It is well known that diseases can greatly influence the morphology of plants, but often the incidence of disease is either too rare or the symptoms too obvious for the 'abnormalities' to cause confusion in systematics. However, we have recently come across several misinterpretations of disease-induced traits that may have been perpetuated into modern species inventories. Anther-smut disease (caused by the fungus Microbotryum violaceum) is common in many members of the Caryophyllaceae and related plant families. This disease causes anthers of infected plants to be filled with dark-violet fungal spores rather than pollen. Otherwise, their vegetative morphology is within the normal range of healthy plants. Here, we present the results of a herbarium survey showing that a number of type specimens (on which the species name and original description are based) in the genus Silene from Asia are diseased with anther smut. The primary visible disease symptom, namely the dark-violet anthers, is incorporated into the original species descriptions and some of these descriptions have persisted unchanged into modern floras. This raises the question of whether diseased type specimens have erroneously been given unique species names.
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