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 Acacia Compromis

An attempt by Australian botanists to change the typification of Acacia from an African to an Australian species, which would mean that no African species would retain the name Acacia, caused outrage amongst African botanists. It seemed we were headed for a deadlock, reminiscent of the political impasses we have seen in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ivory Coast. Who gets the name is to be decided at the 18th International Botanical Congress in Melbourne in July 2011. The secretary of the 15-member nomenclature committee, Dick Brummitt, supported the Australian proposal at the 17th Congress, held in Vienna in July 2005, but is now putting forward a compromise proposal.

I don’t think many African botanists will be satisfied with this solution.

Mike Bingham, 10 March 2011.

Acacia seyal Acacia seyal Acacia seyal Acacia nilotica
Acacia seyal Acacia seyal Acacia seyal Acacia nilotica

XVIII INTERNATIONAL BOTANICAL CONGRESS, MELBOURNE 23-30 JULY 2011:

Article 51 Prop. A (292 – Brummitt in Taxon 59: 1926) Add to Art. 51 a new paragraph and Note:
“51.2. For compelling practical reasons of nomenclatural stability of specific and infraspecific names in the unique case of the broadly circumscribed genus Acacia Mill., the correct name for a genus to which one or more of the types of Racosperma Mart. (1835), Senegalia Raf. (1838) and Vachellia Wight & Arn. (1834) are assigned is Acacia Mill. (1754) and the correct names for all taxa assigned to that genus are combinations with Acacia. The names Racosperma, Senegalia and Vachellia, and all combinations published under them, are to be treated as incorrect. This is a purely nomenclatural convention and does not preclude the taxonomic acceptance of segregate genera.” Note. 1. When reference needs to be made to one of the three segregates to distinguish it from the others, as for example in a nonnomenclatural context such as discussion of numbers of genera in a region or occurrence of certain characters or compounds in different genera, it may be done informally in the format Acacia (Vachellia), or Acacia (Senegalia) or Acacia (Racosperma). When reference is made in a general context to the species described by Linnaeus as Mimosa nilotica, which is now referable to Acacia (Vachellia), it should be given as Acacia nilotica (L.) Delile. If in a special context it is necessary to specify to which genus a certain species is referable, the format Acacia (Vachellia) nilotica (L.) Delile may be used.”   
Cross references should be added under Art. 11 and 51.1. Rapporteurs’ comments – Prop. A offers a radical solution to the controversial issue of Acacia. The names Racosperma, Senegalia, Vachellia, and all combinations under them would be deemed incorrect, to be called instead Acacia or combinations under Acacia. This would be a completely artificial convention for nomenclatural purposes only, and no particular taxonomy would be mandated. The intention is to permit the name Acacia to be applied in both its traditional sense and in its conserved sense. Of course, if any subdivisions of genera were recognized, the autonymic subdivisions (e.g. A. sect. Acacia) would apply mostly or wholly to Australian taxa. It must be said that, these supposed benefits notwithstanding, Prop. A is strongly contrary to the tradition of botanical nomenclature and is also at odds with Principle II in ruling that the name Acacia must be applied to genera that do not contain the type of Acacia (except when a broad concept of Acacia is adopted).
It is also quite against tradition simultaneously to adopt the same name for more than one taxon. Even so, some might feel that an exception to the Principles and tradition is warranted in this unique case in order to put an end to divisive controversy, assuming that such a result could be achieved by the method proposed. The proposer questioned whether Prop. A would be better without mention of Senegalia in view of that name having been taken up by a number of authors.
On the other hand, there is the “tradition of over 200 years of including Senegalia in a broad Acacia in Africa, resulting in a massive literature and very many herbarium specimens adopting that concept” (Brummitt, l.c.). The proposer therefore suggested “that the officers at Melbourne should invite a friendly amendment to delete mention of Senegalia in the proposal.” If the proposal were to be accepted, as it involves a suspension of the normal rules of priority and the application of names being determined by nomenclatural types, it might be better placed in Art. 11, 13, or 7.


Acacia nigrescens Acacia nigrescens Acacia nigrescens Acacia nigrescens
Acacia nigrescens Acacia nigrescens Acacia nigrescens Acacia nigrescens

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 Updated: 14 April 2014
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