Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The story of the superfluous drumstick tree species

Just tonight I was looking through the most recent catalogue from LUSH, the novelty-loving skincare company from Canada, and botanical accuratist as I am, I was scanning the ingredient lists at the end of the catalogue. This is always interesting, you never know what you might find! Here is an example of the lists can look like:

One of many pages in the LUSH catalogue, listing the ingredients to their products according to the INCI database. Photo by BotanicalAccuracy.com.
All skincare ingredients follow the standardized INCI database naming system, so that all ingredients follow a particular format and have a standardized name.  INCI is managed by the Personal Products Care Council who are in the process of updating scientific names that have become outdated or changed.

One of the names I found was MORINGA OIL (MORINGA PTERYGOSPERMA) from the medicinal moringa plant in the family Moringaceae, not too distant from the cabbage family (Brassicaceae). 
Drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera) from Francisco Manuel Blanco's (1880-1883?) Flora de Filipinas, Public Domain.
There is an excellent explanation on why Moringa pterygosperma is a name that should no longer be used on a web page by Mark E. Olson, as part of the Moringa International Germplasm Collection's Moringa Blog. In the blog post the fascinating story of how the two moringa species were discovered, described, and how one name (Moringa pterygosperma) turned out to be the same as another name (Moringa oleifera). Unfortunately both names are still in use today. If you read all the way to the end (while passing by exquisite drawings from the old original botanical works), you will get to the conclusion by Mark E. Olson:
"The summary of this story is that Moringa pterygosperma is a superfluous name for Moringa oleifera. It is the result of an oversight of an ambitious 18th century botanist who was working himself to exhaustion in a race against blindness. Whatever the cause, there is no reason at all ever to use the name Moringa pterygosperma. "
So, this means that every label on a skincare product that currently lists Moringa pterygosperma as an ingredient, should change that scientific name to Moringa oleifera. This will take some time to change, but this is how scientific progress looks like in biodiversity and speciation studies.  And don't buy Moringa pterygosperma thinking it is a better product than something with Moringa oleifera - the two names are the same thing.