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Although the taxonomy of Sarracenia is fairly straightforward at the species level, in cultivation the situation is made very complex by the freedom with which the species hybridise, the variability of the offspring, and the need to identify plants from different populations (that may not be visually distinct) for the purpose of conservation.
Sarracenia are restricted in the wild to very specific wetland habitats. As a consequence, populations are effectively separated by unsuitable habitat.
The size of the seed means that little long distance dispersal is likely to occur. The seeds could be carried by water , but will remain within the same drainage system.
Pollen is unlikely to be carried large distances by pollinators. As a result, populations easily become isolated, start to develop small differences and slowly diverge.
Wetland habitats tend to occur on level ground, near to watercourses, and are easily drained. These locations are now highly prized for agriculture and development. The result is that Sarracenia populations are fragmenting and disappearing at an alarming rate.
From the point of view of cultivation, this means that there are a large number of slight variations of the species available, and it is important to retain these differences, and keep a record of the original wild location. Many of the classic locations for plants from which seed was collected in the 70's and 80's have now disappeared under development. There are many individual clones af plants selected from the same location in circulation, and an effective way of identifying these plants (still) needs to be found. At present, plants are listed by species, location and with a short desription, for example, Sarracenia alata areolate form.Jasper County, Texas. Unfortunately, this doesn't identify the exact location in Jasper County, and doesn't distinguish one areolate clone from another. It would have helped if collections had been given collection numbers at the time, that could be connected to the exact time and place of collection, but this has rarely happened.
In cultivation, Sarracenia hybridise easily, and the resulting progeny can be quite variable. The "best" forms (I'm not even going to try to define what that means!) tend to get named, but a mass of others are in circulation, and tend to be identified by their most obvious characteristic, or by source to become the 'Whatever' Clone. I have lost track of the number of "Marston" clones there are about the place. The phrase has ceased to be very helpful in identifying plants. The 'Marston Clone' of Sarracenia x moorei currently in circulation is a very different plant to the one that Adrian Slack was distributing as his best in the 1980'S (long memory, lots of photo's!). A great many of the primary hybrids currently being distributed under an assortment of names actually originated from seed grown at PeterPauls Nursery in the 1970's. Plants were very variable and widely circulated. Chaos abounds, commonly dressed in the clothes of order, but not bearing close scrutiny.
During the last 30 or 40 years, the hybrids have been hybridised, to the second and third and fourth generation, and so it goes on. I have a small plant of Sarracenia (leucophylla x (flava x rubra)) x (minor x oreophila) and this is certainly not the most complicated being grown. Apart from wondering what the hybridist though they were going to achieve with such a combination, it is worth noting that the label is completely unmanageable, and there is little to suggest that the seedlings will have very much similarity or have many common characteristics. When the variations in the species are added into the mix, the situation starts to become farcical. I obtained a pretty little seedling last year of Sarracenia alata Black tube, Desoto x oreophila Georgia ). The future is bright, but probably incomprehensible. Names are unlikely to fit on labels. (Skipping the sociological and philosophical implications of that statement, horticulturally it is a white-plastic-stick-label-nightmare.)
. There are probably thousands of distict Sarracenia clones being distributed. They are poorly identified and it rapidly becomes impossible to trace their history, or verify their authenticity. Last years "Marston Clone" may not be the same is this years. There are at least two clones doing the rounds claiming to be 'Judy' (and I think I have just seen a third). No one quite knows what the real 'Daniel Rudd' actually is. On the other side of the problem, a lot of valuable distinct genetic clones are being lost from previous wild collections as they all get grouped under one location name. Common or abundant wild collections, such as those from Citronelle, Alabama or Deer Park, Alabama, are losing their diversity as the most vigorous clones prosper and are distributed most widely, and the weaker or less spectacular clones are allowed to lapse. Extinct populations from the wild that were once well represented in cultivation are now being reduced to single vigorous clones. Having destroyed the plants in the wild, it is a pity that we aren't managing to conserve their genetic variability in cultivation.
The classic solution to all this variability is the use of cultivar names. Unfortunately, people have been very slow to coin them. There seems to be a belief that cultivar names are only for the most excellent, when in fact the system was devised simply to allow us to distinguish one plant from another easily and reliably, be they good , bad or indifferent. It is certainly important to be able to identify the hopeless and crappy clones reliably. The entire wobbly structure of modern taxonomy (sly dig, sorry!) exists to ensure that we all have a way of talking about the same plant without undue confusion over identity.
Faced with this potential confusion, reponsible growers have started to use accession numbers to identify particular clones in their collections. I do it myself. If I didn't do it, constructing this website, for example, would have been impossibly long winded. They are very useful within a collection, but they are unspeakably dangerous applied outside their collection. You see, when identifying clones of Sarracenia alata we all tend to start at A1, A2, A3 etc etc. There are probably dozens of Sarracenia alata A1's out there, and they are all different! The Internation Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (which attempts to regulate these things) specifically prohibits the use of alphanumeric codes in place of cultivar names in order to avoid this problem. I try to make my own accession numbers complex enough to identify the individual clones even outside the collection, but it still isn't entirely satisfactory.
For myself, I believe that a plant needs a cultivar name as soon as it is distributed. Grow a seedling, and if you split it and give a piece to a friend, give it a cultivar name as well. Ideally, publish the name formally, but most won't bother (and that's fine). There will be thousands of names, but the worthless will disappear of their own accord. It solves the problem of impossibly complex names on labels and gives a way of identifying the many hybrids in cultivation of unknown parentage. You will see such names as 'Ferndown Green' and 'Cromer Hybrid' in my own list to solve this problem.
This merry nomenclatural dance has been going on for many decades. I doubt it will get better anytime soon. Gird your loins, stay mellow, enjoy the chaos (think of it as a broad wealth of opportunity). If you disagree with any of my naming, let me know.