Changes in Taxonomy of Chelone glabra and the Traditional Scrophulariaceae (Figwort Family)

by Marion Lobstein


 Chelone glabra or smooth turtlehead has had an interesting taxonomic journey. Called “Chelone acadiensis flore albo” by Tournefort in 1706 (Flora Virginica, 1762), turtlehead was assigned its current binominium by Linnaeus in 1753. Chelonetraditionally has been placed in theScrophulariaceae (Figwort family). This family (as well as Plantaginaceae) was proposed by A.L. de Jussieu in 1789.  The taxonomy of Scrophulariaceae has been a challenge since that time and is one of the flowering plant families undergoing recent significant change or disintegration. Over the last two centuries, this family has been divided into subfamilies and tribes:  Orobanchaceae (Broomrape family) has moved in and out of that family as have other families such as the Paulowniaceae.  Since the early 1990s, continuing DNA research on members of the Scrophulariaceae has resulted in this family being disintegrated into a minimum of five families for genera occurring in Virginia.  The listing below shows the families and genera assigned to these families:

  • Scrophulariaceae:  (Figwort family-redefined)
    • Scrophularia (figwort), Verbascum (mulleins)
  • Orobanchaceae (Broomrape family) [traditionally included only Conopholis(cancer- or squaw-root), Epifagus (beechdrops), and Orobanche (broom-rape) –all species are plant root parasites]
    • Former Scrophulariaceae genera (all hemi-parasitic on roots of other plants genera to some degree) reassigned to Orobanchaceae are:  Agalinis  (false foxgloves), Aureolaria (false foxgloves), Buchnera (bluehearts) , Castilleja (Indian paintbrushes), Melampyrum (cow-wheat), Pedicularis (louseworts)
  • Phrymaceae (Lopseed family) [traditionally included only Phryma (lopseed)]
    • Former Scrophulariaceae genera reassigned to Phrymaceae are:  Mazus (mazuses) , Micranthemum (micranthemums) , Mimulus (monkeyflowers)
  • Plantaginaceae (Plantain family) [traditionally included only Plantago(plantains) genus from our area]
    • Some modern taxonomists such as Richard Olmstead propose placing most of the former Orobanchaceae genera into the family Veronicaceae (Durande,1782) but this family name is not valid.
    • Former Scrophulariaceae genera reassigned to Plantaginaceae are:  Antirrhinum(snapdragons), Bacopa (water-hyssops), Chelone (turtleheads), Collinsia (blue-eyed Mary), Cymbalaria (Kenilworth ivy), Gratiola (hedge-hyssop), Kickxia(cancerworts), Limosella (mudworts), Linaria (toadflaxes), Lindernia (false pimpernel), Mecardonia (axilflowers), Nuttallanthus (toadflaxes), Penstemon(beard-tongues) , Veronica (speedwells), Veronicastrum (Culver’s root)
  • Paulowniaceae (Princess tree family)
    • Paulownia (Princess tree)

This dismantling of the Scrophulariaceae is a very complicated situation; if you would like to check out some online references for more detail on this disintegration of this family, here are some you may want to explore:

Marion Lobstein will continue to explain or expand on the changes of names (taxonomy) of our Virginia plants in the upcoming Flora of Virginia.

[Botanical illus., Mary Walcott,]