Australian Systematic Botany Australian Systematic Botany Society
Taxonomy, biogeography and evolution of plants

What to do with Hibiscus? A proposed nomenclatural resolution for a large and well known genus of Malvaceae and comments on paraphyly

B. E. Pfeil A B C and M. D. Crisp A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Australian National University, School of Botany and Zoology, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

B CSIRO Plant Industry, GPO Box 1600, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

C Present address: 228 Plant Science Bld, Cornell University, Ithaca NY 14853, USA. Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Systematic Botany 18(1) 49-60
Submitted: 16 July 2004  Accepted: 24 January 2005   Published: 29 March 2005


The generic classification of Hibisceae has long been unstable. A new understanding of the phylogeny of Hibisceae has found that genera from three tribes (Decaschistieae, Hibisceae and Malvavisceae) are nested within Hibiscus. We discuss issues that impinge upon the classification of Hibiscus in a general sense, including the genus concept, monophyletic and paraphyletic taxa, the use of characters and phylogenies to define taxa, and the current ranked system (based on the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature) v. a rank free alternative (the PhyloCode). We conclude that genera are subjective constructs that are only real in the sense of their phylogenetic origins (i.e. the taxa they denote may be real discoverable monophyletic groups), that paraphyletic taxa are not necessary in classification, that overemphasis of ‘distinctive’ characters in preference to phylogenies leads to recognition of paraphyletic taxa, and that there is no objective fixed and discoverable rank for any taxon. While the PhyloCode avoids some of these problems, it fails to adequately provide an alternative to the mnemonically powerful and information rich Linnean binomial and its advantages do not, in our opinion, outweigh the utility of the ICBN system when the latter employs only monophyletic taxa. With these conclusions in mind, we offer a brief set of guidelines for higher level classification and apply this to Hibiscus. The severe paraphyly in Hibiscus means that no classification using the ICBN system with exclusively monophyletic taxa will be free of major nomenclatural changes. We argue that including over 200 species from several genera within a broadly defined Hibiscus causes fewer nomenclatural changes overall than do alternative schemes, while promoting stability and attempting to minimise change to well known species. A hybrid formal ranked and informal rank free system is discussed and proposed for this group. A series of rank free names that are nested within Hibiscus s.l. are proposed to convey information about membership of distinctive clades within Hibiscus s.l. in lieu of a complete ranked subgeneric classification that awaits more investigation.


BEP thanks Curt Brubaker and Lyn Craven for their excellent and generous supervision during his PhD study as well as for helpful comments on an early draft of this paper. We thank David Baum for many helpful comments on final drafts, and he and Maggie Koopman for access to unpublished ndhF and matK results. BEP was supported by an APA (1999–2002); other funding from ABRS and CSIRO was also invaluable during this time and is gratefully acknowledged. Two anonymous reviews helped improve the manuscript.


Baum DA, Alverson WS, Nyffeler R (1998) A durian by any other name: taxonomy and nomenclature of the core Malvales. Harvard Papers in Botany 3, 315–330. open url image1

Baum DA, Smith SD, Yen A, Alverson WS, Nyffeler R, Whitlock BA, Oldham RL (2004) Phylogenetic relationships of Malvatheca (Bombacoideae and Malvoideae; Malvaceae sensu lato) as inferred from plastid DNA. American Journal of Botany 91, 1863–1871. open url image1

Bayer C, Fay MF, De Bruijin AY, Savolainen V, Morton CM, Kubitzki K, Alverson WS, Chase MW (1999) Support for an expanded family concept of Malvaceae within a recircumscribed order Malvales: a combined analysis of plastid atpB and rbcL DNA sequences. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 129, 267–303.
CrossRef | open url image1

Bayer, C ,  and  Kubitzki, K (2002). Malvaceae. In ‘The families and genra of vascular plants’. pp. 225–311. (Springer: Berlin)

Blanchard OJ (1991) ‘A revision of species segregated from Hibiscus sect. Trionum (Medicus) De Candolle sensu lato (Malvaceae).’ PhD thesis. (Cornell University: Ithaca, NY)

Borssum Waalkes J (1966) Malesian Malvaceae revised. Blumea 14, 1–213. open url image1

Brummitt RK (2002) How to chop up a tree. Taxon 51, 31–41. open url image1

Clayton WD (1983) The genus concept in practice. Kew Bulletin 38, 149–153. open url image1

Crisp MD, Chandler G (1996) Paraphyletic species. Telopea 6, 813–844. open url image1

Donoghue MJ, Gauthier JA (2004) Implementing the Phylocode. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 19, 281–282.
CrossRef | open url image1

Fryxell PA (1980) A revision of the American species of Hibiscus section Bombicella (Malvaceae). USDA Technical Bulletin 1624, 1–53. open url image1

Fryxell PA (1988) Malvaceae of Mexico. Systematic Botany Mongraphs 25, 1–522. open url image1

Fryxell PA (1999) Pavonia Cavanilles (Malvaceae). Flora Neotropica Monograph 76, 1–285. open url image1

Fryxell PA (2001) Talipariti (Malvaceae), a segregate from Hibiscus.  Contributions from the University of Michigan Herbarium 23, 225–270. open url image1

Greuter W, McNiell J, Barrie FR, Burdet H-M, Demoulin V , et al. (2000) International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (St Louis Code). Regnum Vegetabile 138, 1–474. open url image1

Hennig, W (1966). ‘Phylogenetic systematics.’ (Illinois Natural History Survey: Urbana)

Hochreutiner BPG (1900) Revision du genre Hibiscus. Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques Genéve.  Annuarie 4, 23–191. open url image1

Hochreutiner, BPG (1955). Malvacées. In ‘Flore de Madagascar et des Comores’. pp. 1–170. (Firmin-Didot: Paris)

Hutchinson, J (1967). ‘The genera of flowering plants.’ (Clarendon: Oxford)

Jeffrey C (1987) The conept of the genus. Australian Systematic Botany Society Newsletter 53, 27–31. open url image1

Kornet DJ (1994) The existence of genera. Mycologia Helvetica 6, 5–7. open url image1

Oberwinkler F (1994) Genera in a monophyletic group: the Dacrymycetales. Mycologia Helvetica 6, 35–72. open url image1

Orthia LA, Cook LG, Crisp MD (2005) Generic delimitation and phylogenetic uncertainty: an example from a group that has undergone an explosive radiation. Australian Systematic Botany 18, 41–47. open url image1

Parmasto E (1994) Limits of splitting. (On schizotaxia). Mycologia Helvetica 6, 8–34. open url image1

Pfeil BE, Brubaker CL, Craven LA, Crisp MD (2002) Phylogeny of Hibiscus and the tribe Hibisceae (Malvaceae) using chloroplast DNA sequences of ndhF and the rpl16 intron. Systematic Botany 27, 333–350. open url image1

Pfeil BE, Brubaker CL, Craven LA, Crisp MD (2004) Paralogy and orthology in the Malvaceae rpb2 gene family: investigation of gene duplication in Hibiscus.  Molecular Biology and Evolution 21, 1428–1437.
CrossRef | PubMed |
open url image1

Ray MF (1995) Systematics of Lavatera and Malva (Malvaceae, Malveae)—a new perspective. Plant Systematics and Evolution 198, 29–53.
CrossRef | open url image1

Ray MF (1998) New combinations in Malva (Malvaceae: Malveae). Novon 8, 288–295. open url image1

Singer R (1994) Toward a definition of the genus in mycological taxonomy. Mycologia Helvetica 6, 92–94. open url image1

Sivarajan, VV ,  and  Pradeep, AK (1996). ‘Malvaceae of southern peninsular India: a taxonomic monograph.’ (Daya Publishing House: Delhi)

Stevens PF (1985) The genus concept in practice—but for what practice? Kew Bulletin 40, 457–465. open url image1

Stevens PF (1987) Genera, what and why—some thoughts. Australian Systematic Botany Society Newsletter 53, 31–38. open url image1

Thulin, M (1999). Malvaceae. In ‘Flora of Somalia’. pp. 40–83. (Royal Botanic Gardens: Kew)

Wilson FD (1999) Revision of Hibiscus section Furcaria (Malvaceae) in Africa and Asia. Bulletin of the Natural History Museum, London (Botany) 29, 47–79. open url image1

Export Citation Cited By (18)