Why is Coffea canephora called robusta
It seems wise to start closer to the date of discovery. According to Ukers (in “All about coffee”, 1935):
Emil Laurent, in 1898, discovered a species of coffee growing wild in Congo. This was taken up by a horticultural firm of Brussels, and cultivated for the market. This firm gave to the coffee the name of Coffea robusta, although it had already been given the name of the discoverer, being known as Coffea laurentii.
Among the robusta varieties, Coffea canephora is a distinct species, well characterised by growth, leaves, and berries. The branches are slender and thinner than robusta; the leaves are dark green and narrower; the flowers are often tinged with red; the unripe berries are purple, the ripe berries bright red and oblong. The produce is like robusta, only the shape of the bean, somewhat narrower and more oblong, makes it look more attractive. Coffee canephora, like C. robusta, seems better fitted to higher altitudes.
This is a little confusing, and almost contradictory. Let’s look at someone else:
Andrés Uribe C. in “Brown Gold” written in 1954 appears to back up Ukers:
A third species of coffee is grown in Java and Africa. Coffea canephora, commonly known as Robusta, was first discovered growing wild in the Belgian Congo and was developed for commercial cultivation around the turn of the twentieth century.
Frederick Wellman, writing in 1961, disagrees on a few points and gives a little more detail.
In some quarters, the specific name C. canephora is used in a confusing manner with C. quillou, C. ugandae, C. robusta, and others. It should be pointed out clearly that historical study shows that C. canephora is the original name, given by L. Pierre in 1895, which antedates the other names, later found to be synonymous.
So now we have contradictory information across the board - including the date of discovery and the name of the discoverer. It seems that Pierre wins out…
A. E. Haarer, in his 1958 book “Modern Coffee Production” writes:
Systematic botanists will now not accept the name Coffeea robusta Linden, for anything more than a form or variety of C. canephora Pierre ex Froehner, and this at once creates a difficulty, because growers and trade the world over have grown accustomer to use the term ‘robusta’ to cover all the varying form of, and ultimate product of, C. canephora. Coffea robusta, as understood by various authors, seems to include all the forms now referred to as C. canephora, and it is necessary to examine the names from the points of view of the type method. Thus Coffea Robusta Linden, must be regarded as synonymous with, or as a variety of, C. canephora Pierre ex Froehner.
Looking over to R.J. Clarke and R. Macrae’s seminal 6 volume set ”Coffee” from 1985:
C. canephora. This species was cultivated after 1850 on the African Atlantic coast, from south Gabon to north Angola, and especially near the Kouilou river. Independently, it was discovered by Grant in 1861 at Bukoba (Tanzania).
This is now getting frustrating - the later people write about it, the earlier it seems to have been discovered…
These days we pretty much use the term interchangeable, and looking back there had clearly been an issue about which term was correct.
Somehow I feel more confused about all this than I was when I started looking for some answers.