So, which one should you grow? Where can you get Moringa pterygosperma? Is it really better than M. oleifera?
The short answer is that there is no such thing as M. pterygosperma, it’s just an incorrect name for M. oleifera. So for the purposes of your farm or garden, M. oleifera is the plant you’re looking for.
For the long answer, read on.
Botanists collect dried, pressed specimens to document their discoveries, and preserve them in collections called herbaria. Under the Code, when a new species is described, a single specimen in a herbarium is designated the exemplar of the species. This specimen is called the type specimen. If you name a plant, and then I give the exact species a different name and cite your type specimen, then your name is the right one, and mine is superfluous. This is exactly the case of Moringa oleifera and M. pterygosperma.
Naming the same species more than once is common. Often it’s hard to keep up with the botanical literature and sometimes people make the same discovery and publish them independently. Moreover, the rules of botanical nomenclature are complicated. The story seems to be this.
A Dutch East India company administrator named Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede tot Drakenstein was posted in India in the late 1600s. Struck with the remarkable flora of southwestern India, he assembled artists, botanists, local healers, and others to compile a vast amount of information on more than 700 plants of the area. This remarkable work was published in several volumes over some 15 years, and is of interest here because Volume 6, Tome II, published in 1698, contains an early description and illustration of Moringa oleifera as “mouringou” (along with the name in various languages, including “moringa” in Portuguese). Rheede describes the flowers as “sweetly scented and most agreeable,” which they surely are, and describes numerous medicinal uses for the plant. A few authors had mentioned the plant even earlier, but Rheede’s plays an important part in what follows.
Bullock, A. A. 1960. Nomenclatural Notes: XII. The Types of Some Generic Names. Kew Bulletin 14: 40-45+iii.
Keraudren, M. & J. B. Gillett. 1963. Sur le type du Moringa oleifera Lam., et la valeur de ce binôme. Bull. Soc. Bot. France 110(7-8): 316.
Lamarck, J.-B. 1783. Encyclopédie méthodique: botanique.
Publication info: Paris,Liège :Panckoucke;Plomteux,1783-1808.
McNeill, J., et al. 2012. International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (Melbourne Code). Regnum Vegetabile 154. Koeltz Scientific Books.
Morton, J. F. 1991. The Horseradish Tree, Moringa pterygosperma (Moringaceae): A Boon to Arid Lands? Economic Botany 45: 318-333.