Showing posts from February, 2010

Rafinesque and the Resurrection of Polygonum bicorne

Constantine Samuel Rafinesque was a strange man. I can’t stress that enough. When you look him up on Wikipedia you quickly realize that he was different. His name is preceded with such erudite appellations as polymath, autodidact and polyglot, besides the more familiar terms of botanist and zoologist. But this post isn’t about Rafinesque, or at least not directly so. Indirectly, it has to do with his eyes and what they saw. You see, where others missed the trees for the forest, Rafinesque perceived entities hidden deep within morphologies. Ever the avid publisher, he described many of these entites as taxa (usually species) new to science. Since his death, the oscillations of botanical treatments and nomenclatural innovations have alternately celebrated his insights and condemned his indiscretions. Few authors have had as many taxa bounced in and out of synonymy for so many decades. Polygonum bicorne, the focus of this post, is a fine example of this.
Rafinesque described Polygonum bi…