Friday, September 6, 2013

Latin and Greek in Maple Cultivar Names



Yuki pressing cider

Cider day with Nathan


August quickly passed, the kids are back in school, and over the weekend we squashed apples – I have over fifty trees to choose from – and made cider. Or was it just juice? Someone explained the difference to me once, but I can't remember. Even five minutes later I had forgotten. I doubt I'll take the time to learn how to make hard cider, because the two or three times a year I feel the urge to taste it, someone else hands me a glass, and I drink the fruits of another's labor.



























Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium'


Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium'

Anyway, fall is nearly upon us, and I certainly felt the seasonal shock when I drove to work at an early hour in deep fog. The obscurification lasted only an hour, and we hit the mid-eighties by afternoon. The first tree for me to turn autumn color is an old specimen of Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium', and I can spot the round red haze from a quarter mile away. The name is old (from 1888), and is due to the foliage similarity with the Aconitum plant.* I don't know who first named the maple cultivar, but I suspect he was European. The Japanese name is Maiku jaku or "Dancing Peacock," which is a more brilliant connotation, and I'm tempted to change to it on all of my listings.

*Aconitum is the "monkshood" or "wolf bane" or "woman's bane" or "devil's helmet." Yikes! – obviously it is poisonous. Its name comes from the word akone, meaning "rocky," which is the type of area where the plant grows.

Acer palmatum

Acer palmatum

Acer palmatum


I'd change a lot of plant names if it was hoyle. Many of the old Latin names are stuffy, but we're stuck with them. Acer palmatum is itself derived from Latin Acer or "sharp" and palmatum, the shape of a hand. The Swedish doctor-botanist Carl Peter Thunberg traveled to Japan in the 1700's, and is given credit for the species name. The old Japanese names kaede and momiji to refer to the hands of a frog and hands of a baby respectively. Today momiji usually refers to Japanese (palmatum) maples, while kaede refers to other species of maple from Japan. The old name atropurpureum is used for a group of red-leaved seedling-grown trees, and should not be given cultivar status. Ditto with variety dissectum atropurpureum, and remember that there are two consecutive "purs" – purpur – in the name. The color "purple" is from the old English word purpul, derived from the Latin purpura, and that from the Greek porphura, a purple dye. The dye was derived from a shellfish, which actually was more red than today's image of purple. Atro is also Latin, and generally means "dark."

Too bad we can't change the botanical maple names to their Japanese equivalent. I would if you'd all promise to go along with me. The use of Latin is much more studious while the Japanese is more poetic I think; and after all, the plants are from Japan, not Europe. Of course that would offend the Koreans, as "Japanese Maples" are native to that country too; and also the Chinese, for they believe that they invented everything from Japan anyway.







Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'



























Acer palmatum 'Red Emperor'



























Acer palmatum 'Red Emperor'


























Acer palmatum 'Fireglow'


Acer palmatum 'Fireglow'


Acer palmatum 'Tamuke yama'

Acer palmatum 'Tamuke yama'

Acer palmatum 'Tamuke yama'

Acer palmatum 'Red Dragon'






















Acer palmatum 'Crimson Queen'



























Acer palmatum 'Beni otake'


























Acer palmatum 'Hubbs Red Willow'

























Acer palmatum 'Pung Kil'


Fortunately I don't grow the atropurpureum or the dissectum atropurpureum, as there is no demand from my customers for the cheap red seedlings. Especially since we now have established named cultivars with superior attributes compared to the variable seedlings. Great upright reds include 'Bloodgood', 'Red Emperor', 'Fireglow' and others, while the superior red dissectums include 'Tamuke yama', 'Red Dragon' and 'Crimson Queen'. Also, we don't propagate any Acer palmatum 'Atrolineare' because it has been superseded by 'Beni otake', 'Hubbs Red Willow' and 'Pung Kil'.






















Acer palmatum 'Scolopendrifolium'


Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair' in autumn

We still grow Acer palmatum 'Scolopendrifolium' because it is attractive and quite vigorous. I assume the name is derived from Latin scolopendra, a type of centipede with long legs. Scolo is Italian for "drain" and pendra is Greek "to hang," as with pendulous plants. Remember that Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair' was a seedling from a 'Scolopendrifolium' mother tree.



























Acer palmatum 'Koto no ito'



























Acer palmatum 'Kinshi'

Acer palmatum 'Green Fingers'

Acer palmatum 'Green Fingers'


























Acer palmatum 'Green Fingers'


There are quite a number of green linearlobum Acer palmatum cultivars, and many of them are more refined and smaller in stature than the old 'Scolopendrifolium'. 'Koto no ito' is one, and too bad that it is misidentified with 'Koto ito komachi' for they are very different. I also like Acer palmatum 'Kinshi'. The name is Japanese, meaning "with golden threads," referring to the vivid fall color (which can also be orange). Acer palmatum 'Green Fingers' is a Buchholz introduction, as if we needed any more cultivars. Sow seed from any of the above and you'll likely find one on your own.






















Acer campestre 'Carnival'


Acer campestre 'Carnival'


For the cultivar Acer campestre 'Carnival', the etymology is not certain. We all like a carnival, especially the Brazilians, for it is usually a festive time. Perhaps carnival is derived from the Italian carne, or meat. Late Latin carne vale, which means "farewell to meat," refers to the last meaty times you could indulge before the fasting of Lent. Concerning the maple 'Carnival', I'm always amazed that the foliage does not burn (when established and adequately moisturized), even when grown in full sun. Imagine the hellish light intensity when we reached 108 degrees F a couple of summers ago, with nary a drop of humidity besides.

Acer conspicuum 'Phoenix'



























Acer conspicuum 'Phoenix'

Acer palmatum 'Phoenix'

Acer palmatum 'Phoenix'


























Acer davidii



























Acer pensylvanicum


In summer the dull Acer conspicuum 'Phoenix' is a forgettable maple, at least in Oregon. The big green leaves bleach to yellow-white after a hot spell, and they're even beginning to defoliate now; although those that persist can turn to a beautiful straw yellow in October. In Greek mythology, the phoenix (Ancient Greek phoinix) is a long-lived bird that is reborn, and is associated with the sun. The 'Phoenix' maple certainly does so every winter when its yellowish summer bark changes to shocking red with white striations. The red-and-white contrast is remarkable, and we have no trouble selling the tree. There exists Acer palmatum 'Phoenix' as well, where it is the foliage that emerges a wonderful pinkish-red in spring. By summer the leaves turn to a sleepy green, but by late August the maple redeems itself with a second flush of spring-like foliage. This renewal, this awakening was recently discussed in the 8/16/13 blog post, Fresh New Growth in August. By the way, the species x conspicuum, yes two "u's," resulted from a cross of Acer davidii with Acer pensylvanicum, as the bark was found to be most "conspicuous."

Acer japonicum 'Vitifolium'























Acer japonicum 'Vitifolium'























Vitis coignetiae


We used to grow Acer japonicum 'Vitifolium', but unfortunately it has fallen out of favor. Too bad, because it is one of the most spectacular of any plant for riotous autumn color, with purple, red, orange and yellow possibly present at the same time. Vitifolium is derived from the Vitis genus, or grapevines, as the maple features grape-like leaves.



























Acer davidii 'Serpentine'


The excellent cultivar, Acer davidii 'Serpentine', was selected for its purple bark with white snake-like striations, or is it white bark with purple striations? "Serpentine" is from Late Latin serpentinus, from Latin serpens.



























Picea breweriana



























Picea breweriana


Picea omorika x breweriana


Completely unrelated to maples, but interesting to me, are the "serpentine soils," especially how certain plants have adapted to them. The rock type, serpentinite, "is the result of intense deformation caused by the force of crustal movement. The rock develops fractures into which water will flow. This hydration process changes the mineralogy of the rock resulting in the creation of serpentine, a polished gray-green-black rock." This report was copied word-for-word from the United States Forest Service, and it's about time that the government provided something useful for me. My interest in these serpentine soils is primarily stoked by my fascination with Picea breweriana, the "Brewer's Weeping Spruce," which hail from southern Oregon to northern California. Picea breweriana performs miserably in most of Oregon, including at Buchholz Nursery, but they can be wonderful in the crappy-looking soil of their native range. Nurserymen have learned an easy solution to growing Brewer's Spruce, and that is to graft it onto a better rootstock (like Picea abies). It's also exciting to have the cross of Picea omorika with Picea breweriana, and I look forward to my first specimen to grow tall and narrow with drooping branches.

Acer palmatum 'Filigree'



























Acer palmatum 'Filigree'


Acer palmatum seedling from named cultivar

Acer palmatum seedling from named cultivar

Back to maples, Acer palmatum 'Filigree' is a beautiful delicate-looking cultivar with refined foliage of cream-yellow and green. The cultivar name is due to a foliage resemblance to a delicate type of jewelry metalwork made with tiny beads and twisted threads. The English word filigree is shortened from filigreen, which is derived from Latin filum, meaning "thread" or "wire," and granum, meaning "grain," as in the small bead. We have found a number of 'Filigree'-types with our seedlings from named cultivars, but all of the interesting ones still require more observation to determine if they are unique (i.e. different from other cultivars), and equally as impressive (or more) than 'Filigree' itself.

Acer palmatum 'Orion'



























Acer palmatum 'Shaina'


Acer palmatum 'Orion' is a fairly new cultivar, originating as a witch's broom mutation. So did Acer palmatum 'Shaina', although 'Shaina's' foliage is more bright red than the purple-red of 'Orion'. The cultivar name 'Orion' is of Greek origin, meaning "rising in the sky" or "dawning." In Greek myth Orion was a mighty hunter, and the constellation Orion contains three conspicuous stars. If stars were red I guess an 'Orion' plant would resemble one, for it grows into a rounded shape. Or perhaps it was named for the leaf shape with seven deeply-divided lobes, which are somewhat star-like.

Acer rufinerve 'Erythrocladum'


























Acer rufinerve 'Erythrocladum'



I'll finish with one more Latin cultivar name, "Erythrocladum," but unfortunately – stupidly really – it applies to cultivars of two different species, Acer pensylvanicum and Acer rufinerve. I suspect that the pensylvanicum took precedence, as it was selected over one hundred years ago. The rufinerve is more new to the trade anyway, unless it languished for years in some remote corner. Both cultivars are "clad in red" in the winter, from Greek eruthros for red. The Acer pensylvanicum is the brighter of the two, while the Acer rufinerve is the stronger grower. We produce a few of each, but our main focus is on Acer conspicuum 'Phoenix', discussed above, for that outshines them both.

While I'm no linguistics scholar, I do appreciate the origin of plant names, the whence of them all. Often, of course, I encounter dead-end routes in a mysterious labyrinth, but frequently I can discover the origin of a plant name and learn some little factoid, or learn more about the characters involved, and how botany progressed and how horticulture developed from hundreds of years ago until now. I'm a wily old veteran I guess, and I've been tending plants for over forty years. Many aspects of horticulture have changed, naturally. I've learned a lot over the years, while at the same time I remain as ignorant as ever. There is nothing more humbling than to be a servant toiling in Flora's realm.

"Toil on...Talon. You overcome your ignorance with energy and devotion."


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