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Dodecatheons become Primulas

Studies of DNA have confirmed earlier suspicions, based on the structures of the plants, that the genus Dodecatheon really belongs within the genus Primula. Austin Mast and James Reveal have published their findings in the journal Brittonia (volume 59, 2007, pages 79-82). At the same time they have clarified the relationships between the taxa, so some are joined as varieties of the same species (in D. pauciflora, for example), and in other cases varieties (as of D. meadia) have been split between different species.

The old names and their new equivalents are given in the following table.

Old name New name Note
Dodecatheon alpinum (replaced by D. tetrandrum)Primula tetrandraPrimula alpina already used
Dodecatheon austrofrigidumPrimula austrofrigida
Dodecatheon clevelandiiPrimula clevelandii
Dodecatheon clevelandii subsp. insularePrimula clevelandii var. insularis
Dodecatheon conjugensPrimula conjugens
Dodecatheon cusickiiPrimula pauciflora var. cusicki
Dodecatheon dentatum (replaced by D. meadia var. latilobum)Primula latilobaPrimula dentata already used
Dodecatheon dentatum var. utahensePrimula utahensis
Dodecatheon ellisiaePrimula standleyanaPrimula ellisiae already used
Dodecatheon frigidumPrimula frigida
Dodecatheon hendersoniiPrimula hendersonii
Dodecatheon jeffreyiPrimula jeffreyi
Dodecatheon jeffreyi var. redolensPrimula fragransPrimula redolens already used
Dodecatheon meadiaPrimula meadia
Dodecatheon meadia var. amethystinumPrimula fassettiiPrimula amethystina already used
Dodecatheon meadia var. frenchiiPrimula frenchii
Dodecatheon meadia var. macrocarpumPrimula pauciflora var. macrocarpa
Dodecatheon patulum (= Meadia patula)Primula clevelandii var. patula
Dodecatheon patulum var. gracilePrimula clevelandii var. gracilis
Dodecatheon pauciflorum var. monanthumPrimula pauciflora var. monantha
Dodecatheon pauciflorum var. shoshonensePrimula pauciflora var. shoshonensis
Dodecatheon poeticumPrimula poetica
Dodecatheon pulchellum (replaced by D. pauciflorum)Primula paucifloraPrimula pulchella already used
Dodecatheon pulchellum var. distolumPrimula pauciflora var. distola
Dodecatheon subalpinumPrimula subalpina
Dodecatheon viscidumPrimula conjugens var. viscida
Dodecatheon zionensePrimula pauciflora var. zionensis

In most cases the new name is equivalent to the old one, with changes to the word endings because Primula is feminine whereas Dodecatheon is neuter. But sometimes that isn't possible because the equivalent Primula name has already been used. So, for example, as Dodecatheon ellisiae and Primula ellisiae both existed, they had to come up with a completely new name. As the Dodecatheon had originally been named by Standley in 1913, they chose the species epithet standleyana in recognition. There are five other such examples in the table, indicated in the notes column.

That's not all. There are three examples where the most recently used name has been replaced by another one used historically, which has conveniently provided a suitable name for the Primula.

Will these names catch on? Americans may be reluctant to let go of a name that is distinctive for their lovely shooting stars. But when the structure and the DNA of the two groups of plants both point to their close relationship, it is probably best to recognise the marriage. That parallel reminds us that we soon get used to new names.