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So, I have been in the hobby long enough to now realise when it comes to a lot of plants - no one really has a clue.

My first encounter was trying to determine the differences, if any, between the Eleocharis grass types - Parvula, Acicularis, Acicularis mini and Belem. Wow. what a struggle. People adamant that Acicularis mini and belem are different - others, including some of the biggest growers maintaining they are the same thing. The only conclusion that can be reached is that Acicularis mini and belem seem to be the same (maybe) - while Parvula is distinctly different (even though it's often mislabelled in a lot of countries). But, you wouldn't want to look it up online - what a confused state of affairs.

Next, is a real brain teaser. Anubias Nana Pinto. Perhaps the most diverse range of opinions on what this plant actually is, or more specifically its size!. On the left you have the group adamant it is the same size as Anubias Barteri Nana (just variegated). On the right, you have those adamant it is the size of anubias nana petite. Having spent way too much time trying to determine who is right - I am no better off. Those who maintain anubias nana pinto is the larger leaf size (similar to anubias barteri nana), state the smaller variegated anubias is actually anubias white (not pinto). Then there are those who take offence, and state anubias white, although the size of nana petite, is separate again, and takes on a more of an "all white" appearance and not the distinct variegated appearance of pinto. The question remains - is anubias pinto the larger leaf size of anubias nana, OR the smaller leaf size of anubias nana petite. Of course, it doesn't help when every seller states something different.

My question - is there anyone out there who can actually state with authority what is the truth? Or, do we continue talking about certain plants with absolutely no idea what they are?
 

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If you are talking about plant species, this question has a fairly straightforward answer. The International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN) lays out the official rules for how species are sorted out and named. I won't get into all the basics here, but part of it is each valid plant name* has a physical type specimen designated in an herbarium that other specimens can be compared to for identification. This means that the person that authored the name collected and preserved the plant they described and it is stored in a plant library. (*What makes a plant name valid is beyond the scope of this post.)

In normal order of business people do not need to go back to the type specimen itself - there are written descriptions, (usually) many, many other herbarium entries, dichotomous keys, and other ways to identify a plant, but if there's some kind of dispute the type specimen is controlling. Grasses are notoriously un-fun to identify! The differences between them can be subtle, and often you need to see the plant in flower or fruit to actually figure out what it is. It may be nearly impossible to tell those Eleocharis species apart in their submerged form, but you'd see differences if you flowered them, assuming they are valid and unique species.

Things get murkier with cultivars like 'Mini' and 'Belem'. There are nomenclature rules for cultivars under International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP), but while scientists treat the ICN rules as sacrosanct, the horticulture industry in general does not treat the ICNCP rules the same way. There are some plants that are patented that have some legal protections, but absent of that it's tricky who gets to say what is what. You would hope that retailers have things labeled properly, but stuff gets accidentally mislabeled all the time and in a plant group that's already hard to distinguish the plant could be passed around quite a bit before anyone even suspects there's a problem. It's a problem, but it's not unique to hair grass in our hobby for sure.
 

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If you really want to make yourself crazy here's a list of Eleocharis species that are found in just New England alone. Nevermind the rest of the world. I use this page a lot when wandering the woods and bogs. There are pictures of the seed heads and such there.

 
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