To William Thiselton-Dyer   10 September 1881



This day, dear Mr Dyer, I got your letter from 20. July, regarding the genus Vahea.1 Altho' I do not adhere to all the rules of Alph. de Candolle's Code,2 yet I do think, that it is a just law to admit a correct plate without description as authority and concede to it accordingly also priority. Assuredly Lamarck went to some trouble to establish his Vahea,3 and as Poiret, Bojer, Endlicher and with great care also Alph. de Candolle4 took up the genus, it would not be equitable to deprive Lamarck of his right; indeed Palisot went to no more trouble in this respect as an investigator than his illustrious countryman, and ought by rights have been able to recognize the identity of his Landolphia-genus with that of Vahea.5 My own opinion is, that if we once set aside a priority, we might then at once abandon all adherence to it. It is no doubt a point of soreness, to all those workers who see after much toil and study of theirs afterwards by others from better material and easier opportunities their genera abandoned, and as Mr Bentham through facilities which cannot & will not reoccur to any mortal, takes possession of thousands of species of which other observers thought they might be proud, he surely may allow in this instance the law to take its regular course. The restitution of Vahea is effected already in 3 books, namely in my enlarged English Edition of Wittstein's organic constituents of plants p. 258 & 268 (anno 1878),6 in the Calcutta-edition of my select extratropical plants p. 344 & 386 (anno 1880) and in the Sydney edition of the same work 349 & 393 (anno 1881);7 nor could I see my way clear to return to Landolphia in the German edition now under the press. A. de Candolle in his Codex goes even so far, as to allow a printed label preceeding authority, and so it is with Wallich's list8 &c. Vahea is taken up by [1]7 authors at least!, so far as I can see in my imperfect library, among them Blume9 and Miquel!10 therefore: "suum cuique".11 — As I happened to have entered on the theme of literary rights, I may single out just one glaring case among many of great injustice. The two Forsters established fairly by words & engraving the Composite genus Laxmannia. 12 Brown incorrectly joins this St. Helena tree to the Bidens-herbs, widely different as they generically are; 13 but when finding out his remarkable mistake he does not give back to the Forsters what he took from them, but renames their Laxmannia anew (Petrobium),14 the excuse being, that the several published species of his genus Laxmannia ought not to receive a new generic name, there being several against one. But where is the justice. At R BR. time however the priority was not held so sacred, as in later years; hence though modern authors have maintained Petrobium, it is sure to fall hereafter to the ground forever, there being not even the excuse of inadvisability to change a name of a well known plant, as this endemic tree of a small island is nearly extinct & (I believe) never was anywhere under cultivation and existed but in a few herbaria. Contrast this with the readiness of our having accustomed ourselves to Hevea against the genus Siphonia, a name with which we were familiar not only in phytographic but also medical & technological works for 80 years.15 So if in your important treatise16 you maintain Landolphia, then Siphonia might also stand again, altho certainly Aublet gave some letterpress with his plate. See with what scrupulous rigor in some instances (but not in others) the first right in nomenclature is maintained! Centipeda,17 a strange name of no meaning out of zoology, took readily the place of Myriogyne,18 by which name we all knew for many years a widely distributed plant. Still I approve of that, as in conformity with the laws now unalterable thus far. Even Floscopa became adopted against rules of logic as well grammar, and I appealed in vain for Floriscopa, wishing in every way to leave Loureiro (except the mutilation of the word) his own. 19 So it is with Calostrophus, of which Labillardière explained himself correctly the Etymology.20 Now, not to adopt such reasonable changes, against which Mr Jackson fights so violantly, is mere pedantery. The same I would say of natural orders. Whether we say for instance Jasmineae or Jasminaceae, the order belongs to A. L. de Jussieu, and even B. de Jussieus Jasmina should in such case not be overlooked in fairness, though he put one wrong genus into it. In the "Papuan plants"21 I have at p. 38-40 given those Linnean botanic species-names, which in simple binary nomenclature were used before him; & had L. imagined, that subsequently his L. was to be put to them, he would certainly have protested. — Passingly may I say, that it was not Willdenow, who first put authorities to species-names (as Ascherson said in one of his publications) but G. Forster in his florulae, to do justice to Solander.22 I write in the new number of the fragmenta23 Commerçonia as the mere sound of the ç in french gives in this as in hundreds of other cases no right to mutilate a name and make a dedication unmeaning. CommerSonia conveys the idea that the dedication was intended for an English man or perhaps Scandinavian, certainly not for a real Frenchman. Forster at all events dedicates it to Commerçon, who however may have been of English descent.24 Loeffling wrote rightly Buettneria, L. wrongly afterwards Buttneria.25 Bougainvillaea is by B. & H. rightly admitted (III, 7)26 against the original Buginvillaea of Commerçon,27 on Moquin's proper remonstrance.28 Bélis must stand, whatever Salisbury's other shortcomings may have been; 29 for it as little liable to be confounded with Bel-lis (against Bé-lis) as Brassia (of the rejector of Belis30) with Brassica or Bassia. If the adding in all instances of the year of publication to a systematic name could be enforced in actually descriptive works, as suggested by me some years ago in the Botanische Zeitung,31 the priority would become clearly apparent, no matter if the name of a species had to be changed generically. In a systema naturae (or as now somewhat vagely is said in Biology and not so well) we can neither have generic names quite the same in Zoology & Botany. Therefore I prefer Sturmia to Liparis;32 but where nomina propria33 give the genus as in Kraussia I would suggest, that the Zoologists & Botanists should agree to some acknowledged slight change in the word, the one writting Kraussea the others Kraussia.34 I will bring this long epistle on some of my views on nomenclature to a close by referring to Stylidium. Why should Loureiro not keep his genus? Candollea would then be reestablished (gone in Dilleniaceae).35 If once agreed on, the Stylidiums would become everywhere wonderfully quick Candolleas, without my wishing for a moment to have my name attached to the species, which would be arrogance. 36 As I am on the subject of genera, let me once more express a hope, that Sir Joseph & Mr Bentham will be able to see in conformity with the Cotyledonar plants37 also the Acotyledoneae all done. We then would have all plant genera and all names (synonyms &c) together! Besides we want much the genera of cryptogams worked up. You have for Mosses in England Mitten, for fungs Berkeley & Cooke, for Lichens Babington; — and for algs surely someone would fuse Harveys, Agardhs & Kuetzing labours into a connected form. It would be a great pity, if B & H left their work incomplete, while Endlicher brought his also in this respect up to the requirements of the time.38

You have strangely misunderstood what I intended to convey in the Calcutta- & Sydney-Edition of the "select plants" regarding Vahea Owariensis. I gave clearly West Africa as its native country only, being aware since 40 years that Palisot was in no other part of Africa. But I did not express myself accurately in the following sentense, which should run: this climber and several other Vaheas yield the West African & Madagascar Caoutchouc" I will alter it thus in the new edition, so that no longer any ambiguity can exist about this phrase.39 I do trust, that in your important work you will not make me guilty of having transferred Vahea Owariensis to Madagascar! But you may have found out other & real errors, for the frankly pointing out of which I shall be obliged, just as I feel it almost obligatory to explain to my correspondents where I find them wrong. Besides from your rich store of knowledge you may be able to give addenda to the "select plants", some appearing already from my own pen in the German Edition. Do you care to have it, when it comes out?40 The book in any of its editions ought to facilitate reference to extratropical plants of utility in a very handy manner and I think you will find it more reliable and within its scope more complete than any other literary production of any language on this subject. Of course, it could for each plant be much extended, if thereby the price was not so very much increased and its spread thus also impaired. But at Kew, where Mexican plants are elaborated now, you might ascertain for me perhaps, whether it is Quercus magnoliifolia, (e.g. urticifolia not urticaefolia, the real root of the word being from the Ablative pluralis)41 which yields Silk-Cocoons in Mexico, also what Oaks yield there the best timber & tan-bark, what Pines the best wood, what grasses & shrubs the best pastorage & fodder. Hitherto I have in vain for years written for information on these important subjects to several parts of Mexico.42 The Uplands of tropical Africa must also be rich in trees, shrubs, herbs & grasses, which should find a place in my "select plants" for the benefit of Victoria and other countries. What is Gaertner's genus Athecia?43 It is omitted in B & H genera,44 but will perhaps be referred to as unrecognizable at the end of that great work; possibly it is rubiaceous. What is the second Trientalis, mentioned as S. African in the first edition of L. sp. pl.?45 This may perhaps yet be found out in Leyden.

Regardfully your

Ferd. von Mueller


Why should there be an exception made in quoting the first edition of L. sp. pl., the very book which above all others deserved right of priority!!

R. Brown however, great as he was, showed in regards of rights towards Labillardiere, Loureiro, Andrews, Cavanilles, Salisbury &c himself occasionally very little minded, as pungently pointed out by Lindley.46

I for one should not object to make Goodenia henceforth Goodenoughia; we have already Goodenoviaceae & Dioscorideae

Good generic authorities before L. such as Tourneforts47 should in justice not be confined to oblivion.

What a pity that the Apetaleae could not have been transferred to the higher orders in the genera as I recommended strongly at the commencement of the work. Surely it will be done in [a future ed.]48

I think, that the note on the sweet fruit of Vahea Owariensis I got from Welwitsch.49 I will see, but it is not easy to find a book in the small cottage, where even my bedroom is overcrowded with books, documents & plants.




















Quercus magnoliifolia






Vahea Owariensis

Letter not found. In B80.13.07 and B81.13.10 M had introduced the names Vahea florida and V. owariensis in preference to Bentham's Landolphia florida and L. owariensis, arguing that 'the genus Vahea was fully established by Lamarck so early as 1791'.
So far as is known, M did not have a copy of the original version of the Code [i.e. A. de Candolle (1867)], but he did have copies of the German and English translations, both of which were published in 1868.
Lamarck (1791-1823), vol. 2, part 5:2, pl. 292.
Poiret (1810-17), vol. 5, p. 409; Bojer (1837), p. 207; Endlicher (1836-40), pp, 586, 1397; A. de Candolle (1844), p. 327.
Palisot de Beauvois (1806, p. 54) erected Landolphia in describing L. owariensis.
Wittstein (1878).
B80.13.07, B81.13.10. In both these editions, and in later ones, M included the sentence: 'The genus Vahea was fully established by Lamarck as early as 1791.' Muir (1979) gives B80.03.07 as the creation by M of the new combinations Vahea florida and V. owariensis; in both cases M treated the names within Landolphia as synonyms.
Wallich (1828).
Probably Blume (1849-51 [1857]), vol. 1, pp. 150-1.
Miquel (1855-[59]), vol. 2, p. 394.
'to each his own'. See B82.09.01, in which M discusses the priority of Vahea in some detail, quoting from A. de Candolle to M, 27 July 1882 (in this edition as 82-07-27a).
Forster & Forster (1776), p. 93, pl. XLVII.
R. Brown (1810), pp. 285-6.
Brown (1816), p. 113.
Hevea was erected by Aublet (1775), vol. 3, p. 871, pl. 335; Siphonia by Richard (1791), vol. 1, p. 656.
Not identified.
See Loureiro (1790), p. 492. M owned the 1793 edition of Loureiro's work.
See Lessing (1831), p. 219.
See Loureiro (1790), p. 192; B82.13.13, p. 122. Index Kewensis treats M's 'correction' to Floriscopa as a typographical error. M persisted with the correction in B89.13.12, p. 206.
M's Calostrophus (B73.08.01, p. 86) is considered an orthgraphic variant of Calorophus (Labillardière [1806], vol. 2. p. 78, t. 228).
G. Forster (1786), pp. 5-8.
B81.08.03, p.114.
Forster & Forster (1776), p. 43, t. 22. Modern French authorities such as the Dictionnaire de biographie française give the name as Commerson.
Loefling (1758), p. 313, had Byttneria; Schreber's edition of Linnaeus (Schreber [1789], vol. 1, p. 145) used Buttneria.
Bentham & Hooker (1862-83), vol. 3, part 1, p. 7.
See Jussieu (1789), p. 91.
i.e. Moquin-Tandon. His 'remonstrance' has not been identified.
Salisbury (1807), p. 345.
i.e., R. Brown. Bentham & Hooker (1862-83), vol. 3, part 1, pp. 435-6, rejected Belis Salisb. in favour of Cunninghamia R. Br., noting that Salisbury's name was rejected by Brown and Richards as sounding too similar to Bellis, Linn.
Botanically Liparis (= Sturmia) is an orchid; zoologically it has been used for both a genus of moth and of fish.
'proper names'.
Botanically Kraussia was used twice, in Compositae and Rubiaceae; zoologically it is an arthropod genus.
Louriero (1790), p. 220, erected Stylidium as the name of a genus in the Cornaceae; Swartz's genus Stylidium in the Stylidiaceae was applied by Willdenow (1805), vol. 1, part 1, p. 146. It was this latter genus that had become associated with Stylidium by usage. M was arguing for a return to using Stylidium to refer to the genus in Cornaceae, thus allowing Labillardière's 1805 name Candollea to be used for the genus in Stylideaceae (which would become Candolleaceae). Candollea had also been used (by Labillardière!) for the name of a genus in the family Dilleniaceae.
M's name has become attached to the species in synonymy: he transferred the Swartzian Stylidium species to Candollea in B82.13.16, where he also renamed Marlea vitiensis, the only species of Cornaceae recorded in Australia, as Stylidium vitiense. M had earlier commented on name priorities in B73.04.02, p. 41.
Bentham & Hooker (1862-83).
Endlicher (1836-40).
The original sentence in B80.13.07, p. 344 and B81.13.10, p. 349 reads: 'This climber, with several other Vaheas, yields the West African and Madagascan caoutchouc'. In B84.13.22, pp. 387-8, the corresponding sentence reads: 'This climber, with several other Vaheas, yields the West African, and others the Madagascar caoutchouc.' In later editions the sentence was changed again: 'This climber, with several other Vaheas, yields the West African caoutchouc; others furnish the Madagascar-sort, particularly V. gummifera (Lamarck), now cultivated also in India' (B85.13.26, p. 393; B88.13.02, p. 432; B91.13.10, p. 503).
B83.13.06. A card bearing M's coat-of-arms and printed: 'Baron Ferd. von Mueller K.C.M.G. M & Ph.D. F.R.S.', is pasted onto the back of the title page in the copy at Kew library. There is no inscription.
M is presumably drawing attention to his use of the form magnoliifolia, rather than magnoliaefoliawhich was used by Nees, the original author of the name.
Letters not found; but see M to L. Haynald, 22 November 1882.
Gaertner (1787-91), vol. 1, p. 141.
Bentham & Hooker (1862-83). MS annotation: 'Mr Bentham gives up Athecia as insoluble. Its structure restricts it to narrow range [of] Orders: as Goodeniaceae, Santalaceae, — a few Corneae? — possibly Rubiaceae —? The Trientalis I strongly suspect would be a Crassula of the "Tuberisae" Section [nr.] C. Saxifraga & C. Septas DO [Daniel Oliver].' See also J. Hooker to M, 1 May 1882 where Athecia is identified as Royena glabra from the original specimen sent on loan from Tübingen. See W. Pfeffer to M, 26 October 1881; M to J. Hooker, 12 December 1881.
Linnaeus (1753), p. 344.
Lindley reference not identified.
M is probably referring to Tournefort (1700), a copy of which is in the library, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne (though with nothing to prove beyond doubt that it belonged to M).
For M's recommendation see M to G. Bentham, 24 January 1862. There was no second edition of Bentham & Hooker (1862-83).
This information probably came from Collins (1872), p. 27, quoting Welwitsch '(in MS to Collins)': 'The fruit is about the shape of a middle-sized orange, containing … a sweet, rather acidulous pulp'. M's description reads: 'V. Owariensis produces edible fruits as large as middle-sized oranges with sweet and slightly acid pulp.' (B81.13.10, p. 349, and later editions).

Please cite as “FVM-81-09-10,” in Ɛpsilon: The Ferdinand von Mueller Collection accessed on 27 July 2021,