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Plant Focus

Quercus peninsularis
A Red Oak (Section Lobatae) endemic to inland ranges of northern Baja California, Mexico

Kellogg's Oak Names

Dr. Albert Kellogg (1813–1887) was a U.S. physician and botanist and probably best known to oak folk as the person Quercus kelloggii was named for1. But he also published several oak names himself, one of which is currently accepted, and another of which probably should be, and yet another that he is certainly responsible for, even if it now bears the name of another author.

Abert Kellogg
Albert Kellogg at 72 years of age (undated photo, UC Herbarium Archives, source: Wikimedia Commons).

There is no need to go into Kellogg’s biography here (you can read it on Wikipedia or ask a friendly bot on ChatGPT), but it is worth mentioning that he was an early supporter of women scientists. On his instigation, the California Academy of Sciences, of which he was a founding member, became one of the first institutions in the world to recognize and encourage the ability of women in the scientific and intellectual sphere. One of the women hired as curators of the Academy was Katherine Layne, married to T.S. Brandegee, in whose honor Q. brandegeei was named.

All of Kellogg’s oak names were presented at meetings of the California Academy of Sciences between 1855 and 1859. They were subsequently published in the Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, in Volume 1 and Volume 2, which were first published in four-page signatures a few days after each meeting (Leviton et al., 2010). There has been confusion about the publication date of Volume 1, as some references, including Index Kewensis, based the dates on the second edition of these Proceedings, which was published in 1873.

These are the six oak names published by Kellogg, in chronological order:

Quercus ransomii

Presented at the meeting held January 15, 1855, with original spelling ransomi, later corrected to ransomii. Named after Col. Leander Ransom, who found it near Tejon Pass, California.

This oak has been determined to be the same as Q. douglasii, which had been described in 1840 by Hooker and Arnott.

Quercus arcoglandis

Presented at the same meeting as above (January 15, 1855):

Quercus arcoglandis description
Description of Quercus arcoglandis, Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci.ser. 1, 1(1[1 February]):25 (1855)

Some references interpreted this to be a typographical error and amended it to Q. acroglandis, which is how it is listed in Flora of North America, as a synonym of Q. agrifolia. This presumably was based on the assumption that Kellogg was referring to the long point of the acorns (acro derives from Ancient Greek ἄκρων (ákrōn) and means “sharp”). However, the original spelling may likely be correct and derive from the Latin arcus meaning “bow” or “arch”, referring to the arrangement of the acorns, which are sometimes fanned out in the shape of an arch, or like the spokes of a cowboy spur, which would explain Kellogg’s common name “Spur Acorn Oak” (Al Keuter pers. comm., via Allen Coombes). See, for example, this photo of acorns on a tree near Tejon Pass, which is likely representative of the plant Kellogg described. On the other hand, a spur can also refer to a device with a single point, so suggests pointedness and would support the acroglandis (“sharp acorn”) correction. According to Keuter and Manos (2019), Kellogg’s type specimen and illustration are presumed destroyed by the fire following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, which makes it difficult to determine what plant the name refers to. Sargent (1895) understood it to be the same as Q. agrifolia, which is followed by the Oak Names Checklist, but some references currently list it as a synonym of Q. wislizeni (e.g. Plants of the World Online, GBIF), and Keuter and Manos (op. cit.) confirm that the oaks matching Kellogg’s description near Fort Tejon are those now called Q. wislizeni. This would be fine if one dates the publication based on the second edition of Volume 1 of the Proceedings (1873), but when the correct date of 1855 is taken into account, Q. arcoglandis would have priority over Q. wislizeni, which was not published till 1864. The safest approach may be to propose to reject Q. arcoglandis, so as be able to continue to use Q. wislizeni.

Quercus chrysophylla

This name is recorded in the Proceedings as Quercus chrysophyllus, but this is a correctable error (the epithet should be feminine). As the common name suggests, it means "golden leaf", from Ancient Greek χρυσός (khrusós, “gold”) + φύλλον (phúllon, “leaf”). It was presented at a meeting of the Academy on July 23, 1855.

Quercus chrysophylla description
Description of Quercus chrysophylla, Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci. ser. 1, 1(1): 65 (1855)

Because the text states that there is no intention to describe the plant, the publication of this name is invalid. It is listed a synonym of Q. chrysolepis in Plants of the World Online.

Quercus fulvescens

The following month, at the meeting on August 13, 1855, Kellogg presented Q. fulvescens, as a drawing. The epithet means yellowing or tawny in Latin.

Quercus fulvescens description
Description of Quercus fulvescens, Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci. ser. 1, 1(1): 67 (1855)

This name is validly published and is also considered a synonym of Q. chrysolepis, which had been presented by Liebmann at a meeting of the Royal Danish Academy of Science and Letters, a little over a year previously, on 19th May 1854 and published later that year.

Quercus vacciniifolia

This was presented at the meeting of December 16, 1856, also as a drawing. The epithet means "huckleberry-leaf", from Vaccinium, a genus of huckleberry, + folia ("leaf" in Latin). The original spelling, vaccinifolia, has been corrected to vacciniifolia, in accordance with Article 60.10 of the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN).

Quercus vacciniifolia description
Description of Quercus vacciniifolia, Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci. ser. 1, 1(2): 96 (1857)

This would be a valid publication save for the fatal word “provisional” in the introduction to the description. According to Article 36 of the ICN, a name is not validly published when it is merely proposed in anticipation of the future acceptance of the taxon concerned. There is nothing in the text that suggests the name was proposed in anticipation of future acceptance, yet the word “provisional” effectively robs Kellogg of authorship. The currently accepted authority for this name is John Hittell, who in The Resources of California (1866) mentions Q. vacciniifolia as one of the oaks found in California.

Hittel's mention of Q. vacciniifolia
Hittell's mention of Quercus vacciniifolia

He gives no indication that he was intending to publish a new name. But he also neglects to say the name was first used by Kellogg, though at the end of the section on Botany he does say that the information about botany of the state was derived from the conversation of Dr. A. Kellogg, among others. A strict interpretation of the Code means that this does not even justify giving the authority as Q. vacciniifolia Kellogg ex Hittell. Some references, including the Oak Names Checklist, continue to credit Kellogg as the author of the name.

Hittell's acknowledgement of Kellogg
Hittell's acknowledgment of Kellogg

Quercus ×morehus

This is the only currently accepted name of an oak published by Kellogg. It is applied to the hybrid of Q. wislizeni and Q. kelloggii, but he described it as a species at a meeting on November 30, 1859, based on a specimen sent to him by Andrew A. Veatch, who had found it near the margin of Clear Lake, California. At the time only one plant was known, which Kellogg described as a low, shrubby tree about 10 m tall and of little value. The report of the meeting was published in Volume 2 of the Proceedings of the California Academy of Science.

Description of Q. morehus
Description of Quercus ×morehus, Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci. ser. 1, 2: 36 (1859)

This hybrid has had problems with both its scientific and common names. Kellogg chose the epithet to honor the oak grove of Moreh, mentioned in Genesis 12:6. According to E.L. Greene (1887), Kellogg had been trained by Wesleyan parents with daily readings of the Bible, especially of the Old Testament, and he was an ardent disciple of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), the Swedish theologian. The oak grove of Moreh had special significance in Swedenborg's teachings. In Arcana Cœlestia (1749–1756), one of his major works, Swedenborg explains the books of Genesis and Exodus as a symbolic description of the process of spiritual growth in the individual. Genesis 12, in which God tells Abram to leave his country and family and enter a land that God will show him, is taken to represent the passage from childhood to adolescence, in five phases marked by Abram's journey. The third phase is the oak grove of Moreh, which represents the dawn of perception. According to Swedenborg, “[i]n heavenly people, the ability to understand is compared to a garden filled with all kinds of trees. Rational capacities are compared to a forest of cedar . . . [b]ut facts are like oak groves, since they resemble the tangled branches that oaks have” (Secrets of Heaven, p. 267). It appears that Kellogg was sufficiently impressed by Swedenborg's interpretation to wish to name a Californian oak—somewhat arbitrarily—after Moreh. Another of Kellogg's names was taken from the Bible: the genus Marah, taken from the Hebrew meaning “bitter”. In his description, he even mentions the Biblical reference.

Kellogg was not a trained botanist or classicist: his Latin terminology and way of making Latin adjectives was, according to Greene “somewhat original,” and some of his names have had to be subsequently corrected to conform with the rules of Latin grammar. Understanding the epithet “morehus” to be adjectival, some changed the spelling to “moreha” (e.g. Trelease 1917), but it is now believed Kellogg intended it as a noun that should not be declined. This is debatable: though he used a feminine epithet in the case of Q. vacciniifolia, he also published the name Q. chrysophyllus, where the epithet is apparently masculine.

Kellogg used the name “Abram's oak” in his original description (Abram's name did not change to Abraham till Genesis 17). Lamb (1916) proposed the name “Moreh oak” to replace the name “morehus oak”, which he stated had come into use in forestry literature (e.g., Sudworth 1897, Jepson 1909, 1910) and which he regarded as without meaning and grammatically incorrect. Jepson later used the name “oracle oak”. Moreh's oak is thought by some to be same tree referred to as the ”Diviner's oak” or “Oracle's oak” in Judges 9:37; this is presumably the source for Jepson's common name. According to some translations, the tree at Moreh was not an oak but a terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus), but Swedenborg clearly understood it be an oak grove (“quercetum Moreh” in his original Latin).

1 Quercus kelloggii was published by John S. Newberry in 1858. At the end of the description of the species he wrote: "I have dedicated it to my friend Dr. A. Kellogg, of San Francisco, who is devoting himself with so much industry and success to the study fo the plants of his adopted Sate."

References are linked in the text. All links accessed June 8, 2023