[Picture of <em>Carex leporina</em>]

The Carex leporina/ovalis/leporina name problem (February 2008)

The alternation of the names Carex leporina and C. ovalis is a problem of typification. Current rules require that anyone naming a species designate a “type specimen” that shows what that name means. The name follows that specimen, not the description. That rule didn’t exist in the early years of scientific taxonomy.

Linnaeus described Carex leporina before the time of type specimens. His description definitely pointed to a Carex in section Ovales, but he based his concept on a mixture of diverse species including some referable to Carex lachenalii, which is not even an Ovales! In fact, the first attempt to provide a type specimen for the name (in 1948) typified it with a plant referable to C. lachenalii. Because of this confusion, the name was proposed for rejection in 1997, though this action was not recommended at that time by the international governing body that makes such decisions. Nevertheless, use of the nameC. leporina diminished because of the confusion and the expectation that the name would eventually be rejected. The name C. ovalis became widely adopted for the common European species of Ovales because its meaning was never in doubt. However, in 1999, the late sedge expert Mrs. T. V. Egorova rejected the earlier typification of Carex leporina as contrary to the original description, and re-typified it with an illustration that is clearly referable to the common European species of Ovales. Her choice was consistent with what botanists had been doing before, but by that time not many people wanted any type specimen at all for C. leporina. If more sedge experts had known about this, they might have pushed more firmly to reject the name C. leporina rather than resurrect it.

Now that the name C. leporina has been lectotypified, we must use the name C. leporina unless we want to go to the trouble of formally overturning it. That would create yet another layer of confusion and it isn't guaranteed that the relevant international committees would approve, anyway. Therefore, it is time to swear a little and then get used to using C. leporina again.