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LETTERS TO THE EDITORS

To Pine or Not?

To the Editors:

I enjoyed the article, "Ancient Wollemi Pines Resurgent" by Stephen McLoughlin and Vivi Vajda (November-December 2005), on the recently discovered Cretaceous period gymnosperm tree, except for mounting displeasure on each of the dozens of occasions it is referred to as a pine. Calling it such is not a slight misnomer. It would have been nice if the authors had eschewed "the p-word" and christened the species with its own proper common name—wollemi for instance, or Noble's wollemi, to distinguish it from other species in the genus, should they be discovered, in the flesh or as fossils.

John Worrall
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, Canada

Dr. McLoughlin responds:

We take Dr. Worral's point about the "Wollemi Pine" not being a true pine, and we feel that we emphasized this fact in our article.

However, this common name has already become deeply entrenched in the literature and in horticultural circles, and we are unlikely to change this situation.

The established common name of the Wollemi pine actually follows a long tradition in Australia of using the vernacular term "pine" with almost all native conifers. Hence, we have Huon pines (Lagarostrobus), hoop pines (Araucaria), King Billy pines (Athrotaxus), celery-top pines (Phyllocladus), plum pines (Podocarpus) and cypress pines (Callitris) belonging to a range of conifer families.

This may be vexatious to the pure taxonomist, but its something that most botanists have little trouble with. Perhaps it is similar to the tradition of certain North American members of the genera Torreya, Juniperus, Calocedrus and Thuja all being called "cedars" in vernacular usage.


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