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Radiata pine not Pinus radiata

Wink Sutton, New Zealand Tree Grower November 2013.

When I first joined forestry in the late fifties, radiata pine was regularly called either insignis pine or by its botanical name, Pinus insignis. It was not uncommon for the public to accept that radiata and insignis were two separate pine species. At the beginning of my career Douglas fir had the botanical name of Pseudosuga taxifolia. Later Douglas fir was renamed as Pseudosuga menziesii.

Our indigenous species are not free from botanical name changes. Matai used to be assigned the botanical name of Podocarpus spicatus, later it was reclassified as Prumnoptys taxifolia. Miro was once classified as Podocarpus ferrugineus but has now been reclassified as Prumnoptys ferruginea.

In theory common names might change while scientific botanical names would remain constant. As the examples above show the opposite is generally true. Although the botanical names for radiata, Douglas fir, miro and matai have changed, their common name has remained unchanged.

American foresters became so frustrated with changes in scientific names that all major tree species were assigned common names. These were meant to be names that would remain constant and independent of any change in the scientific or botanical name. For example Pinus radiata was given the common name of Monterey pine, Acer saccharum was given the common name of sugar maple.

Why do we not follow the American example and assign standard common names to our major tree species? I prefer that radiata be called radiata pine and not Pinus radiata − who knows when or if the tree species might be assigned a different scientific or botanic name. When writing the botanic name the convention is that it either be underlined or written in italics as Pinus radiata. The genus name should be begin with a capital, with the species in lower case.

Editor’s note –The subject of tree species names is continued in the article about cypress name changes on page 42 of this issue of Tree Grower .

One post

Post from Rowland Burdon on May 29, 2014 at 11:42AM

Wink Sutton’s note in your November 2013 issue on common versus botanical names has been brought to my attention. Unfortunately, common names for tree species are often far from standardised, except in closely defined contexts. Actually if we were to adopt his precept of following the American example closely, we would run with Monterey pine (which he has actually mentioned) for radiata. However, even in the US, there can be regional common names for widely distributed species.

Relying on common names can be downright treacherous where they vary regionally. A classic example is reputedly the extensive early planting of the notably useless Eucalyptus ovata in Whaka Forest and doubtless many other places in New Zealand.The story is that the Lands Department thought they were ordering seed of E. regnans, which was called swamp gum in one Australian state, but ordered from another state which used that common name for E. ovata.

One other, small point. For repeated mention, P. radiata is more compact typographically than radiata pine.

Botanical classifications and names can certainly be subject to revision, but that can be covered by widely accessible documents which cross-reference botanical and common names. Such a document has existed and been updated in the NZ Institute of Forestry Forestry Handbook in successive editions since 1977. It could be extended to flag the areas of recent revision and unresolved disputes.

Rowland Burdon, Emeritus Scientist, Genetics, Scion


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