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 Plant and animal classification in the past

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Caro
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PostSubject: Plant and animal classification in the past   Fri 19 Apr 2013, 03:56

I wasn't sure whether to put this into technology or language - there doesn't seem to be a section for science.

There's been an occasional comment recently about taxonomy and the true definition of spice and herb (though I think the long-term etymology and beginnings don't matter as much as modern usage and where that is at).

Over the years I have mildly wondered how people have been sure about what category - kingdoms, class, family, genus, species, etc. - to put plants and animals in. Linnaeus seemed to use observation and intuition to make his categories, which I gather included things we would now consider as imaginative rather than actual (dragons, mermaids etc.) But mostly he seems to have worked these out well, leading to controversy about putting man and monkeys so close together, since he could only find speech as a differentiation. (Why do people always talk as if it was Darwin who began this mostly theological problem?)

In these days of DNA it must be easier to decide on families etc but how did people decide on this in the past? It's not even as if they necessarily went on looks. Some things don't seem to fit intuitively so how did they make the distinctions? I was a garden club meeting recently where a woman spoke on perennials and she talked of one and mentioned that people often thought they had a version of it with a different colour, but that was a totally different plant. But if it looks the same, has the same flowering pattern and style of growth, why would it not even be of the same genus? Why are apples and roses the same family? But not roses and lemons? What defines these that is obvious without the science of modern genetics?

Why shouldn't pandas be bears? Oh, I see wikipedia telling me new research shows they may not be of the raccoon family after all but really are bears. That's not the best example. Or perhaps it is, since it seems to indicate an uncertainty.

Can anyone explain (relatively simply) how this was worked out in earlier times?
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Fri 19 Apr 2013, 08:19

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I think the long-term etymology and beginnings don't matter as much as modern usage and where that is at

On a discussion forum relating to things historical that is, to put it mildly, an interesting assertion.

Animal classification and plant classification do not share a common history - the latter predates the former by many centuries, reflecting two very different motivations for doing the exercise at all. What is common to both however to some extent is the practise of husbandry, the "tweaking" of species genetically in order to achieve a desired effect.

We can date at least one major development in plant classification to a period between the 3rd century BCE and the 1st century CE. In Greece we have reference to a work by Theophrastus (Historia Plantarum) which divided plants up into rudimentary groups, extremely rudimentary in fact as they were originally based solely on etymology and folklore popular at the time and in that region. That it has survived in its Latin version shows that it was however sufficiently useful a guide as to merit cross-cultural translation and must have enjoyed widespread popularity. However three hundred years later Dioscirides in his "Materia Medica" could rely on knowledge accrued in the intervening years to basically ditch Theophrastus's classifications completely and set out something along the lines of what Linnaeus would much later do to much greater effect and with much greater accuracy. Dioscirides was preoccupied with plants used in medicine, but his work also covered agricultural and horicultural produce grown primarily as food, and its value was such that it continued as a reference - with steadily more refinements and additions to it - right up to the 16th century.

Both men relied, as you say, on observation, but a very close observation. Some plants are easily distinguished in their mature form, others in their nascent form, and others through their propogatory equipment and techniques. The method was not immune from "hit and miss" guesswork (that which prompted Linnaeus to start from scratch himself later) and it wasn't until the application of the microscope and a better understanding (again through observation) of cellular biology that these guesses could even be gainsaid, let alone contradicted and corrected.

Animal classification took a different trajectory. Most cultures were content to classify them simply ("domestic v wild", "clean v unclean", "edible v inedible" etc). However parallel to this was a requirement for effective husbandry - be it to breed agriculturally, for hunting or indeed for military purposes. It was this therefore that brought about a requirement for formal classification along the lines of plants. Aristotle had a stab at it (extremely rudimentary groups based on the animals' modes of movement) and then there wasn't much done about it at all for many centuries, apart of course from those directly involved in breeding but whose expertise and appeal remained largely restricted to within their own groups of fellow practitioners. In fact it wasn't until Linnaeus finally grasped the nettle and attempted a major classification of the entire animal kingdom that people apart from those with a vested interest in the exercise even recognised the requirement to sub-divide the various species in a scientific manner such as that with which we are now familiar.

Theology, as mentioned by you, was also an important factor in that there was an underlying and widespread belief (until very recently indeed) that animals are "put on this earth" by a deity for the "benefit" of humans. This encouraged non-scientific classification (the "clean v unclean" dichotomy favoured by semitic people being a perfect example) at the expense of effort being applied to arrive at more useful criteria for distinction. It also deflected attention away from species with no apparent or visible "benefit" to mankind. Whereas plants were ostensibly also covered by the same theological assertion their application was so diverse traditionally, and the repeated discovery of new applications so dynamic, that classification along scientific lines was generally seen as simply a requirement to be respected lest we look the divine gift-horse in the mouth. Animals, with fewer applications, did not present the same challenge.

In Europe, where husbandry was the key to classifying both plants and animals, it is vital to remember also that the community which engaged in both and encouraged a systematic approach was in fact the religious one. Monasteries and convents were, for many centuries, the principal repository of this knowledge and also the source for much of the exploration conducted in the field (in both senses of the word). This of course had the dual effect of advancing scientific knowledge while conversely (or even perversely) perpetuating the theological belief which inhibited that advancement.

Linnaeus, the first "enlightened" classifier of the modern age, in that he was taking an intentional departure from the religious approach and basing his findings on scientific observation, was actually simply re-adopting an ancient Greek approach, and it does make one wonder how much more quickly we might have arrived at a workable systematic theory had it not been for religious involvement in the process.

The requirement for reclassification based on previous assumptions proving incorrect is constantly on-going. An understanding of DNA and huge advances in the technology with which life at a microbiological level can be investigated and understood has simply been the spur for the last quantum leap in such reclassification. There are bound to be more such leaps in the future. The rapidly growing research field of nanobiology looks a likely source at the minute.
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Fri 19 Apr 2013, 10:04

Thank you for that, Nordmann. It doesn't quite explain just what the criteria was for making those decisions, apart from observation, which doesn't seem to totally cover some of the examples, more particularly in the plant world where even close observation won't necessarily show specific differences or similarities. And yet people have made these decisions and surely in most cases accurately.

It has always surprised me how late in time knowledge of the body has been (compared with astronomy and physics), when you might think it would be easily observed. Things like circulation of the blood and knowledge of bacteria etc. might perhaps have been sped up if a belief in the sanctity of humanity at the top of the tree hadn't been so widespread.

Quote :
On a discussion forum relating to things historical that is, to put it mildly, an interesting assertion.

Is it? I find the changes of language interesting and don't see it as a static thing at all. The modern differentiation between herbs and spices by their use, parts, and even looks might not be found in the etymology of 'spice' but it's useful and widespread.
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Fri 19 Apr 2013, 10:40

How odd. I just opened the library book I hadn't looked at for a couple of weeks on names of roses and the page I read was on Rosa brunonii, named apparently after Robert Brown, naturalist on Matthew Flinders' circumnavigation of Australia, who became the first Keeper of Botany at the British Museum in 1820 and developed new methods of classifying plants. (It doesn't say what new methods, being just a page per rose.)
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Fri 19 Apr 2013, 10:49

Quote :
It doesn't quite explain just what the criteria was for making those decisions, apart from observation, which doesn't seem to totally cover some of the examples

Observation covers all the examples, I would have said. The resultant variety (and almost all the mistakes) can be attributed to the different types of observation in which the observers engaged, almost as many as there were practitioners for a lot of the time and that time was a long time indeed compared to how long since we have adopted a more "scientific" method. As to whether the ancients were accurate or not really depends on what level of accuracy you require to meet the criteria of success.

A good example of when non-scientific observation caused a failure in the process is the humble pea. The ancients (and many modern non-botanists) classified this plant as a vegetable, a popular classification currently 7,000 years in use and counting. It took Linnaeus however to work out that it is a fruit, something that might appear counter-intuitive based on casual non-scientific observation but immediately apparent based on even simple application of scientific scrutiny.

On the other hand casual non-scientific observation led the Romans to correctly classify the garlic plant as a relation of the onion, and the classification for the family is still the Latin word for garlic "allium" (thanks to Linnaeus). In Greece and Egypt they had failed to group these two together and assigned garlic to the same group as ginger and tumeric etc. This was wrong, based probably on its acrid taste. The Romans however based their classification on the flowering portion, thereby correcting a misclassification already some thousand years old.

What both examples demonstrate is that prior to Linnaeus much of the classification was "hit and miss" or often "just a bit wrong". When the discipline of close observation included observing what people commonly believed (folklore) or how the species tasted in a dish it began to err, sometimes completely.
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Fri 19 Apr 2013, 11:58

With plants Linnaeus did not really set out to devise a great comprehensive system to classify all plant life in natural groups. Rather his classification was primarily to provide a fool-proof method of identification, in the form of what we would now call a decision tree. How many stamen? now how many pistils? etc … His classification system could be used like a field guide and as such it worked very well until more detailed studies in the 19th century showed that many of his groups were not natural in that they included species that were not at all closely related.

Although Linnaeus used the term “family” as one of his levels of classification there is no evidence that he saw separate species of plants and animals as being literally “related” one to another since, as was then accepted, they had all been individually and uniquely created on the same day by God. The only relation they had to each other was in the mind of God the creator (… a very conservative, even lazy creator, who seems to have stuck with the same designs time and time again rather than thinking up truly different plans for each plant or creature – although I suppose He did only have a day to do it all).

Nevertheless although not implicitly intended as such Linnaeus’ system still works perfectly well because it does actually mirror, albeit unintentionally, the interconnectedness of life. Ironically where his system fell down and has long been abandoned was when he tried to extend it into the “mineral realm”. Minerals, rocks and fossils do not sensibly fit with his binomial nomenclature system. Minerals are better classified along chemical grounds and fossils of course are now seen as parts of the plant and animal kingdoms.

But although there is nothing to suggest that even Linnaeus (who doubtless spent a lot of time considering the matter), really thought that individual species were related together within a grand genealogical web of life, nevertheless the idea of some sort of “relatedness” one to each other has a long history. For a start it is (largely) common sense: “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a type of duck”.

Even in classic times there was a suggestion that plants and animals, although of different types, could still be somehow related. Cato the Elder in one of his agricultural tracts says something like: concerning different types of beans and their relatives the pea and lentil (… I can’t find the exact quote). This immediately shows that he, and one assumes many of his contemporaries, had an understanding of varying degrees of “likeness” or “relatedness”: beans are all much alike, peas and lentils are distinct from beans but are still quite similar … carrots, although still plants, are not closely, if at all, like beans, peas or lentils. (Incidentally, although Cato was writing purely about agriculture and botany, the idea of family relations between peas and beans was for him literally true: Piso (pea), Cicero (chickpea), Lentulus (lentil) and Fabius (fava bean) were all distinguished roman family names).


Last edited by Meles meles on Fri 19 Apr 2013, 12:33; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Fri 19 Apr 2013, 12:22

Quote :
Even in classic times there was a suggestion that plants and animals, although of different types, could still be somehow related.

Quite right - and evidence of a rudimentary theology at work, even then. Aristotle was quite specific about it, making no distinction between the animus of an animal or a plant. However some of his colleagues got quite carried away with the concept and went even further, ascribing animus to anything that moved - literally. Antisthenes believed that wind when it moved something gave it life, albeit briefly. He saw this as no different from us inhabiting a body temporarily and it returning to moribund status after the wind left us ("expired"). Cicero (not as distinguished a name as all that actually - it seems to have started as a slander that he forbore in later life and did not pass it on to the next generation) had only contempt for Antisthenes and called him "a man more intelligent than learned" - it sounded like a compliment but it was his way of saying that Antisthenes was just guessing cleverly, not actually appearing to know anything.

Roman natural philosophy tended to the Aristotelean view and we have more or less since then never questioned that "life" applies mainly to the plant and animal kingdoms by definition. Hebraic and other Semitic philosophies however restricted it to animals. In Egypt plants and buildings shared the same character (maleable things such as that which can be built), whereas humans and other animals were the only life that existed.

Sloppy and all as Linnaeus may have proved to have been in hindsight, he at least drew a very strong line under all the claptrap and theological up-one's-own-arse syndrome that was masquerading as valid natural philosophical theory prior to him.


EDIT: For theological reasons beaver is classified as a fish. Just about sums it up.
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Fri 19 Apr 2013, 13:40

nordmann wrote:
EDIT: For theological reasons beaver is classified as a fish. Just about sums it up.

True, although to be fair one has to ask what was the reason for attempting to classify it in the first place? A lot of classification was, and still is, very specific to use.

Most current cookbooks quite sensibly include tomato and mushroom dishes amongst the vegetable section; lump together as "game" such disparate beasts as rabbit, deer, grouse, woodcock and kangaroo; and put mussels, whelks, squid (molluscs), crabs and prawns (arthropods) in with fish (both cartilaginous and bony).

I have a Royal Horticultural Society book that groups plants by size, flowering season and then colour - so not at all scientific really, but damned useful for finding a suitable garden plant. And similarly a timber merchant or architect would probably consider the "hardwood" balsa, as soft timber, and the "softwood" yew as hard timber.


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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Fri 19 Apr 2013, 13:50

The problem was when the people insisting beaver was a fish were the same guys who wrote and published the official classifications. I imagine that's the reason why the scientists in the Catalogue of Life partnership, the Taxonomic Database Working Group, the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, the Encyclopedia of Life database compilers, and GEOSS members don't consult timber merchants or Delia Smith much about anything.
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Sat 20 Apr 2013, 22:40

Hi Caro

Quote :
Over the years I have mildly wondered how people have been sure about what category - kingdoms, class, family, genus, species, etc. - to put plants and animals in

Now why 'plants and animals' and why not 'plants, animals, and fungi' or 'plants, animals, fungi and protista' or 'eukaryote and prokaryote'?

regards

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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Sun 21 Apr 2013, 05:30

Well, mostly because I tend to think of fungi as more or less plants, and I don't think of protista at all. Could have put etc, I suppose. But as far as cellular structures are concerned, I presume their classification was undertaken in a much more scientific era when hit and miss wasn't so likely. I was really wondering about the principles used and why specific classes, families etc were chosen when it can't have been as easily checked as now. And why they don't always seem to have followed what looks obvious to a more casual observer. What I have called geraniums are really in the genus pelargonia, and geraniums are something different, though linked at the family level.

Anyway you are just being difficult!
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Sun 21 Apr 2013, 08:27

Hi Caro

Quote :
Well, mostly because I tend to think of fungi as more or less plants

my recollection, and I am going back a few years, is that around the time I was studying biology for O Level fungi were treated as plants, abet plants that did not have the most important charectoristic of plants. However, around the time that I studied it at A Level and at Uni that basic classification was questioned. I can remember, based on some books I had read, questioning the classification of fungi as plants. When in response to question 'what are they if not plants' I replied 'fungi are fungi are fungi'.

Two examples of protista that were studied at school biology are amoeba proteus and euglena viridis. Euglena is an interesting example of the problem of dividing up protista into plants and animals as there are euglena that have chloroplasts, such as euglena viridis, that were at one time considered plants and euglena that do not and were considered animals.

An amoeba, named Sam, and his brother,
Were having a drink with each other;
In the midst of their quaffing,
They split themselves laughing,
And each of them now is a mother.

regards

Tim
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Mon 22 Apr 2013, 12:12

Even in secondary schools these days apparently children are told to forget the "old two-kingdom" terminology and instead take "taxa domains" on board. There are eight of them (domains, I mean) - which just makes me glad I'm not a schoolchild these days. It was easier with two kingdoms, even if it left a load of life forms taxonomically stranded and made one wonder who the two kings were. As both the kings and the life forms concerned were generally completely invisible and existed (for me) primarily on paper I could live with both concepts quite readily.

The eight major taxa domains (or new "lesser" kingdoms) in alphabetical order are:

Animalia

Archaea

Bacteria

Chromista

Fungi

Plantæ

Protozoa

Viruses

Even more confusingly the term "lesser" applies to lay usage, not to importance. There are five "major" kingdoms too (already listed as "lesser"), which are also major taxa domains of course and which are (in order of numbers of sub-classes);

Plantae

Animalia

Fungi

Protoctista (single-celled eukaryotic organisms including protozooans and some types of algae, etc.)

Prokaryota (Bacteria)

Little Euglena are still enigmatic however. With access to light they are plants by nature but become animalistic in the dark. However such behaviour is now tolerated completely within the Protoctista kingdom, in which Euglena now are regarded as a phylum in their own right (high ranking taxa, lower than a kingdom but containing whole classes). Apparently in the Protoctista kingdom such behaviour is actually encouraged in fact and no longer frowned upon - like gay marriage in most intelligent societies.
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Mon 22 Apr 2013, 16:28

I seem to remmber in my mispent youth that there was some debate about whether or not viruses should be considered as living or chemical systems. They do not exhibit all the attributes that are said to be coming to all life (or at least 'life as we understand it, Tim'.
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Mon 22 Apr 2013, 16:50

Yes, they are a bit like the "Pluto" of the taxonomy system. I reckon it's still borderline whether they qualify for their own kingdom. Any self-respecting bacterium would definitely object!
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Mon 22 Apr 2013, 22:12

Quote :
Even in secondary schools these days apparently children are told to forget the "old two-kingdom" terminology and instead take "taxa domains" on board. There are eight of them (domains, I mean) - which just makes me glad I'm not a schoolchild these days. It was easier with two kingdoms, even if it left a load of life forms taxonomically stranded and made one wonder who the two kings were.

Unfortunately when I went to secondary school (and although we did a lot of nsture studies at primary school and knew cloud names and wandered around at times looking at the edges of the roadside in a way that would be considered dangerous nowadays, nothing of this classification seemed to be included then) our science teacher didn't 'do' biology, so we had another teacher come in for a quick three-week session in our exam year. Shame, because I think I would have liked Biology and Botany. But I suppose these are subjects that have very much changed in the last 50 years.

I saw that Linneaus originally considered things like rocks in his early classifications; viruses don't seem to have much in common with rocks, but generally people think of things as life or non-life, and viruses don't fit those cosy categories at all. (Though the radio has just talked of a study where they have showed that people 'see' robots as live - as opposed to women, apparently, which are seen as objects. I am again a little dubious about the methodology but this was a serious university-based study. Something to do with looking at things upset down and how they were recognised. Women were; men weren't, thus the interpretation that said women were objectified.)
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Tue 23 Apr 2013, 08:17

Today I am still alive, though checking the genus of chestnuts would have made that more certain. Chestnuts aren't very well known here and kids don't (and never have) play with conkers. So when I found an interesting tree covered in prickly things I asked what it was and was told it was a chestnut. So later I picked a hundred or so chestnuts and was about to cook them up when I asked how best to on a British site and someone said, Don't. It's a horse chestnut and toxic.

Best if I'd known the difference betwen aesculus hippocastrum and castenea sativa perhaps. Seems a shame though - how toxic do you think it would be? Worth a taste?
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Tue 23 Apr 2013, 09:58

Your comments about chestnuts struck a chord with me Caro.

The surrounding forest here is mostly of edible chestnut Castenea sativa, but along the roadsides there are also quite a lot of horse chestnuts, Aesculus hippocastrum, planted as ornamentals. In autumn it is a popular outing for families from Perpignan and other big towns around to come here and collect chestnuts. And I am always amazed at the concern and indeed horror with which people seem to regard horse chestnuts ... asking most anxiously if the nuts they have collected are true chestnuts and not the deadly poisonous ones. But any English schoolboy, at least of my generation, could easily tell apart conkers from sweet chestnuts.

And to be honest horse chestnuts are not that poisonous. They are very bitter so one would have to be a bit of a masochist to consume very many, and I believe to get a serious dose of the relevant poison one would have to eat something like a bucket full. The poison can be leached out by soaking in water and suitably treated horse chestnuts were seriously considered as a foodstuff in Britain during WW2, but I guess as with the French, they were finally thought to have too bad a press associated with them, and the idea went no further.
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Tue 23 Apr 2013, 22:25

Hello, Meles, I assumed that you would need to take more than a couple to be in any danger of illness, though the knowledge (or is this just an assumption) that mushrooms can kill immediately is a little daunting in this respect. But again people fuss that you might pick the wrong mushroom - I know a field mushroom when I see one, and have done since I was a toddler. There is one on the lawn right now which I must go and pick. The fact that horse chestnuts taste horrid is more off-putting to me.

Someone else wrote the following which I take with a grain of salt: The seeds, bark, flowers and leaves of the horse chestnut contain high amounts of the poison esculin, making these trees toxic. Never consume any part of this plant in its raw form. Signs of poisoning consist of an upset stomach, kidney problems, muscle twitching, weakness, loss of coordination, enlarged eye pupils, vomiting, diarrhoea, depression, paralysis and stupor. If you ingest a raw horse chestnut, seek immediate medical attention. Horse chestnut poisoning can lead to death; consume only processed horse chestnuts. Cooking them will not remove the poison.

Chestnuts just aren't traditional here - we don't play with, cook, or grow them commercially. My son said, "Who knew there was more than one kind?" which is how I feel. He also said the site he found on horse-chestnuts had a skull and crossbones with it.

They are supposed to be good at bleaching things like hemp and keeping away spiders. My husband as I speak is helping harvest a crop of hemp, and our house has lots of spiders, so perhaps they will be useful after all.

Back (more) to the topic: the garden magazine I was reading this morning asked what a particular weed that didn't respond to spraying was and it was liverwort. The reply said that along with lichens and algae they have a different anatomical structure and don't respond to usual weed-killers. Does that mean they are not plants? They grow, but they're not, I think, a form of animal lfe. And I don't think they are fungi. Or perhaps they are.
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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Wed 24 Apr 2013, 06:38

May I be permitted an off-topic aside about chestnuts?

It occurred to me that I had no idea of the origin of the expression, "that old chestnut", so I've just looked it up. This is what I found.

The phrase 'old chestnut' has only an indirect association with chestnut trees or with their fruit. The derivation of the expression turns out to be a contender for old chestnut status itself. The story goes like this: in 1816, a melodrama called Broken Sword, by the playwright and theatrical manager William Dimond, was performed at the Royal Covent Garden Theatre, London. The play contained this exchange:
Zavior: I entered the wood at Collares, when suddenly from the thick boughs of a cork tree...
Pablo: (Jumping up.) A chesnut, Captain, a chesnut... Captain, this is the twenty-seventh time I have heard you relate this story, and you invariably said, a chesnut, till now.

Despite a drubbing from the critics, the play was a success and later transferred to theatres in the USA. So far, so factual.
Here's where we move from fact to plausibility. In the 1880s, many American newspapers began using 'chestnut' in the way we do now, to refer to hoary, oft-repeated stories, and the term became established in the common lingo thereafter. The 'old' was added later as an intensifier.


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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Thu 25 Apr 2013, 13:04

Caro, I thought of you again today whilst I was gardening, as one does. Yesterday it was chestnuts - today, it's roses.

I’ve been getting the swimming pool ready for the summer. To repair part of the surrounding fence I had to cut back the inter-twined climbing rose (ok I know it’s not the right time as it's just coming into flower ... but I had left it too long and now needs must, and so I’m hacking it back, just a bit). The said rose is a Rosa banksiae, a lovely, very vigorous, scrambly/rambly type of species rose that originates from China. It’s not a rose I had ever encountered before in the UK, but here it is popular and does very well, cascading over pergolas, climbing up walls or scrambling along fences. It doesn't have much scent but it is vigorous and a reliable flowerer, and it is almost entirely thornless - just the occasional blunt spur, no real spines at all. I had assumed, given the name, that it was another one of Joseph Banks’ discoveries. But no, it seems that then as now it was not “the done thing” to name a new species after oneself. So Rosa Banksiae was actually named by the botanist William Kerr (who introduced the species to Europe - the plant had of course been cultivated for hundreds of years in Chinese gardens) in honour of Joseph Bank’s wife, Dorothea, (née Hugessen) and so apparently it is now most often known as, "Lady Banks' Rose".





I have always aspired to have a species of plant or animal named after me. It gives some sort of immortality, or at least an immortality that will last as long as the Linnaean system lasts ... although then again perhaps only until one’s own named species is shown to already exist and has already been described, and so one gets trumped by someone else’s prior claim.

Several years ago my hopes of such immortal fame rested with a small fossil I had found in the Wealden Clay formation exposed in a quarry operated by a Surrey brickworks. This was the same quarry where in 1983 another amateur palaeontologist, William Walker, discovered the fossil bones of an entirely new type of dinosaur which was subsequently named after him, Baryonyx walkerii. My humble little fossil wasn’t quite in the same league. It was a species of early fly which probably spent most of its time annoying Baryonyx and Iguanodon, and breeding like ... well as flies do ... on all the driftwood and plant debis that one finds fossilized in the same beds. But at the time of its discovery it did illicit quite a bit of interest from the Cretaceous insect experts at Maidstone museum, who still hold the main fossil slab (I have the counter-slab). But alas in the end, “although beautifully preserved” my little fossil fly had already been named.

My current hopes reside with a small 3cm long bone (plus a bag of associated bone/teeth/scale/whatever debris) that I found in the same quarry a few years ago. I think the bone is the humerous (upper arm bone) of a froggy-type amphibian. I have sent photos off to the Natural History Museum in London, and I’m awaiting their response. If I am right in my identification, then I think this would be the first reported discovery of any small terrestrial vertebrate remains (ie small amphibians, lizards, mammals, birds etc) from the wealden of England. So I might get an extinct frog named after me. And it would be nice to think how it used to feed on the friends of that fat, “beautifully preserved” but already known Cretaceous fly, that I’d found earlier.

And now, just to pull all these ramblings back together …. Whilst cleaning out the very bottom of the swimming pool I discovered, amongst all the mad frantically hopping frogs, the most enormous toad. Last night I left a wooden plank in place up the tiled steps so that all the lizards, frogs, spiders etc. could clamber out as I started to re-fill with water overnight. But this morning Monsieur le Crapaud was still definitely in residence. Just like some crusty old Colonel, he was resisting to the very last being turfed out of his club for the period of redecoration. He steadfastly refused to vacate his place, so in the end I had to carry him out. And he was a big boy, about a kilo in weight I guess, and he hissed and puffed and pumped himself up in all his preposterous glory. As I say just like a curmudgeonly old army officer forced to vacate his favourite armchair in the officers’ club.

He is now down by the pond where I admit he’ll have to cope with grass snakes, badgers, boar, foxes and herons … but I think he’s big enough to fend for himself. And now is also the time for all the young female toadies to be passing ….



Le Colonel, M. Le Crapaud .... avec companion: une (grande) grenouille. (PS and the piscine is now a lot cleaner than that!).


Funny to think also that he might be a descendent of my Cretaceous fossil.

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PostSubject: Re: Plant and animal classification in the past   Fri 26 Apr 2013, 09:48

Wonderful ramblings, thank you, Meles. And isn't the rose lovely? Naming flowers and fossils seem to be different from places. I have just read about Lady Banks' Rose in the last couple of days (not for the first time). My book though says William Kerr brought R banksias alba-plena back from China and Joseph Banks gave his wife a plant which flowered before Kerr's and was given (it doesn't actually say who by) the name R. banksiae. The double yellow arrived later and is called R Banksiae lutea - they both seem to be called Lady Banks' Rose. (The biggest rosebush in the world, they tell me, is a banksia rose, the white one, at Tombstone, Arizona. It is 120 years old.)

Some of the roses in my book do have the names of their breeder (Harry Wheatcroft for instant), but it is unusual. I don't know if it is the same in England or France, but here places can no longer be named after a living person, which I find a bit of a shame. No more Florence Hill, or Auckland or Arthur's Pass. We couldn't name anything after Sir Edmund Hillary till after he died. And more of a shame, when an ordinary man - a helicopter pilot or climber or something - came across a previously unknown lake a couple of years ago and it couldn't be named after him. You shouldn't have rules than can never be broken. Road names can be after living people though. A few years ago friends of ours, quite new to the district, had their short road named Anderson Road because they were living there. They were just there for a few years - the people close by who have been on their short road over 100 years don't have their name on the road; some earlier settler got that honour.

I don't think I have ever seen a toad. People here the other day at a meeting I was at were wondering why we don't seem to see frogs so much these days. And I think the botanists have been worrying about the future of the native frogs of NZ (there are about three species).

Good luck with your bone.
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