Fukien Tea Tree: Ehretia microphylla (not Carmona retusa)


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Heaven only knows what kind of can of worms I'm opening but can't be any worse than substrate mixtures wars, so here it goes!

The Fukien Tea Tree (also known as Philippine tea tree) by its common name is often taxonomically listed as both Ehretia microphylla & Carmona retusa. Stranger yet, I sometimes see those genus and species names intermixed (i.e. Carmona microphyllia). I've also seen the genus maintained but with a new species name included (i.e. ehretia buxifolia). Wait, what? Isn't that a species name used for some boxwood? This tricky little tree even has other names I won't get into for the sake of brevity (lol...as if this post appears to have any sense of brevity). As if the multitude of names were not confusing enough, it is itself a point of interest that they are listed "synonymously" rather than "erroneously". An example of the latter would be with Ficus bonsai where Ficus microcarpa is mistakenly referred to as Ficus retusa (see here).

Back to Fukien Tea Trees, while synonymous suggests both are at least right in some capacity, it doesn't mean they are interchangeable either. Sometimes plants are moved into new groups when our understanding of those groups changes (e.g. one could be an old name based on scientific understanding of the time or we find that a species is more closely related to another genus and so we move it to be with its correct relatives). Other times, a single species get independently named by two individuals, and when it's discovered that there are two names competing for the same plant, whoever documented theirs first usually gets "dibs" and wins. The old synonym is still recognized as it was correct up until that point where the community recognized the duplication. I understand there are cases even where groups of scientists disagree in the classification but let's not go there. This is why you see the reuse of Ehretia and Carmona as those scientists arrived at similar conclusions as to where this plan belongs.

Now I know things get complicated in science. For instance, we had a dinosaur called Brontosaurus when I was a kid, then there was only Apatosaurus, low and behold we now we have Brontosaurus back again. Stay with me here as this example sheds some light on the Fukien Tea Tree Mystery. In my sauropod example, apatosaurus was named first (Cope 1877) and so when they thought brontosaurus wasn't different enough to justify a separate genus, only a unique species, it reverted to the first name (because Marsh named it in 1879 and so Cope's name took precedence).

After doing some digging, it looks like Ehretia microphylla was named first (in either 1784 or 1792 depending on the source) and is the currently most correct accepted name for this plant. Carmona Retusa (1940), Carmona microphyllia (1837), and Ehretia buxfolia (1796) were all classified later and I found no evidence to support their continued use over Ehretia microphylla. With the dinosaur example, new research later showed differences that make brontosaurus different enough to warrant its own group, however, unless some scientist is studying the Fukien Tea Tree and reveals new evidence to the contrary, it looks like the other taxonomy names are all dead ends...too bad because I kinda like Carmona Retusa better.

As such, we should probably all do the same and refer to it as Ehretia microphylla. I hope this sheds some light on this mystery for those who find taxonomy of value. I'm by no means a botanist and so I'm sure there are those with additional insights to share, if I've missed anything or there is more to complete the story I'd love to hear it.


Imperial Masterpiece
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I thought that the taxonomists finally got it to the point of DNA fingerprint for everything. ??


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Northern Virginia

Now do a post on how every xanthoxylum "Japanese pepper" bonsai tree ever sold is not even close to that.

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