From Plant Press, Vol. 17, No. 3, July 2014.
By V.A. Funk
In April 2014, Harold Robinson and Vicki Funk published an article in Phytokeys (36: 35-40) describing a new genus, Dysaster, and a new species, D. cajamarcensis H. Rob. & V.A. Funk. Robinson had suggested naming it Dysaster because it was so difficult to place. In fact, the article starts off by saying:
“There is something very unsatisfying about a plant, sent for identification, that has no strikingly distinctive feature, but has a combination of characteristics that excludes it from any already known genus. It is particularly unsatisfying when the plant involved is a member of a tribe such as the Astereae in which phyletic studies using DNA… are not yet adequately correlated with morphological and anatomical studies. Nevertheless, such a plant has been collected in northern Peru.”
While the authors enjoyed the small joke concerning the name they had no idea that it had deeper meaning. Shortly after it was published, their colleague Jan-Frits Veldkamp (Nationaal Herbarium Nederland) wrote to Funk with some interesting information which is paraphrased below:
Just saw your paper on Dysaster. Fortunately, it is not a later homonym of Disaster Gilli, Ann. Naturhist. Mus. Wien 83: 454 (1979 publ. 1980) from New Guinea (Rhamnaceae) because the orthography, derivation, and distribution are unlikely to be confused (except perhaps in universal databases!). Gilli was a schoolteacher in Vienna and after his retirement went to visit his former students in faraway countries where he made collections. Apparently what he could not identify with the means available in W (Herbarium of the Natural History Museum in Vienna) he described as new. One place he visited was Papua New Guinea where he collected on Mt. Wilhelm, the best known and explored area of the island. Here he, among a number of other novelties, "discovered" a new genus of Rhamnaceae with flowers that resembled two overlapping stars. Hence the name "Disaster". Professor C.G.G.J. van Steenis became very upset with all the new taxa and asked for a loan of the type material. Thus it became clear that Disaster was not a Rhamnaceae, but a Sterculiaceae! Hence Gilli is locally known as Disaster Gilli.
Botanical trivial pursuit at its best!