I first came across the winter-flowering Brazilian Fuchsia in the Temperate House at Kew Gardens in December 2018. This delightful shrub also goes by a number of other common names including the Firecracker Flower, Firefly and Spanish Flag. If that isn’t complicated enough, there is a dilemma surrounding its correct Latin name.
The Latin name or binomial for the Brazilian Fuchsia is Justicia rizzinii according to Kew’s own Temperate House sign (see right).
Plant names are governed by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN). The advantage of Linnaeus’ binomial classification system is that all plants can only (or are only supposed to) have one legitimate name in international use.
Publication for Acceptance
For a specific binomial to be recognised as the legitimate plant name, it must have been published in an accepted publication commonly available to botanists. Publication in a local or national newspaper is not valid. Even today, it is not sufficient to publish a new name on the internet. A new name has to be published in print to be accepted.
Naming complications arise in that the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature can be applied retroactively. If it comes to light that an earlier legitimate name was published, then the earliest published name becomes the accepted name. The later published name loses its status, even if widely known and published. Its rejection is recorded as a synonym.
Speed of Communication
Communication today is much faster than in the busy era of the plant hunters. Plant history research can reveal an earlier legitimate name. The discovery of a new plant by two different plant hunters could lead to a race to publish and give the legitimate name to a plant. Such a publication race famously occurred between the horticultural neighbours of Syon Park and Kew Gardens over Clivia.
If we refer to the RHS website, we find that the Brazilian Fuchsia is recorded as Justicia rizzinii. If we consult Kew’s Plant List 1.1, we can check the accepted Latin names and synonyms for any given plant. In this case, we find that the accepted name is Justicia floribunda and Justicia rizzinii is recorded as a synonym. The link refers us to the German botanist Koch’s recognised, earlier publication. By comparison with electronic plant lists, it is relatively easy to resolve whether one legitimate name was printed before the other. Conflicting names on the web and on garden plant labels, including by leading bodies in the plant world, highlight the complications of authoritative electronic publishing.
The Brazilian Fuchsia is certainly living up to the firecracker reputation of its other common name. The botanical and horticultural worlds are at odds over this plant’s name. It is not unknown for the horticultural world to resist a plant name correction. There is a tendency to wait and see if the new name ‘takes off’. Gardeners resist name changes to familiar plants. Horticulture is big business in the UK. The industry has to update databases, ordering systems and garden labels when botanists decide to reclassify and rename. It costs money. Two names end up living side by side.
Plant Family and Genus
Thankfully, the Brazilian Fuchsia’s genus name remains the same. It seems that the German Botanist Koch first described it as Libonia floribunda in 1836. Justicia is the largest genus in the Acanthaceae, or Bear’s-breeches family, with around 600 species according to Kew’s Plants of the World (2017). The genus is not fully resolved according to other sources. The Brazilian Fuchsia is therefore not a Fuchsia at all, or it would be in the Onagraceae family.
Justicia is named after the Scottish horticulturalist, James Justice. It seems that his passion for botanical experiments and expenses got out of hand. He was expelled from the Royal Society. He is nonetheless recognised as a prominent figure, if not the father, of Scottish gardening.
This Justicia‘s Latin epithet is floribunda. It describes the very free-flowering nature of the shrub. The epithet used in 3 of the now rejected synonyms was pauciflora. This is somewhat at odds with the current epithet as it means few flowers. My photos do not show as many flowers as in other photographic sources. Perhaps it was not in full flower when described by other botanists?
Carlos Toleda Rizzini
The previous epithet is named in honour of the Brazilian plant taxonomist, Carlos Toleda Rizzini (1921-1992). His main areas of interest were spermatophytes (seed plants) and mycology (fungi). He published some 535 plant names during his lifetime according to the International Plant Names Index (IPNI). It shows his name is carried as the epithet in other binomials. It seems sad that the commemoration has been taken away and replaced with a blander, and apparently doubtful, epithet. Taxonomists appear disrespectful in removing the honour from a relatively recently deceased and illustrious member of their own number, especially when the plant is native to Brazil rather than Scotland.
Potential for International Dispute?
Plant reclassification and renaming have the potential to cause an international disagreement in addition to horticultural confusion. A commemoration is a promise to remember an important personality. Imagine the resistance if the epithets of Tibouchina urvilleana or Callicarpa bodinieri were dropped? (see previous blogs). It could harm one of the greatest advantages of the Linnaean binomial system: the ability to communicate internationally about the same plant with clarity and confidence.
The rigid application of rules is not always appropriate. The International Botanical Congress may, under petition, vote to conserve one name over another despite an earlier publication date. Interestingly, the next International Botanical Congress is due to take place between 23 and 29 July 2023 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Previous Blogs on Plant Naming
The Glory Bush
Beautiful Autumn Berries of Callicarpa bodinieri
Simpson, Michael G. (2010): Plant Systematics. Academic Press. Elsevier. Burlington MA, USA. see Chapter 16 Plant Nomenclature, pp. 611-626