This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
I have often been impressed with the mixed nature of foreign nomenclature, and I now notice that you propose to call all conifers with erect cones Abies, and those with pendant cones Picea. You thus make our common Balsam Fir and its congeners Abies. It will be difficult to make gardeners recognize this distinction.
If you will show an observing, intelligent man a Norway Spruce and a Silver Fir as types of their respective classes, and let him study them well, he may go through the most varied nursery and will infallibly place all of each class by themselves, whether the cones are erect or pendant. The difference in the foliage of the two classes is very marked and clear. You would scarcely call the Norway Spruce Picea excelsa : and yet if you preserve the old name of Abies excelsa the distinction is so great that it is difficult to adopt Abies Balsamea as the true name of our American Balsam Fir. Moreover, in experimenting for twenty years, we have never succeeded in grafting any of the Norway Fir class upon the Balsam stock or the converse. There Is so marked a difference in the roots that our propagator, Mr. Trumpy, can always recognize them when shown him without the tops. Nearly all the Abies, as we have hitherto termed them, grow freely from cuttings.; the Piceas grow from cuttings with great difficulty.
"We are accustomed humbly to bow to the dicta of botanists, but do they all agree in this nomenclature ? If not, let us adhere to the old names which are dear to some of us by associations. virgilia lutea, with its liquid Italian sound, was a pleasant name to utter. Cladrastus tnctoria, its successor, is harsh and discordant. The Corchorus of our childhood was a beautiful flower. The Kerria does not bring up so pleasant a memory. The strong growth and showy bloom of the Bignonia was always a pleasure. The Tecoma will never seem quite the same thing. For all purposes we need correct scientific nomenclature, but without strong reason do not let us break up the association of the past.
[Our correspondent, we fear, misapprehends, for there is no intention of confusing the Spruce and Silver Firs together. But the names are wrong. The disagreeable changes to which he refers in the latter part of his communication come from the indifference to being right. If people would be careful to be "right before they go ahead" in plant's names as in other things, the trouble of changing names, to which he refers, would not occur.
We are not changing names now, but are simply pointing out that which is right, for Picea is the oldest and proper name for the spruces, and Abies for the firs. At one time we feared to advocate the right, lest it might make trouble; but no more confusion can possibly arise than at present exists in Europe, scarcely two writers agreeing as to whether a plant in question is a Picea or an Abies. Indeed, the Balsam Fir, used by our correspondent as an illustration, is as often called Abies Balsamea in European works as anything else.
Our best botanist in Conifera3,Dr. Engelmann, refuses to recognize the modern Abies and Picea, but contends that they should be transposed to their proper places. In view of the confusion already existing in European nomenclature, it will make no trouble now to hold out for the right. - Ed. G. M].