The Gospel According To GRIN

USDA = United States Department of Agriculture
ARS = Agricultural Research Service
NPGS = National Plant Germplasm System
GRIN = Germplasm Resources Information Network

One of our goals for this web site is to provide correct, up-to-date taxonomy and nomenclature of the plants we write about. In other words, we want the plant names we use and where they fit in the plant world to be as accurate as possible. Since we are not experts in these fields, we need the help of those who are.

There are a number of plant databases out there, many now on the Internet. Some are quite good, but limited in scope. Others are seriously out of date and still others are glaringly inaccurate. We have "trawled" all of the databases that we could find in the course of our various projects and always come back to one of them, GRIN, the most extensive, current and accurate plant database there is.

There are always differences of opinion about naming and placement, but it has made sense to us to choose a single source of information and to stick with it, rather than bounce from authority to authority or database to database. Our confidence is well founded. Dr. John Wiersema, primary author of GRIN, is one of the world's leading taxonomists. Fortunately for us, he has a special interest in waterlilies and other aquatics. He is also extremely responsive to queries about data in GRIN or from other sources. No question is left unanswered.

After presenting a paper about GRIN at the International Horticultural Congress in 2002, John was asked by a representative of another plant database why, when GRIN was so all-encompassing, efforts were being duplicated. John simply smiled and shrugged. Several excerpts from John's paper are below.

"GRIN taxonomic data originated with the Nomenclature File of the former Plant Exploration and Taxonomy Laboratory (PETL) of USDA, ARS. . . The purpose of the File from the beginning was to provide correct scientific names for USDA plant introductions, many of which are now maintained in NPGS."

"In recent years a concerted effort has been made to expand GRIN Taxonomy to include all economically important vascular plants worldwide, thereby making available accurate and up-to-date information on these plants. The stature of GRIN Taxonomy, as a global reference for economic plant names, has continued to grow for several principal reasons, namely the breadth of taxonomic and geographic coverage, data content, scientific accuracy and currency, availability on the internet, and responsiveness to users."

"GRIN Taxonomy now provides accurate scientific names for nearly 36,000 species of vascular plants. . . The taxonomy area encompasses names governed by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN; Greuter et al., 2000) at the customary ranks of family, genus, species, subspecies, variety, or forma. Other ICBN categories, such as subfamily, tribe, subtribe, subgenus, section, subsection, series, subseries, and subvariety may also be delineated. . . Several types of data records are contained in GRIN Taxonomy. These include accepted or synonym scientific names, common names, distributions, literature references, and economic impacts."

"One strength of GRIN Taxonomy derives from the substantial investment by ARS in the taxonomic resources and expertise necessary to accumulate, evaluate, and defend the information presented. SBML botanists are now responsible for maintaining the integrity of the scientific names and the associated information in GRIN. This information has been garnered during more than three decades of nomenclature research on economic plants by USDA vascular plant taxonomists experienced in the intricacies of botanical nomenclature and the interpretation of taxonomic data and with excellent available library resources (Wiersema, 1995) providing ready access to current and historical botanical literature. Likewise, reviews from hundreds of taxonomists throughout the world have been sought for portions of GRIN taxonomic data, and for major crop genera interaction with other USDA crop scientists is possible. When complex nomenclature problems arise, the opinions of other nomenclature specialists are routinely solicited. GRIN Taxonomy thus conforms to international rules of botanical (Greuter et al., 2000) and cultivated plant (Trehane et al., 1995) nomenclature."

All of the above are the reasons we accept the information found in GRIN as gospel, but this gospel is not cast in stone. It is continually being updated, clarified and expanded, making it THE resource for plant information in today's high tech world.

GRIN Taxonomy Home Page | Profile - Dr. John Wiersema

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