Africa, Aitch, Birds & Birding, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Acacias – Let's Just Call Them Thorn Trees

There are rules to how you name things. Plants and animals and things. The rules are something like this: The first one keeps its name, all others after have to fit in. So if a tree is named ‘acacia’ and another thousand acacias are found after it, it remains the type specimen for acacias and will always be an acacia. If changes happen, tough luck to the others, THEY have to change.

Unless you bend the rules.

And the Aussies bent the rules! Gasp! Who’d have thought that!? Aussies! But – they’re so law-abiding . .

So back in 1753 a tree was discovered in Africa and named Acacia scorpoides. Its name changed to Acacia nilotica, the well-known and beautiful tree we got to know as the Scented-pod Thorn when Trish and I first started identifying trees ca. 1985 using Eugene Moll’s unpretentious-looking but wonderful book with its leaf-identification system, under the guidance of good friend Barry Porter. The Scented-pod Thorn Tree was one of the easier acacias to ‘ID’, with its distinctive-looking and sweet-smelling pod.

– beautiful and distinctive pods –

So it would forever be an acacia. Unless a dastardly plot was hatched by people (whose continent shall remain temporarily nameless; anyway, they had co-conspirators from other continents) determined to steal yet another of Africa’s assets. Why? ‘Cos Money, Prestige, Laziness, Not liking the name Racosperma; and because they could. So what did they do? They got some sandpaper and started roughing up the ball. They got 250 people to email the oke who was in charge of the committee, ‘supporting’ this unusual name change which went against the established rules. How Australian. Yes, 244 of those emailers were Australians, just saying. Sandpaper.

So in Vienna in 2005 the committee said ‘Let’s bend the rules’ and put it to the vote. So 54.9% voted to retain the current African type for the name Acacia. 54.9% said let’s NOT bend the rules. So they bent the rules cos another rule said you need 60% to overrule the committee. They sandpaper’d the rules cos Money Prestige Laziness and Not liking the name Racosperma.

How do you explain that? Well, its like if one’s ancestors were convicts and you didn’t want them to be convicts, you wanted people to nod when you said “I come from Royal blood,’ but the ancestral name (say Dinkum) was listed in the jail rolls; and you wanted to be a surname not on the jail rolls so you said ‘I know: Windsor!’ so you call yourself Windsor from that day on. Something like that.

And, like politicians, here’s how this was sold to the public: ‘The International Botanical Congress at Vienna in 2005 ratified this decision,’ sandpaper-talk, instead of a truthful ‘The International Botanical Congress at Vienna in 2005 failed to overturn this decision as, although 54.9% voted against it, a 60% vote is needed to overturn it.’

So then African acacias got one more African name, Senegalia (from Senegal and meaning, maybe, water or boat), which was nice; and one more Pommy name Vachellia, after Rev. John Harvey Vachell (1798-1839), chaplain to the British East India Company in Macao from 1825-1836 and a plant collector in China, which wasn’t so lekker; But the Acacia name was undoubtedly more prestigious, long-established and well-known. More desirable, y’know (imagine that said in an Aussie accent). It was derived from Ancient Greek with THORN in the meaning – ἀκακία (‘shittah tree’). Also ‘thorny Egyptian tree.’ Greek ‘kaktos’ also has been compared. A word of uncertain – but ancient – origin.

So I thought Oh Well, We’ll Get Used To It. You get used to anything except a big thorn sticking into your shoe – which reminded me that Aussie acacias are wimpily thornless – but some Africa tree people were less accommodating and determined to fight this rule-bending. Maybe they might have accepted Senegalia, but that other Pommy dominee name? Aikona!

– real thorns with feathered bishop – thanks safariostrich.co.za –

The next gathering of the International Botanical Congress was in Melbourne in 2011! And there the decision to ratify the decision to bend the rules ‘was ratified by a large majority’ (I haven’t been able to find the actual vote yet). So strict scientific priority lost out to – I must confess I agree, bloody Aussies – a more pragmatic solution.

So Vachellia xanthophloea it is. Our Fever Tree. umkhanyakude. Seen here at Nyamithi Pan in Ndumo Game Reserve in Zululand.

– my pic of fever trees in Ndumo Game Reserve, Zululand –

And Senegalia nigrescens with its distinctive leaves and knobbly bark. The knobthorn.

So I’ll mostly be using Senegalia and Vachellia now, just as I use the new bird names as they change. Adapt or dye.

Anyway, they have thorns, our thorn trees.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Scented-pod Thorn Tree and Knobthorn Tree pics – https://lebona.de/trees-south-africa-2/

http://biodiversityadvisor.sanbi.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Bothalia37_1_2007.pdf

http://worldwidewattle.com/infogallery/nomenclature/nameissue/melbourne-ibc-2011-congress-news-tuesday-26-july.pdf

http://pza.sanbi.org/sites/default/files/info_library/acacia_africa_pdf.pdf

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2989/20702620.2014.980090

~~~oo0oo~~~

lekker – nice; not so lekker: yuck;

dominee – vicar; shady man of the cloth

aikona! – No Way!!

umkhanyakude – means ‘shines from afar’ and in the feature pic you can see how the fever trees on the far side of Nyamithi Pan show up against the other, ‘more anonymous’ trees;

Life

The ‘Tree of Life’

Back in 350 BCE, Aristotle regarded the essence of species as fixed and unchanging. He wrote his Historia Animalia, grouping animals according to their similarities of looks, actions or dwelling place: animals with blood and animals without, animals that live on water or on land, etc. Aristotle grouped his animals hierarchically from ‘lowest’ to ‘highest’, with, of course, himself – or us, the human species – on top! This view was pretty much unchallenged for the next two thousand years.

Hold on! How Eurocentric! The earliest pharmacopoeia was written by Shen Nung, Emperor of China around 3000 BCE. Known as the father of Chinese medicine, he is said to have tasted hundreds of herbs to test their medicinal value. His ‘Divine Husbandman’s Materia Medica’ included 365 medicines derived from minerals, plants, and animals.

Then around 1500 BCE medicinal plants were illustrated on wall paintings in Egypt. In one of the oldest papyrus rolls, Ebers Papyrus, plants are included as medicines for different diseases. They have local names such as “celery of the hill country” and “celery of the delta”.

OK, now we’ve shown it was Asia, then Africa, let’s go back to Europe and Aristotle . . One of his disciples or students, the philosopher and naturalist Theophrastus, classified plants into three categories: herbs, shrubs and trees. He classified local specimens as well as specimens sent to him by Alexander the Great, collected during his expeditions to Asia and elsewhere in Europe.

Then in Europe came, in no accurate order – and probably missing out many! – an Italian, Cesalpino (1519-1603), a Swiss, Bauhin (1560-1620), who described about six thousand species and gave them names based on their ‘natural affinities,’ grouping them into genus and species. He was thus the first scientist to use binomial nomenclature in classification of species. By the time the Swede Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) was born, there were many systems of botanical classification in use, with new plants constantly being discovered and named. He became famous for ‘sorting things out!’ His book Systema Naturae is regarded as the start of modern nomenclature.

The more people classified things, the more they realised they were related. And so came the first ‘Tree of Life’ (that I could find – there are sure to be more, earlier, better):

Hitchcock 1840

Not only is MAN on top, he gets – we get – a crown and cross. Palm trees get the plant crown. Then came Haeckel’s Pedigree of Man, still with animals and plants separate, even though this is a real tree!

Haeckel 1879

Most of the subsequent line of naturalists, zoologists, botanists and herbalists worked on classifying, describing and naming. The first departure from this approach was probably by Frenchman de Lamarck (1744–1829), who launched an evolutionary theory including inheritance of acquired characters, named ‘Lamarckism.’ Others, like Erasmus Darwin, who, like most people looking into classification accepted that evolution happened, but HOW it happened was not known. He – the elder Darwin, Charles’ grandfather – proposed his evolutionary theory that ‘all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament.’

The next big step in evolutionary theory was when in 1858 in London Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace proposed that evolution proceeded ‘by natural selection’. This theory of Darwin’s and Wallace’s changed EVERYTHING.

Huge jump here: When DNA and genes and genomes were discovered and worked out, everything changed again. No longer did one have to painstakingly study an animal’s anatomy and habits to classify it, its DNA classified it accurately even if you looked on in astonishment and thought ‘can’t be!’ If the DNA says they’re related (or not) they they’re related – or not.

So our 1969 school Tree of Life below was still intent on showing how single-cell animals were low down and we were high up. But at least we were starting to learn we weren’t the crown of a tall tree. But at least we were separate from plants and fungi! Well . . .

1969 tree of life

But the more we know, the more we know. And we now know it’s us and fungi. Get used to it, us and fungi.

So next time you scoff a plate of mushrooms, feel a bit guilty. And when you see a live mushroom growing, say ‘Howzit Cousin.’ And get used to it.

See bottom right the little word opisthokonta? That’s us.

Us opisthokonts

——-ooo000ooo——-

Thanks Dave’s Garden ; Vision Learning ; wikipedia ; Science News ; EDIT ;

Birds & Birding, Food, Life

Cockroach Thermidor

Oh, I do love this! When you do careful examination of DNA you find out where animals – and all living things – fit in the Tree of Life. You’ll also find the old tree we learnt with ‘humans’ proudly at the top as the crowning glory, was done before we knew much about DNA.

And it is sometimes very surprising. For example, when Charles Sibley and Jon Ahlquist started classifying birds according to their genetic code, they found this bird on the right:

American wren – Australian wren

. . is more closely related to an Australian crow than it is to the bird on the left! They look and behave the same due to convergent evolution. Same with the next two: Look the same; only distantly related in the bird world:

Great Auk – North Atlantic – – – Penguin – South Atlantic

So for decades and centuries ornithologists knew the two birds were related as they had the same beaks and the same habits, so you can imagine some of them were none too pleased to be told in 1988 by relative newbies that what they thought – heck, what they ‘knew’ – was wrong!

Just like zoologists had known for a long time that mammals in Australia had evolved to fit various niches. These two are more closely related to each other than they are to dogs or squirrels:

thylacine and sugar glider – both marsupials

And so we come to the even more recent discovery: That cockroaches are crustaceans.

Not only should we eat insects as a better way of producing protein, we should charge higher prices for them! The menu at my new restaurant will feature in future – Cockroach Thermidor SQ

crustaceans

——-ooo000ooo——-