Horticultural News of 2012, continued

USDA Celebrated 150th Anniversary

The history of President Abraham Lincoln's administration has been in fashion lately. One of his achievements that affects gardeners was the establishment of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1862. Last year marked it's 150th anniversary. President Lincoln's purpose in establishing the USDA was for the protection of American ranchers and farmers, calling the USDA, the “People's Department”. Additionally, The Morrill Land Grant College Act and The Homestead Act were both passed in 1862. At a time when our nation was still mainly agrarian, Lincoln was and is applauded for setting the groundwork in agricultural education that enabled the United States to be so successful. At the start of last year 2012, on January 25th, the USDA, in conjunction with Oregon State University, released the new USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, a new interactive map and service to farmers and gardeners alike that better reflects the variableness in terrain more than any previous plant hardiness zone map.

WorldFlora and The Plant List

Facing the prospect of losing up to 100,000 species of plants in the coming decades due to extinction, the United Nation's Convention on Biological Diversity has created the Global Strategy for Plant Conservations (GBPC). The GBPC announced on April 23, 2012 a partnership to compile the first online record of plants, called, WorldFlora. The Missouri Botanic Garden, New York Botanical Garden, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, have joined forces in this massive project. Previously, one of the first projects sponsored by the Convention on Biological Diversity was the creation of The Plant List, a collaborative effort by the Missouri Botanic Garden and Kew. The Plant List is a working list of all known plant species, released in December, 2010. The Plant List is a work in process that has whittled down over a million scientific names to roughly 300,000 accepted species names. The Missouri Botanic Gardens and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew compiled plant names from existing plant data bases around the world, omitting inconsistencies, duplicates and synonyms.

Changes Made to Rules of Naming Species

On a somewhat similar note, a few changes have been made by the International Botanical Congress, the entity responsible with conformity within the plant naming and classification system, known as botanic nomenclature and taxonomy. To officially be name a new plant species, a formal description needed to be written up in Latin and published in a printed journal, as well as other criteria, before being considered. As of January 1, 2012, a new species can be described in either Latin or English and may be published in electronic form instead of a printed journal. With over 2000 species being discovered on the average annually, this will save time and expense, especially for third world botanists (where most of the discoveries are being made). Lest you think this unimportant, the New York Times ran an interesting comment on taxonomy, in 2009, Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World by Carol Yoon. Ms. Yoon takes us on a journey to help us realize what is becoming lost, our connection to, and therefore, an understanding of nature.

New Species Still Being Discovered

There are still plenty of species yet to discover, maybe even in our own native areas, as this post by the New York Botanic Gardens illustrates: “The last 12 months brought to light 81 new plant and fungi species described to science by our experts, found from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. In addition to these 81, the findings resulted in two new plant orders and four new genera.” That's pretty impressive plant exploration by only one entity.

One species that made the Top 10 list of new species for 2012 (by the International Institute for Species Exploration), discovered in Papua New Guinea in 2011, is Bulbophyllum nocturnum, the first night blooming orchard. I can assure you, this caused much excitement among orchard fanciers. It might seem like a joke, but another Top 10 New Species is Spongebob Squarepants Mushroom, Spongiforma squarepantsii, discovered in Borneo, Malaysia. Because this very unusual mushroom looks so much like his cartoon character and even has a fruity fragrance, the species name was accepted. And the third new plant to make the Top 10 New Species list is a yellow poppy, Meconopsis autumnalis, from the high elevations of central Nepal.

Angie Hanna, www.highplainsgardening.com

April 15, 2013