botanical names could be almost as localized as common names.

Fringed grass-of Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata) is now considered to be a member of Celastraceae. We’ll have to wait and see if it stays there as it has proven a difficult genus to classify.

According to the Wikipedia article, “The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, or APG, refers to an informal international group of systematic botanists who came together to try to establish a consensus view of the taxonomy of flowering plants (angiosperms) that would reflect new knowledge about their relationships based upon phylogenetic studies.” At last, a single source for plant classification! It seems that most plant authorities are now following the APG classifications, so we can expect more consensus in the future. With all the new genetic-based research bringing so much new information to light, it is a relief to have some central body overseeing classification.

APG has published three classifications, the first in 1989, followed by APG II in 2003. The latest, APG III, came out in late 2009. I have been trying to adopt this new classification while writing my book, but it took longer for OFP and the Herbarium at OSU to make the needed changes. For the folks at the Herbarium, these changes mean more than merely learning new names. Since specimens are organized by family, it means physically relabeling and moving thousands of specimens—a daunting task. The plant lists posted here on my website, for the most part, do not reflect these new families as I didn’t want to make it difficult for people to find the plants in the family-based lists. However, with OFP, our authority for Oregon, now on board, I will make the changes to my database and post updated lists (with old and new families) as I have time.

Some of the new classifications were a long time coming. The Lily family (Liliaceae), for instance, has long been known to be a large, unwieldy collection of genera not all closely related, so the removal of many species was not unexpected. There are some surprises though. One particular one for me is the placement of one of my favorite plants, Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia spp.). Once thought to be part of the Saxifrage family, Saxifragaceae, many authorities had placed these in their own family, Parnassiaceae. Recent genetic studies have shown a relationship with some genera in Celastraceae, the Staff-tree family (Oregon boxwood, Paxistima myrsinites, is the only member in the Western Cascades.) and have somewhat tentatively placed Parnassia in that family as a result. Future research may send Parnassia back into its own family or somewhere else. Some plants just don’t like being forced into the rigid categories taxonomists desire.

Changes to plants found in the Western Cascades

(To see all the current family classifications, go to Angiosperm Phylogeny Group and click on Families at the top)

Families no longer existing, all members moved to new family (in bold)

Aceraceae => Sapindaceae

Callitrichaceae => Plantaginaceae

Cuscutaceae => Convolvulaceae

Fumariaceae => Papaveraceae

Hydrophyllaceae => Boraginaceae

Lemnaceae => Araceae

Parnassiaceae => Celastraceae

Sparganiaceae => Typhaceae

Viscaceae => Santalaceae

Families still existing but with some genera moved to new family

Caprifoliaceae => Adoxaceae

Caprifoliaceae => Linnaeaceae

Liliaceae => Amaryllidaceae

Liliaceae => Asparagaceae

Liliaceae =>Melanthiaceae
Anticlea (Stenanthium)
Toxicoscordion venenosum (Zigadenus venenosus)

Liliaceae => Tofieldiaceae
Triantha (Tofieldia)

Portulacaceae => Montiaceae

Scrophulariaceae => Orobanchaceae

Scrophulariaceae => Phrymaceae

Scrophulariaceae => Plantaginaceae

3 Responses to “New Year, New Family Names”

  • David:

    Hi Tanya,

    I do field work for a living. I have spotted euonymus on rare occasions.

    Most recently this past summer up the middle Santiam and near Forest Grove about 5 years ago. I am surprised that the OFP has only a few records of its occurrence.


  • Hi David,

    I’ve never seen Euonymus occidentalis and know next to nothing about it. It looks as though there are just a few places where it hits the lower edges of the Western Cascades. Your sightings are valuable information. Please send them and any other lists you’ve made to the Oregon Flora Project. Outside of herbarium records, all the information they receive is from people like us who record what they see in the wild and send it along. So the Atlas is only as good as the information everyone gives them.

  • You are a jewel without compare. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Sabine

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