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OR.........IN SEARCH OF A TREE, AND THE WONDERFUL PATH OF TAXONOMY part deux. continuing from case you missed it.....I am very pleased to welcome Andre Jagger - who specialises in Botany, Mycology and Biochemistry - and who lives in Hong Kong for a couple of days of guest blog posting. Let me know what you think, if you would like more planty blogs (ie not just animals) and if you fancy having a guest blog yourself (even if its just a great wildcreature shot).


Upon chasing down the taxonomy of this tree it was interesting to note that this particular species and many of its sister species were first described in 1998, according to Kew Gardens and others, by Lai Kuan Ling in the Chinese version of the Flora of China, (Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae. Beijing 50(1): 183 (1998)).

I took this to be quite a surprise. Was it that there was an original description in Chinese and not in Latin by someone else? It is evident at least SIX(6) sister species to the tree of interest here all came into being in 1998 and they reside in Asia and they were all, apparently, first described by L. K. Ling.

Was a very benevolent act of God revealed here in that some day in 1998, the heavens parted and revealed all SIX species to L. K. Ling who then promptly took up the description of them? Did something get lost in translation here?

One might suppose that these species are not very noticeable or that perhaps they have been confused with other known species. In regard to not being noticeable, these plants are by the large not that uncommon and the flowers have a powerful fragrance, that if isolated would make a very good massage oil or for use in incense burner oils. The leaves, if damaged also produce a volatile but a less sweet and a heavier scent than that of the flower, again, quite suitable for an aromatherapy oil. Plants with these characteristics are quickly set upon and become tried and tested in foods and folklore medicines. So it is hard to argue that these plants could have been easily overlooked, given most people would have assumed they'd been in existence long before 1998! The fact that this plant could easily be confused with a sister species and such confusion has occurred in the past on several occasions might be the reason.

References on various Hong Kong websites for the tree in question point to "Hu ex L. K. Ling" for the attribution of the naming of the plant and its description. I can find nowhere in the English literature where Hu, presumably it was Hsen Hsu Hu (1894-1968), was mentioned in having anything to do with a plant of the named species or named genus. Admittedly my ability to read Chinese well , even moderately, is lacking and so it may be a buried reference in the Chinese scientific literature. However, trying to get to the bottom of this has led to some very interesting analysis.

From the online Shiu-Ying Herbarium "Self Learning References" the major Floras are described for the East and South East Asian regions, the one of interest is the Chinese language Flora Reipublicae Popularis Sinicae (

Putting the said scientific (Latin) name of the plant of interest into the search field of this website reveals the page of the plant concerned. At this page, the attribution of the plant looks as follows : "L. K. Ling [Icon. Corm. Sin. Suppl. 2: 475. 1983. in clavi nom. nud.] sp. nov. in Addenda". The plot thickens, for now it is known that the plant didn't just spontaneously appear in 1998 but apparently was around in 1983!

To a taxonomist this still wouldn't be that satisfying, for instance, it is still not known who first recorded the plant for the name to be placed into "Icon. Corm. Sin. Suppl.". For those not familiar with the Chinese Floras (Volumes of work regarding the Chinese Plants) this abbreviation will mean nothing. Indeed, the trap had been set. Trying to work backwards on the internet from the abbreviation "Icon. Corm. Sin. Suppl." to a full name is an arduous task. Most of the bibliographic abbreviation indexes never mentioned it, the Flora of Hong Kong makes reference to the Botanico-Periodicum-Huntianum/Supplementum for its journal abbreviations ( and Stafleu et al Taxonomic Literature ( for books and neither of these appear to make any mention of what "Icon. Corm. Sin. Suppl." might be, perhaps because it is a Chinese Language book or periodical [ a bit difficult to search through even if it were present in these databases ]. Continued searching on google finally revealed a reference that shed more light on this mystery "In:Wang, W.T.(ed.), Icon. Corm. Sin., suppl. 2:<page>. Science Press, Beijing.[In Chinese]". This clue revealed what was expected, the book/periodical was in Chinese and it revealed the base name was "Icon. Corm. Sin.". A search of the publisher was difficult but interesting in the extent of the journals and books published. You need Chinese Language skills to go deeply there.

Naturally, the next step in this gold digging exercise would be to try a brainless search for "Icon. Corm. Sin." - as "Suppl." almost certainly means what you might think it does, Supplement. Indeed, plenty of output arises and after several pages I stumbled upon : "Guide to Standard Floras of the World: An Annotated, Geographically Arranged Systematic Bibliography of the Principal Floras, Enumerations, Checklists and Chronological Atlases of Different Areas" 2nd Edition. David G. Frodin." No further searching was needed for on page 794 of this book you will find "Institute of Botany, Academia Sinica, Iconographia cormophytorum sinicorum" (7 Volumes of 1-5 Parts, Supplements I & II). The reference provided by Frodin, on this page, was very revealing and is discussed in the next paragraph. Iconographia Cormophytorum Sinicorum is very significant Chinese Language Flora and it is still able to be purchased online with ISBN/ISSN 9787030445056.

Right! Finally, I discuss the nature of the latin comments in the original attribution "in clavi nom. nud. sp. nov. in addenda" and the reference provided by Frodin. Frodin's reference "Coverage seems to be more complete for the northern and eastern provices of China, and full treatment was also related to a given taxon's presumed importance(additional species may appear only in the keys)." hints at what L. K. Ling found. "in clavi" - in the key, "nom. nud." = nomen nude - a naked name. The scientific name of the species was provided in a key but there was no description for it. Hence, L. K. Ling provides the description giving rise to "sp. nov." = species nova - new species to science - Oh! but it wasn't quite - the description was new and it now satisfied the terms of Botanical Nomenclature - "in addenda" - in addition to the information provided in the key. There you have it ... One fact left to be chased is who placed the key into Iconographia cormophytorum sinicorum and on what authority did they do so? This, I am afraid to say is as far as I can go currently.

Right, now after being left guessing with only a few distant teasers in the way of plant foliage, you may probably be getting rather annoyed that I have hidden the goods and stolen the show with a bit of heresay chat! Guilty as accused, I will now come up with the goods.

This plant is a native to South Central and South East China and is certainly native to Hong Kong. There is a good case for including it into slope management and parks and gardens thoughout Hong Kong but it does prefer well drained soil and appears to favour a higher altitude. It is not currently a threatened species but its habitat in Hong Kong seems to be scattered in the higher regions of Country Parks. It is indeed, a Ternstroemia. The Sharp Sepaled Ternstroemia, Ternstroemia luteoflora L. K. Ling [Icon. Corm. Sin. Suppl. 2: 475. 1983. in clavi nom. nud.] sp. nov. in Addenda.

So if you now remain in doubt that doubt can be put to rest in Figure 2.

This species gets confused with T. gymnanthera. There are a couple of traits that can be used to quickly separate the two species.

T. luteoflora has a leaf margin that is slightly revolute (rolled over adaxial to abaxial) and most importantly the flower sepal margins are glandular ciliolate (glandular with fringed margin - short hair like structures). The ciliolate margins are discernable to the eye and can be seen with close inspection in the study posted here. There are a few other traits that distinguish the two species and these can be found in the Flora of Hong Kong, among those, size of leaves and floral parts also plays its part. T. gymnanthera is also well known for having reddish petioles and young stems whereas this trait is diminished or may not even be present in T. luteoflora.

Finally, current biochemistry studies of T. gymnanthera inidcate the presence of a vast range of triterpenoids and phytosteroidal compounds and their glycosides, with

positive pharmacological and health benefits. T. luteoflora could be expected to possess a similar range of compounds and appears to be in need of analysis.

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