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Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Too many names: Silene coronaria, Lychnis coronarium or Argostemma coronaria or Argostemma tomentosum?

I came across and old friend recently whose identity I have been wondering about for a while only to discover that is known by at least four scientific names and at least ten common names in English alone, some of which it also shares with other plants. Not a very satisfactory situation at all for anyone trying to figure out what to call it.

Part of the reason I look up the scientific names is that this enables better identification given the plethora of common names not just in different languages but in the same language as is evidenced by this case. Sometimes a plant has a different common name in different English speaking countries while in other cases the differences might be regional or local. Then there is the annoying tendency of several plants sharing a Common name as is the case with the Rose of Sharon, which fortunately is shared by only two quite different plants (in some instances there are more than two contenders). In this particular case not only is it known by at least ten common names in English (see below) but one of those names, Dusty miller is used by two other plants Centaurea cineraria and Jacobaea maritima. The only connection being that they all have silvery leaves with fine hairs which give the impression of fine silvery white dust one probably would associate with a Miller covered with wheat dust from his milling.

This I look for and often use the scientific name to identify a plant, as it enables you to pin down a specific plant and eliminate any possibility of misunderstanding no matter who you are trying to communicate with. However, sometimes there is dissent as to the correct classification of a plant. In this instance the Wikipedia which appears to adhere to one version classifies this plant as Silene coronaria and notes that in the United Kingdom it is known as Lychnis coronaria. But on checking the Royal Horticultural Society Website, although they do have it listed as Lychnis coronaria they list its known synonyms as Agrostemma coronaria and Agrostemma tomentosum.

Now although Silene, Lychnis and Agrostemma are different genus, they all belong to the plant family, Caryophyllaceae, also known as the Carnation Family. I have not found out what is the source of the disagreement or who are responsible for the disagreement but ... I'll write something when I do find out. Meanwhile at least now you know what this plant is whatever identity it assumes.

NOTE: Argostemma as opposed to Agrostemma is a genus of the family Rubiaceae (Coffee Family / Madder Family / Bedstraw Family). What a difference the position of one letter can make.
Binomial Name: Silene coronaria (synonym: Lychnis coronaria)
Common names: Rose campion, Bridget-in-her-bravery, Corn rose, Crown of the feild, Dusty miller, Garland flower, Mullein pink, Pink mullein, Red bird's eye, Bloody William (English); coquelourde des jardains (French); Kronen-Lichtnelke (German); Prikneuse (Dutch); clavel lanudo (Spanish)
Taxonomy: Order: Caryophyllales – Family: Caryophyllaceae – Genus – Silene - Species: S. coronaria


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