Transatlantic nursery news
Nurseries without websites

Another great nursery abandons print and goes electronic

Primulasenecastar_2 In my last post I mentioned a couple of US nurseries which no longer produce a print catalog. Well, I forgot to mention that for Seneca Hill Perennials their 2008 catalog, being mailed in the middle of this month, will be their last printed version.

Nursery owner Ellen Hornig says on the front of the Seneca Hill Perennials website: “Global warming forces us to examine our resource use, and this is one arena in which it can be cut. We will be redesigning the website somewhat to compensate for the lack of a catalog, including adding… an archive wherein inactive entries can be kept for reference purposes.” Fine by me, just send me an email whenever the site is updated so I can take a look.

There are over 130 new additions to the catalog this year including a lovely new form of one of the best of all shade lovers, Primula sieboldii. Selected at the nursery, ‘Seneca Star’ (left) has huge, prettily dissected deep pink flowers with a white central star. Looks gorgeous. You can see all this year's newcomers here.

But don’t let one little thing that Ellen says about going totally electronic pass you by, it’s important: she’ll be adding a web archive of plants she no longer sells. This is great news! – not only for gardeners who bought plants from her years ago and need to check up on what she says about them. But for researchers, plant historians, horticultural botanists, other nurseries who might now be selling the plants - and for garden writers like me - this will develop into an invaluable resource. I wish other nurseries, especially those who introduce new and rare plants, would do the same. Thanks Ellen.

Note to British nurseries: Seneca Hill Perennials have raised and introduced some excellent new plants but most are not yet available in Britain. They would welcome the opportunity to exchange new plants with similar British nurseries.


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Mike Grant

While I can fully understand the reasons for nurseries abandoning print publication for their catalogues, this does have consequences for the valid publication of new cultivar names.

Th International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants still requires print publication for a new cultivar name to be established. The basic rules are that the name should be unique, there should be a description, and it should appear in a publication dated to at least the year. Printed nursery catalogues form a valuable archive for horticultural taxonomists researching the origins of cultivars. Without these it will be difficult in the future to check original descriptions, dates of publication and original spellings.

The editors of the Cultivated Code are looking at ways that web-published material is archived but we really are in a transitional period. Nurseries that only publish a web catalogue may find that their new cultivar names end up being first validly published by other nurseries in their print catalogues, with all the risks for error which that might entail.

Graham Rice

Thanks for raising that, Mike, it's clearly crucial that new cultivar names are validly published. [Just to be clear, for non-botanists, this is how the name of a new plant is fixed in stone for ever. I know it sounds like esoteric stuff, but it really is important.]

So, Mike, what do you recommend nurseries like Ellen Hornig's Seneca Hill Perennials and Rick Lupp's Mt Tahoma Nursery, who regularly introduce new plants, actually do if they don't issue a print catalogue? What can they do, in practical terms, to ensure that their new names are validly published?

John David

The problem of electronic publication affects the Botanical Code (ICBN) and the Horticultural Code (ICNCP). Both nomenclatural Codes depend upon printed output to establish a name and, at present, both Codes have specifically ruled out electronic media. However, the Botanical Code (2006)has now begun to acknowledge that electronic publication of names does occur and lays out conditions where it might be accepted when used in conjunction with printed matter. A proposal to amend the ICNCP from Janet Cubey to instigate a similar process was debated by the Code Commission when it met at Wageningen in October. Janet's proposal was published in Hanburyana volume 2: 22-24, 2006 ( It builds on a recommendation already in the ICNCP for catalogues to be sent to Registrars (where they exist) or to libraries that maintain collections of nursery catalogues. The Commission agreed that it would be helpful to provide an appendix listing libraries that hold collections of nursery catalogues, to which print-outs of web pages for nursery catalogues might be sent, or who might be alerted by the nursery owner that a new catalogue had been put up on the web. The library would then print the catalogue off to make a permanent, dated record. The recommendation would be that paper copies are distributed to a minimum number of libraries. The precise details will be finalized by the editorial committee and will appear in the next edition of the ICNCP.

This proposal addresses the two problems of online nursery catalogues: permanence of record and dating, to establish priority of publication. Online publications are essentially ephemeral and liable to be altered, even slightly; so, for nomenclatural purposes, a printed (thus permanent and unamendable) is required. Such a printed version can be dated which would avoid the situation suggested by Mike Grant, where another nursery can, since they issue a printed catalogue, be the first to formally publish a cultivar or Group name even if they were not the originator of that plant.

Therefore a nursery owner who only makes the catalogue available only online could, if they wish to ensure the effective establishment of their cultivar name (a different thing to valid publication, by the way) send a print copy of the website to one or more libraries that are known to hold collections of nursery catalogues. Alternatively they could alert one or more libraries when a new catalogue is made available, so that they can print it off.

I apologise for a long (and possibly even more esoteric) response but I hope that it provides some guidance to anyone who wants to ensure their new plant names are properly recorded.

Graham Rice

First I should say that John David is the Royal Horticultural Society's Head of Botany. The previous comment was from Mike Grant, editor of The Plantsman (the quarterly magazine from the RHS). Thank you both for following up on this difficult issue.

So what it boils down to is this: any nursery producing an online-only catalog and introducing a new cultivar risks the name of their new introduction having no validity in the botanical and horticultural world.

Pending an internationally agreed solution, they would be well advised to print off a dated page from their website and send it to libraries that hold collections of catalogs. Until a formal recommended list is agreed, likely libraries would seem to include: Royal Horticultural Society, New York Botanical Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and the Bailey Herbarium at Cornell University.

I'll come back to this issue in another post soon - and explain why this arcane stuff is actually very important!

Renee Beaulieu

Interesting discussion, but I guess my reaction is that it's time for these bodies to get into the 21st century. This also seems less of a problem to me than the fact that growers are routinely allowed to register unpronounceable nonsense names for cultivars to which they will assign trademarked names. Theoretically, the cultivar name exists, but in the real world, the trademarked name becomes the cultivar name. Responsible publications may try to identify plants properly, but this becomes an endless battle.

Graham Rice

You're right, the issue of cultivar names and trade designations is a nightmare - but does at least allow for plants to be known commercially by different names in different languages (as long as the CV name is always used as well).

The question of valid publication is also tricky: the issue is that the record of the publication of the CV name must be permanent and accessible (at least to researchers). Websites come and go all the time which is why I was pleased that Ellen Hornig at Seneca Hill is archiving details of all the plants she no longer sells. But will her nursery exist at all in 50 years?

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