Dicentras: Dicentra spectabilis

Sorry, but to me ‘Lamprocapnos’ sounds more like a Greek holiday destination than a traditional cottage garden plant. But then its close relative ‘Dactylicapnos’ sounds more like a flying dinosaur than a climbing plant! What am I talking about? Dicentras, or what used to be Dicentras.


Pelargonium, not Geranium, ‘Paton’s Unique’

Name changes nearly always annoy gardeners

Occasionally, someone asks me why they can’t buy a Stransvesia anywhere anymore (it’s now Photinia and has been for over a decade), why Schizostylis with its various pronunciations has been changed to the easier Hesperantha (honestly, it should have always been Hesperantha), and why I refer to Azaleas as Rhododendrons (again a quite legitimate change, moving two genera that were all but identical together).

I always raise a smile when people rant that they can’t get used to Pelargoniums not being a part of Geraniums anymore. Pelargoniums were split from the genus Geranium in 1789, more than 220 years ago!

But who keeps changing things? Like it or not, gardening is full of science. When you think about it, do you not make sure your plants always have the right amount of light, of water, of nutrition? Yes you do, because science tells us this is what our plants need. Gardening also uses chemistry, history, and a less well known branch of botany called taxonomy.

Dicentras: Dicentra cucullaria

Dicentra cucullaria

The gist of taxonomy

I could go on flights of fancy and tell you taxonomists live as hermits in caves… they might as well do because most people are highly unlikely to ever meet one. And I can’t name any living taxonomists.

Taxonomists focus their efforts on identifying, naming and classifying plants botanically and exploring the relationships between them. It’s a specialist job, requiring a keen eye for detail and an organised mind.

Mostly taxonomists don’t really affect the gardening world, concentrating on more obscure genera, but sometimes they like to ‘rock the boat’ by proposing a new name for a well known garden plant. This is what has happened with Dicentras.

Dicentras: Dicentra formosana

Dicentra formosana ‘Alba’ hasn’t changed??

Dicentras and the ‘odd one out’

It used to be that Dicentras were simply Dicentras, until someone somewhere noticed that of the non-climbing species there was an odd one out. One species always grows with small leaves on its flowering stems while the rest all produce a single bare stem that comes straight from the ground.

The odd one out became Lamprocapnos spectabilis, changed from Dicentra spectabilis. Of course you couldn’t have the climbing species still as Dicentra when they too were odd ones out. So the climbing species were all put into a new genus, Dactylicapnos. It does make sense, and the differences are there for all to see. But this change has caused a lot of grumpiness amongst gardeners and nurseries.

Dicentras: Dicentra spectabilis

Dicentra spectabilis is now Lamprocapnos spectabilis

The fact is that if the odd one out of the Dicentras was a lesser known species then most people wouldn’t care if it changed; it’s the change to the most popular and well known species that seems to have caused fuss. Because the climbing species aren’t as widely known or grown the impact of being lumbered with a name like Dactylicapnos has been much reduced.

So should we go with this new name, or should we insist that Lamprocapnos is still Dicentra for the next 220 years like some people are still doing with Pelargoniums and Geraniums? I say we should change and adapt; taxonomy as a science is as legitimate a part of horticulture as any other. And we should just have to adapt as we go, much as it might pain us to do so.

But it would be nice if the taxonomists didn’t give our plants such cumbersome new names though!

  • Ali

    So tricksy is this name that you appear to have spelt it wrong! 😂😘 Or all the nurseries have copies it wrong. I only know because I had to check it the other day – it’s listed as Lamprocapnos! Please don’t autocorrect that, WordPress.

    April 16, 2018
      • Ali

        Sorry! What a p in the a!

        April 16, 2018
  • Ali

    Copied!! 😂

    April 16, 2018
  • C.

    So why ‘lamprocapnos’? Is it Greek for something relevant?

    February 3, 2019
  • Good to see this reported in a broad and reasonable way. Anyone would think that Taxonomists were out to annoy people rather than doing important work. It is an interesting question as to how the new names are decided though.

    January 3, 2021

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