Goodbye Fuchsia. Hello Gongylocarpus!

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Get out those label makers, gardeners. Change is coming! But are you sitting down for this one?

In a stunning reorganization within the Onagraceae, or Evening Primrose Family, it was announced a year ago this morning that the whole of the genus Fuchsia has been folded into the related spinster genus Gongylocarpus Schldl. & Cham. in a paper by a Dr. Zhonghai Tang (倒挂金钟), reputedly a botanist at the People’s Liberation Agricultural University of Tian Shan in Xinjiang Province, China. Dr. Tang’s paper was published in Volume MMXI (Third Series) of the Tian Shan People’s Liberation Journal of Agriculture, Agronomy and Animal Husbandry, but dated April 1, 2016.

The People’s Liberation Agricultural University of Tian Shan is the speck located behind the first peak on the lower right, next to that glacier, in the photo to the left. I mean to the right. It is hard to find. Due to the isolated location of the institution, it’s taken a whole year just to get Volume MMXI with Dr. Tang’s paper, as well as the accompanying press release, to the outside world. Cell phone reception is also pretty much nonexistent on campus, being mostly crap. Not unsurprisingly, the motto on the University’s attractive red seal is reported to translate as “Can you hear me now?”

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The apparently highly respected Dr. Tang seems to usually publish on scraggly high-altitude alpine plants eaten by sheep in Xinshang Province and the neighboring regions of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. His paper on Gongylocarpus, native to the drier regions of Mexico, and not Tian Shan, comes as somewhat of a surprise. Gongylocarpus rubricaulis, collected at Pantoja in Temascaltepec, Mexico, is illustrated in detail to the left and fully far, far below.

In the odd press release from the People’s Liberation Agricultural University announcing the revision, the mysterious but obviously very lonely Dr. Tang stated that, with only a couple of species to its name and having recently been segregated into a tribe all on its own, the not-particularly attractive and euphoniously challenged gangly Gongylocarpus (see ill. below) needed some real help from the rest of the lovely Evening Primrose Family.

Dr. Tang’s publication means that
Fuchsia magellanica, for example, has now officially become Gongylocarpus magellanica, botanically speaking. The Tahitian F. cyrtandroides will slide off the tongue as Gongylocarpus cyrtandroides. Get used to seeing Gongylocarpus procumbens scrambling across your garden. And so on. And so on. And so on. Right down to Gongylocarpus vulcanica, the last former Fuchsia that first caught Dr. Tang’s eye.

To be sure, Dr. Tang seems to have missed the rare
Fuchsia wurdackii, which comes at the end of the long fuchsia alphabet that runs from A-W not A-V. In the oversight, there might still be some hope that Fuchsia is not totally gone. But does anyone actually have Fuchsia wurdackii in the garden. Or greenhouse? Or seen it in the wild? [Insert the sound of criskets.] I thought not.
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Personally I wouldn't have minded shoving a few of the more difficult to cultivate species of Fuchsia off into Gongylocarpus, but did this taxonomist have to take the whole genus away? Especially this genus? It seems excessive and needless.

Epilobium, for example, has hundreds of thousands of extra members—mainly weedy ones—having already overrun other once-fine Onagraceae genera such as Zauschneria. Now considered only one species of three subspecies, Epilobium canum, or the “California Fuchsia”, might have been a good plant to contribute to Gongylocarpus instead. As a real Fuchsia it’s an imposter. And it already had an invalid synonym, so who cares. Illustrated is Epilobium alpestre. It’s already mountainous AND attractive, and might have satisfied Dr. Tang’s other interests much better than Fuchsia.

[In the interests of full disclosure, I should state here that I sometimes still refer to the California Fuchsia as
Zauschneria just to keep a flame burning for Johann Zauschner (1737–1799), once a professor of medicine and botany in lovely old Prague. He doesn’t get much attention anymore so why take the poor devil’s one genus away?]

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I guess we'll get used to this taxonomic shock to our beloved Fuchsia. Eventually. It’s not like it hasn’t happened too many times to count with other plants.

The pendant blossoms of Dicentra spilling their bleeding hearts out in our spring gardens are now
Lamprocapnos spectabilis. Actual meaning aside, the name’s again euphonically challenged and more conjures up images of slithery, slimy aquatic predators than the lovely plant sellers on eBay usually mistake for a fuchsia.

And what’s up with
Thalictrum thalictroides? Since Linnaeus, the cute little forest tyke has wandered the gamut from Anemone to Anemonella, but is now the “Thalictrum that looks like a Thalictrum”? Supposedly still with the common name of rue anemone. Argh!

While some might firmly refuse to accept the revision and continue with what is now an invalid synonym, I guess I’ll shed a sentimental tear and begrudgingly rename my page
Gongylocarpus in the City. Oh well. When I get around to it. Today’s only the First of April after all.

So Happy April 1st, everyone. Happy April Fool’s Day.


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(Illustrations: 1. Tian Shan Mountain Range, China. Wikipedia; 2. Herbarium specimen of Gongylocarpus rubricaulis. Desert Botanical Garden; 3. Epilobium alpestre. Wikipedia; 4. Gongylocarpus fruticulosus, Isla Santa Margarita, BCS, Mexico; 5. Herbarium specimen of Gonglyocarpus rubricaulis. Field Museum.)





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