Day: January 15, 2021

More Questions Than Answers

The human female is back out at the herbarium in her little hidey hole, doing plant nerdery again.

She’s working with Pseudognaphalium. Many of the species are quite furry, which Sigyn finds absolutely irresistible.

I find Sigyn absolutely irresistible.

Before she can make additions to the distribution maps for the various species of Pseudognaphalium, the human female has to make sure all the sheets are correctly identified.

This is only some of them.

These plants are a mess, and I’m only a little responsible for it. They used to be mashed with other fuzzy, non-showy-flowered plants in a much larger Gnaphalium. But then some botanists said, “No, no! The ones with the fused pappus bristles must go in Gamochaeta and the others, the ones with separate bristles, must go in Pseudognaphalium. Only a few can remain in Gnaphalium. It’s a moral imperative.” Their pronouncements sounded good enough, if you don’t know that some species have pappus bristles that cohere in a ring that is easily broken up into single bristles. Does that count as fused bristles or not? It’s all very wishy-washy.

(And what’s a pappus bristle, anyway? Damned if I know! I’m just parroting some of the nonsense the human female is spouting so you can hear how ridiculous she sounds.)

All the species have older names, which means there are a lot of old sheets and records hanging about with outdated nomenclature, and before the plant nerds figured out that there are more species than they originally thought, all the plants were pigeon-holed into fewer species. That makes for more misidentified species.

Sometimes, it’s easy to bring things up to date. For example, according to the Flora of North America, reports of Pseudognaphalium macounii in Texas are actually based on specimens of P. viscosa. So theoretically, one could just change the names. Macounii is viscosa.

Except when it’s not. In the Olden Days, plant nerds didn’t always have good reference books or materials, so things were often misidentified. The human female can’t just automatically change all the P. macounii to P. viscosa. She’s got to key everything.

See? This one’s just P. obtusifolium, the really, really common species.

This is P. arizonicum, one that usually grows away out west, but this was collected in the Hill Country, in the central part of the state.

What was it doing there? I have no idea! Neither does the human female. And neither of us knows why it and another were correctly identified but stuffed in the wrong folder. Or why there were folders of P. obtusifolium in two places. Or why collectors couldn’t be bothered to flatten out the leaves on their specimens so people could tell if they are decurrent but not clasping, clasping but not decurrent, both decurrent and clasping, or neither decurrent nor clasping. Not to mention whether the hairs are thick enough to warrant “tomentose” or not. Are the leaf blades concolor? Bicolor? Pffft! Too many choices!


So now she’s worked through all the Texas materials–you’ll be excited to know she was able to separate out P. pringlei from among all the P. canescens— and everything is annotated and tidy and she’s back at home doing the distribution maps and— Great Frigga’s Hairpins! The collection includes only one sheet of P. helleri (which is supposed to be about like P. obtusifolium, except the stems aren’t white-woolly), from one of the counties down on the coast. She was just about to color the county in on the map and make a note when she noticed that all its other counties are up in the northeast corner of the state, hundreds of miles from the coast. Sometimes it’s zebras, but usually it’s just horses, so most likely she’s misidentified it and will have to go back out to the herbarium to drag that one sheet back out and look at it again.

She will never, ever be done with this project.

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