Thursday, November 17, 2011

Oakey Bottlebrush

Melaleuca quercina
(Callistemon quercinus)

I am so pleased to have been sent information about a Callistemon species which I had understood to be still unnamed. (see my article Feb 2011).

Apparently this very local plant was given a name in 2009 by Lyn Craven, working for CSIRO at the Australian National Herbarium. He has at last sorted out a number of closely related plants, establishing that this one, which is only known to occur in the blacksoil country from Oakey creek to Clifton, is a separate species. It was described and named from a specimen collected in 1991 on the western side of Brookvale Park Road, 10k west of Oakey, by Betty Ballingall.
Its new name, "Melaleuca quercina" requires a little explanation.
The plants that so many of us know as Callistemons have been moved into the Melaleuca genus which explains the first part of its name. All the "callistemons" are now officially melaleucas.
The second part, “quercina” is a rather dry little botany joke. Quercus is the Latin name for the trees we Australians call “English oaks”, and their relatives, so quercina refers to the plant’s habitat. Oakey Creek's name really has nothing to do with oaks of the Quercus kind, which is part of the joke, of course. It, and the town of Oakey which stands on its banks, got their name from the river she-oaks Casuarina cunninghamiana which once lined the creek.
If you want to be politically correct you can spell them “she-oke”, which is the modern approved spelling. The people who gave them the name in the first place didn’t care about political correctness. They named them after the familiar English oaks because of a similarity between the timbers, both of which, when quarter-sawn, have prominent and decorative medullary rays. Adding “she” to “oak” was, I am sorry to say, the way those men expressed the perceived inferiority of Casuarina timber.
So the link between Melaleuca quercina and any actual Quercus is a very tenuous one indeed - but but I like it!
I suggest that, for a common name, we could settle for calling it "Oakey bottlebrush".


Geoff Derrin said...

Thanks for some interesting information about the little-known melaleuca - Melaleuca quercina.
One point needs correcting though - Lyn Craven was a man. There is a Wikipedia page about him. His full name was Lyndley Alan Craven. I think he liked to be known as "Lyn" because he often used the abbreviation on his publications.
I would be interested to know how you know the collector's name was Betty Ballingall - the name given in the paper on Melaleuca quercina is "M.E. Ballingall". Could the "E" stand for Elizabeth?
I am also interested in your comment about "she-oke". That's not something I've ever seen before. Where does that come from?
Also, not all Australian botanists accept the name Melaleuca quercina. Since all the stamens are free, they give the name Callistemon quercina. You may know that Craven transferred all the callistemons to Melaleuca.
Thank you. Good luck with your work.
Geoff Derrin

Patricia Gardner said...

Thanks for your comments, Geoff.
My apologies to Lyn. I'll change my incorrect reference to you as "she"!
Being a Queenslander, I follow the lead of the Queensland herbarium in accepting the transfer of callistemons into Melaleuca, (though I don't like it much). In fact, Dr Craven named this particular plant Melaleuca, so in this case calling it a Callistemon could be said to be the change, rather than the other way round.
Then again, perhaps not, as it had the provisional name "Callistemon sp. Injune" for a while until Dr. Craven sorted the sp. Injune complex into three or four separate Melaleuca species.
Betty Ballingall was a well-known Toowoomba naturalist, Geoff. I imagine the E in her name stood for Elizabeth, as you suggest.
And to answer your email and spell out the political incorrectness of "she-oak" for those (male, I'm sure) readers who didn't get it: we females do get sick of the casual acceptance of femininity as a mark of inferiority. That it should be taken for granted that "she"-oak was an obvious and suitable name for an inferior kind of oak is not something that you can expect us to like very much.