Science and religion agree – again…

Botanical Congress, Media releases

Botanists drop Latin for new species descriptions

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

In 1539 the Church of England recognised Latin was a barrier to understanding, and published the Great Bible in English. The Roman Catholic Church authorised usage of languages other than Latin in its services in the 1960s. now scientists—or at least botanists—are catching up.

By next year the technical descriptions accompanying the scientific names for new plant species will no longer have to be exclusively in Latin. English will be acceptable. And botanists proposing new species will no longer be required to publish a paper in hard copy—an electronic version will do. Latin, however, will still be used for the two-word, scientific species names.

After 25 years of wrangling, the Nomenclature Section of the International Botanical Congress (IBC), now meeting in Melbourne, has put forward these changes for ratification by the full Congress next Saturday (30 July). This is expected to be a formality, and the changes are likely to come into force on 1 January.

“This is a significant step for plant science at a time when the environment around plants is changing rapidly,” says the President of the Nomenclature Section, Dr Sandy Knapp of the Natural History Museum, London.

“We are facing a mass extinction of species due to habitat destruction, pollution, invasive plants and animals, and now climate change. Speeding the publication process for new species and making it more accessible should aid conservation efforts.”

An attempt was made to update the system of registering new botanical names before the last botany congress, in Vienna six years ago. At that time, though, there was concern that electronic documents could not be guaranteed as permanent.

The development of computer systems and of archival software since then seems to have allayed these fears. In addition, translation into Latin of the descriptions of researchers, particularly from the developing world was becoming increasingly difficult. And botanists were beginning to ignore what looked like rules from another era.

The International Botany Congress will be running at the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre until Saturday 30 July.

For interview contact Dr Sandy Knapp,

For more information:  call me on 0417 131 977, or AJ Epstein on 0433 339 141 or email

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