Allan Cunningham and the Boab (Adansonia gregorii; Bombaceae)

The Australian Boab, now known as Adansonia gregorii F.Muell. was first noticed botanically by Allan Cunningham during Phillip Parker Kingâs second survey voyage in 1819, and first collected by Cunningham in the following year at Careening Bay. Cunningham saw only fruiting material, and considered the tree to belong to the genus Capparis L., giving it the manuscript name C. gibbosa A.Cunn. He described but did not formally name the species in Kingâs Narrative of a Survey. The name was published with a valid description in Hewardâs biography of Cunningham in 1842. In the interim Cunningham had drafted a paper comparing his species with the African genus Adansonia Juss., but unfortunately never published it. Subsequently Mueller described the species again, as A. gregorii F.Muell., based on specimens collected near the Victoria and Fitzmaurice Rivers, and this name became accepted for the species. In 1995 Baum recognised that the two descriptions referred to the same taxon, and made the combination Adansonia gibbosa (A.Cunn.) Guymer ex D.Baum. A subsequent referral to the Spermatophyta Committee and General Committee resulted in the name C. gibbosa being rejected, on the grounds that âit seems unlikely thatâCunningham had any intention that this [Hewardâs] description should validate the name of a new species.â Recent rediscovery of Cunninghamâs draft paper shows that, on the contrary, Cunningham clearly believed that his name C. gibbosa was suitable for acceptance, and according to the practices of his day, should be published. That his premature death and subsequent unrecognised description of the species in Hewardâs paper resulted in his discovery going unacknowledged, and being overtaken by Muellerâs later description, is unfortunate, but now irreversible.