When is a protea by the same name not a protea? The history of the name protea
How then do we define any particular genus? Quite simply - from the description given by the botanist describing the genus, which must be based on the characters of the species' type specimen. Thus, to be valid, a genus name must be accompanied by a description and a type species (which will have its type specimen).
This is best illustrated with an example:
Thus the genus Protea L. is characterized by the features of the Silver Tree, Protea argenteum L. Similarly, one of the species must typify the genus Leucadendron, and the species Leucadendron cynaroides L. was chosen.
Linnaeus was greatly influenced in his concept of the Proteaceae by Boerhaave's book "Index Alter Plantarum". In fact, the illustrations in this book were probably as close as Linnaeus got to seeing proteas when he published his "Species Plantarum" and introduced the binomial system (i.e. Genus + species) to taxonomy. Boerhaave had divided the Proteaceae from the Cape into three groups: Conocarpodendron for our Conebushes, Lepidocarpodendron for our Proteas and Hypophyllocarpodendron for our Pagodas (Mimetes). Linnaeus thus sunk the latter two into his Leucadendron. These illustrations are thus the type specimens for Linnaeus' species.
Bergius revised the group in 1767 and sunk Protea into Leucadendron, separating Aulax from the group and retaining Brabejum (see table overleaf). In 1771 Linnaeus redefined his genus Protea, based on P. cynaroides L., thus creating the genus which we know today, but still including all the remaining genera. Thus in 1781 Thunberg recognized some 60 species of Protea, which he separated into seven sections based primarily on leaf shape.
Thereafter reigned anarchy. Naming rules were still lax and everyone wanted a bit of the pie. Thus Adanson in 1763 and Neck in 1790 created yet more names to confuse the issue.
The first real reformer on the scene was Richard Salisbury. More than anyone else he understood the generic concepts in the Protea family (although the Australians still vehemently loath him and deny this). In 1807 he subdivided the family into the groups we use today. The major exception is the conebushes, which Salisbury divided into three genera because of their entirely different fruit shapes. This he refined in 1809, beating Robert Brown to press and thus assuming for himself priority for the species names and legally for the generic names as well (PAN 14: 13-15). His Conebush' genera (four in 1809) are still valid groupings in the genus at the section level today.
Of course the botanists, incensed by Salisbury's plagiarism, did not recognize Salisbury's work. Thus his names were ignored. Robert Brown also had a good grasp of generic concepts in the Protea family, and because his names had been in use for 100 years when the rule of priority was enforced, the thought of ditching them was anathema. Most of Robert Brown's generic names have thus been conserved. The exception is Nivenia, which had already been given to a group of Irids. However, the effort of having to endure the name conservation procedure for hundreds of species names was too much and we now use Salisbury's species names.
HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF GENERIC CONCEPTS
A major difference between Robert Brown's and Richard Salisbury's systems, apart from all the different names, was that Salisbury used Linnaeus' 1753 version of Protea based on the Silver Tree argenteum and adopted by Bergius in 1767, whereas Brown used Linnaeus' later version based on the Giant Protea cynaroides. Thus in taxonomic treatises today you will encounter: Protea L., nomina conservanda. Similarly, all previous versions of Leucadendron are sunk, and Leucadendron RBr is the version which has been conserved. Had the rules strictly been applied we might today have Conebushes in the genus Protea or even Brunia. And the Proteaceae might just have been Bruniaceae!
How much we take for granted in assuming that the names in use are immutable. Next time you complain about all the species name changes, stop to appreciate that at least we have stable generic names. After all, Protea could be Leucadendron and Leucadendron could be Protea, in the simplest of all the potential scenarios!
In South African Proteaceae