In botany, an infraspecific name is the scientific name for any taxon below the rank of species, i.e. an infraspecific taxon. (A "taxon", plural "taxa", is a group of organisms to be given a particular name; "infraspecific" means "any rank below the level of species".) The scientific names of plants (and some other groups) are regulated by the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN, formerly the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, ICBN). This specifies a 'three part name' for infraspecific taxa, plus a 'connecting term' to indicate the rank of the name. An example of such a name is Astrophytum myriostigma subvar. glabrum, the name of a subvariety of the species Astrophytum myriostigma (bishop's hat cactus).
Names below the rank of species of cultivated varieties of plants and of animals are regulated by different codes of nomenclature and are formed somewhat differently.
Construction of infraspecific names
Article 24 of the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN) describes how infraspecific names are constructed. The order of the three parts of an infraspecific name is:
- genus name, specific epithet, connecting term indicating the rank (not part of the name, but required), infraspecific epithet.
It is customary to italicize all three parts of such a name, but not the connecting term. For example:
- Acanthocalycium klimpelianum var. macranthum
- genus name = Acanthocalycium, specific epithet = klimpelianum, connecting term = var. (short for "varietas" or variety), infraspecific epithet = macranthum
- Astrophytum myriostigma subvar. glabrum
- genus name = Astrophytum, specific epithet = myriostigma, connecting term = subvar. (short for "subvarietas" or subvariety), infraspecific epithet = glabrum
The ranks below species explicitly allowed in the ICN are:
- subspecies - recommended abbreviation: subsp. (but "ssp." is also in use although not recognised by Art 26)
- varietas (variety) - recommended abbreviation: var.
- subvarietas (subvariety) - recommended abbreviation: subvar.
- forma (form) - recommended abbreviation: f.
- subforma (subform) - recommended abbreviation: subf.
Abbreviation of infraspecific names
Like specific epithets, infraspecific epithets cannot be used in isolation as names. Thus the name of a particular species of Acanthocalycium is Acanthocalycium klimpelianum, which can be abbreviated to A. klimpelianum where the context makes the genus clear. The species cannot be referred to as just klimpelianum. In the same way, the name of a particular variety of Acanthocalycium klimpelianum is Acanthocalycium klimpelianum var. macranthum, which can be abbreviated to A. k. var. macranthum where the context makes the species clear. The variety cannot be referred to as just macranthum.
Sometimes more than three parts will be given; strictly speaking, this is not a name, but a classification. The ICN gives the example of Saxifraga aizoon var. aizoon subvar. brevifolia f. multicaulis subf. surculosa; the name of the subform would be Saxifraga aizoon subf. surculosa.
Legitimate infraspecific names
For a proposed infraspecific name to be legitimate it must be in accordance with all the rules of the ICN. Only some of the main points are described here.
A key concept in botanical names is that of a type. In many cases the type will be a particular preserved specimen stored in a herbarium, although there are other kinds of type. Like other names, an infraspecific name is attached to a type. Whether a plant should be given a particular infraspecific name can then be decided by comparing it to the type.
There is no requirement for a species to be divided into infraspecific taxa, of whatever rank; in other words, a species does not have to have subspecies, varieties, forms, etc. However, if infraspecific ranks are created, then the name of the type of the species must repeat the specific epithet as its infraspecific epithet. The type acquires this name automatically as soon as any infraspecific rank is created. As an example, consider Poa secunda J.Presl, whose type specimen is in the Wisconsin State Herbarium.
- As soon as a subspecies of Poa secunda was created, then the type specimen of P. secunda immediately became the type specimen of Poa secunda subsp. secunda. The name "Poa secunda subsp. secunda" was automatically created (it is an "autonym"). Soreng created the subspecies Poa secunda subsp. juncifolia (whose type specimen is also in the Wisconsin State Herbarium), thereby making the type specimen of P. secunda also the type specimen of Poa secunda subsp. secunda.
- If in addition to the subspecies any variety of Poa secunda were to be created, then the type specimen of P. secunda would automatically become the type specimen of Poa secunda var. secunda. The type specimen would then have the classification Poa secunda subsp. secunda var. secunda.
The same epithet can be used again within a species, at whatever level, only if the names with the re-used epithet are attached to the same type. Thus there can be a form called Poa secunda f. juncifolia as well as the subspecies Poa secunda subsp. juncifolia if, and only if, the type specimen of Poa secunda f. juncifolia is the same as the type specimen of Poa secunda subsp. juncifolia (in other words, if there is a single type specimen whose classification is Poa secunda subsp. juncifolia f. juncifolia).
If two infraspecific taxa which have different types are accidentally given the same epithet, then a homonym has been created. The earliest published name is the legitimate one and the other must be changed.
When indicating authors for infraspecific names, it is possible to show either just the author(s) of the final, infraspecific epithet, or the authors of both the specific and the infraspecific epithets. Examples:
- Adenia aculeata subsp. inermis de Wilde
- This identifies de Wilde as the author who published this name for the subspecies (i.e. who created the epithet inermis). Note that here it was decided not to indicate authority for the species.
- Pinus nigra J.F.Arnold subsp. salzmannii (Dunal) Franco
- Here, J.F.Arnold is the author who gave the species, European black pine, its botanical name Pinus nigra; Dunal is the author who was the first to publish the epithet salzmanii for this taxon (as the species Pinus salzmanii); Franco is the author who reduced the taxon to a subspecies of Pinus nigra.
Difference from zoology
In zoology, names of taxa below species rank are formed somewhat differently, using a trinomen or 'trinomial name'. No connecting term is required as there is only one rank below species, the subspecies.
The ICN does not regulate the names of cultivated varieties of plants (cultivars), i.e. varieties of plants specifically created for use in agriculture or horticulture. Such names are regulated by the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP). A cultivar name may be attached to any scientific name at the genus level or below and so may be below the rank of species (and hence "infraspecific" in the widest sense of the term). For example, Pinus nigra 'Arnold Sentinel' is a cultivar of the species P. nigra which is particularly upright and is propagated vegetatively so that all plants of this cultivar have the same habit.
- International Code of Zoological Nomenclature
- International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants
- McNeill et al. 2006
- McNeill et al. 2006, Art. 24
- See the examples in McNeill et al. 2006, Art. 24
- McNeill et al. 2006, Art. 4; abbreviations from Recommendation 5A
- McNeill et al. 2006, Art. 24.1
- McNeill et al. 2006, Art. 24.1, Ex. 1
- McNeill et al. 2006, Appendix VII Glossary of terms used and defined in this Code, entry for "legitimate"
- McNeill et al. 2006, Art. 7
- McNeill et al. 2006, Art. 26
- Wisconsin Botanical Information System: Type Specimens, Wisconsin State Herbarium, University of Wisconsin, retrieved 2011-06-01
- McNeill, J.; Barrie, F.R.; Burdet, H.M. et al., eds. (2006), International code of botanical nomenclature (Vienna Code) adopted by the seventeenth International Botanical Congress, Vienna, Austria, July 2005 (electronic ed.), Vienna: International Association for Plant Taxonomy, retrieved 2011-02-20 (As of October 2012[update], this is the latest edition of the ICN available online.)