Solanum sitiens growing near Chuquicamata
S. sitiens (formerly S. rickii) LA469 growing near Chuquicamata, Chile. [photo C.M. Rick]

Charley Rick and his Namesake Desert Nightshade

This article published on the ASA-CSSA's Sustainable, Secure Food blog describes the history of the discovery and naming of the wild tomato relative Solanum sitiens, formerly S. rickii.  A native of the Atacama Desert in Chile, among the driest places on Earth, this uniquely adapted nightshade was collected by Charley Rick in 1957, and described by Donovan Correll in 1961, who named it "S. rickii" to recognize Charley Rick and his contributions to tomato genetics.  In a letter to Correll, Rick joked that "As for the name I feel highly flattered, but with such a binomial it could never be a valid species."  Correll was an expert on wild Solanum's, but was unaware that this particular plant had already been described and named "S. sitiens" by Ivan Johnston in 1929. Coincidentally, both Rick and Correll studied plant taxonomy under Johnston as graduate students at Harvard! Since the name S. sitiens has precedence, the species (name) S. rickii proved not to be valid after all. 

Although his name for this species did not last, Correll made another, more enduring contribution to tomato genetics.  In 1958, Correll and Earl Smith discovered by happenstance a plant of an unidentified wild tomato growing near Atico, Peru, which Correll went on to describe as S. pennellii.  He sent seed samples of his collection to Rick, whose studies revealed numerous advantages for genetics research, including self-compatibility, genetic uniformity and easy hybridization with cultivated tomato.  These characteristics have proved so useful that Correll's collection -- known as LA716, or simply 'Atico'  --  has become the single most popular stock maintained by the TGRC, requested by dozens of researchers each year, and has contributed several economic traits used to breed improved tomato varieties.    

Correll, D. S. (1961) New species and some nomenclatural changes in Section Tuberarium of Solanum. Wrightia 2: 169-197.