You Say Aster, I Say Symphiotrichum


Great piece in the San Francisco Chronicle from Friends of Rant Ron Sullivan and Joe Eaton. Two beloved California plants, Zauschneria californica (California fuchsia) and the native California aster, have been given new names in light of genetic analysis by those crazy botanists at the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group. It was inevitable that the old way of classifying plants–by peering closely at their anatomical features and deducing their relationships to other plants–would give way to DNA analysis.  Now it turns out that any number of plants that look alike are not related at all, and plants that don’t appear to have much in common are actually cousins.

But damn those name changes.  I’m not even going to try to keep up.  I never did get around to figuring out how to pronounce "zauschneria"–I just buy it and stick it in the ground.  Now that it’s called Epilobium canum, not much will change.  Search.  Buy. Plant. 


  1. I had the exact same problem with my thesis – there were asters in my experiment and about halfway through I had to go change my text to make them all Symphyotrichums. I have always thought taxonomy was cool, but that day I cursed all taxonomists. I feel bad for them, who else has to keep updating the basis of all their work whenever some new technology happens? I would hate that, it’s bad enough re-learning the changes as is.

  2. Learning basic family characteristics has always been a tool that helps me in ID’ing an unknown plant, which in turn helps me figure out what it may be suceptible to, what special needs it may have and so forth. I wonder how reclassification will help or just confuse me (and others). A “for instance” is determining something is in rosaceae and then knowing, “well, duh…rust & black spot.” So, if it turns out humanity determines a rose(acea) isn’t a rose, will black spot and rust suddenly leave it alone? Hmmm…I wonder…

  3. For Robin: But then, Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.”

    (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

  4. Well, apparently the “Aster’s” that I posted about on my blog the other day arent even Asters at all! How embarrassing! I guess they are “Chinese Asters” which are not actual Asters. So, a fellow gardening blogger totally called me on it.

  5. I wonder if California fucshia will grow any easier for me if I buy it as epilobium? According to High Country Gardens and what else grows in my gardens, it should have come back for me after this winter, but did not. *sigh*

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