If you have stumbled across my website, you might be able to tell that I am a bit of a houseplant enthusiast. And more specifically, you will know if you followed along with my project The A to Z of houseplants, I am particularly fascinated by the naming of plants the origins and etymology of these names, but also their groupings and classifications.  Presently, I have been exploring some of these re-groupings and re-classifications paying particular attention to plants that are in my collection.

|   T H E    I N S T A B I L I T  Y     O F     L A N G U A G E     |

As a caveat and to provide some context here, I think it’s relevant to say that I have always had an interest in language. In my PhD, I studied closely the instability of language and how words and phrases are so unfixed and fluid; furthermore, how meaning(s) can be embraced as mobile and mutable entities. As I am a few years post-doc now (…where has the time gone?!), I find it incredibly exciting that I am noticing some threads connecting my interests in plants and design and my more ‘academic’ interests together and I am looking forward to exploring this further. I want to reiterate again that I am not a botanist or a plant taxonomist, but my interest lies in observing my love of plants through the optic of my other interests. These inter-disciplinary intersections are ones that can allow us to see new perspectives and think about topics in new ways. 

Why I am talking about this? Well I suppose the enchantment of plant taxonomy for me is that on the surface there is a facade of rigidity, of fixity in categorising things into groups and sub-groups; there is a perceived order and a sense of clarity inherent in this task. But as more research is being done and new information is uncovered, things can shift around, get re-named, and take on new identities.

As plant enthusiasts, we can sometimes find this frustrating as the plant we bought a few years ago as [insert your plant here] has morphed into something entirely different as a result of re-classification. This happens all the time for a whole manner of reasons. I know some people feel a sense of outrage or betrayal — that suddenly your plant is not what you thought it was, especially if it’s one you have had for quite a long time. But in reality, your plant hasn’t really changed in front of your eyes, it’s still physically the same pot on your shelf. So love it the same, and call it whatever you like to I don’t think it will mind!

|   S E N E C I O    G E T S     R E C L A S S I F I E D    |

One of the re-classifications I have been seeing change on the houseplant market over the last few months is the Senecio group. As you can probably imagine, this relatively niche information is not really ‘hot off the press‘ news as soon as a change happens. Instead, there is a trickle-down effect until it gets to a stage where growers actually change the labels on their plants. This started happening on plant deliveries in the latter part of 2019. And when I photographed one of these ‘Senecios’ for Instagram a few weeks ago, I thought it would be an interesting update to share with you.

In short, the Senecio group have been split and reclassified into:

  • Caputia
  • Kleinia
  • Curio
  • and there are still some ‘true’ Senecio too

NOTE: The String of Pearls, or Senecio Rowleyanus [above] has also had a name change as part of these re-classifications and is now called Curio Rowleyanus

Here are two references that articulate the plant name change of the Senecio Haworthii:

…from South Africa were plants which were now placed in Caputia (which means “comes from the Cape”). We saw Senecio haworthii (Caputia tomentosa) with its silvery white leaves. There are a couple of cultivars which grow better than the species – these are called “Cass’s Variety” – a stouter plant which holds on to the leaves better and “Hans Herre” which has bigger leaves, which are slightly flattened at the ends. All Caputias have the hairy silver white coating on the leaves.

From the British Cacti and Succulent Society (BCSS) Southampton & District Branch Newsletter (October 2018: p4) 

[more in depth information here]

Some photos showing the growth of my Senecio haworthii / Caputia tomentosa:

The tribe Senecioneae (Asteraceae: Asteroideae) has recently been reclassified as a result of molecular phylogenetic investigations, and species with succulent leaves have been identified in several different clades of the tribe. […] The morphological and anatomical characterizations of identified groups correlate well with the clades found in the ITS-based molecular phylogenetic studies, and the reclassification of succulent-leaved species of Senecio s.l. into the segregate genera Caputia, Kleinia and Curio is strongly supported. Leaf characters provide easy-to-observe diagnostic characters to recognize the three genera.

[You can read the full abstract here]

So will I think about my ‘newly named’ plants differently? Not really  — plants are so much more than a name to me. The common names for these plants don’t often change either… perhaps my ‘wooly senecio’ might be referred to as a ‘wooly caputia’ over time, but I think it’s other nickname ‘cocoon plant’ will still be most widely used.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Thanks for reading

— Laura


Posted by:Laura / House Plant House

5 replies on “Plant taxonomy : Senecio gets reclassified (…featuring my cocoon plant)

      1. In another century, it will be what people know, and it should work for them . . . unless it gets changed again. (By that time, there should be no need to change the names though.)

        Liked by 1 person

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