Friday, January 17, 2014

Spouting Botanical Latin

The year 2014 marks my 40th in horticulture, which seems odd to most women who would guess me to be 38 or 39 years old at most. Actually I used to do yard work – I guess that's horticulture – before I formally began to work for a nursery in 1974, then for other nurseries, then eventually at my own. So I've been hacking away at bushes, loading trucks and cashing your precious checks for a long time. While Buchholz Nursery is far from perfect, I nevertheless feel that we are in our strongest position ever, and that is largely due to exceptional employees – well, most of the time – who work at least twice as fast and smart as those of the competition. If I was stuck with the crews at other nurseries I would have to shut down and seek garden employment at a box store, or perhaps stop shaving and bathing and hold a begging cup at the freeway onramp, "God Bless." Be sure, I constantly realize that my horticultural career is tenuous, that I'm only a record freeze, tornado or devastating plague away from kaput. Add to that, that I must retain my mental faculties and good health to endure.

Picea pungens 'Iseli Fastigiata'

I never would have guessed, that as a kid mowing lawns and pruning hedges, that one day I would be spouting botanical Latin in a blog. I think the first Latin word to enter my personal diction (from Latin dicere, "to say") was nana. And nana meant "dwarf." If you were searching for a "Nana" cultivar, you looked down rather than up. All employees learn that quickly, for those who don't...make a quick departure to the unemployment line. But "nana" is not hoyle as a botanical term anymore, unless the species or cultivar was named before January 1, 1959. Those thereafter, according to the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, cannot use Latin names. So a cultivar name such as Picea pungens 'Iseli Fastigiata' is wrong, very wrong. A company or person's name like "Iseli" is not illegal, though it is in very poor form to encumber a plant with your name. It's very common though, isn't it?

Pinus strobus 'Bennett's Fastigiata'

Pinus sylvestris 'Glauca Fastigiata'

Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Fastigiata'
Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Fastigiata'
with 'Iseli Fastigiata' in background

Speaking of fastigiate, "Fastigiata" as a cultivar name is old-hat as well, but it was probably the second Latin name that I learned. It is from Latin fastigium for "height," or for tapering to a point, as in a gable. Medieval Latin fastigiatus is "lofty" or "peaked." In botany, it means to have closely-bunched erect parallel branches.* We used to grow Pinus strobus 'Fastigiata' (which develops into an ungodly large and not-so-narrow tree). That old cultivar has been replaced with Pinus strobus 'Bennett's Fastigate' which is much more compressed, even though it too is poorly named. Pinus sylvestris 'Glauca Fastigiata' is another pillar-pine, but one not suited for a happy garden in Oregon unless the branches are tied up in winter. We continue to grow Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Fastigiata', the hardy form of "Douglas Fir" with steel-blue foliage.


*There are a number of similar-formed plants as well, with names of Erecta or Erectus. I used to grow Hedera helix 'Erecta' until it eventually flopped. "Erect" is from Latin erectus for "upright;" that from Latin erigere, to "raise" or "set up," which developed from Latin e for "up," plus regere to "keep straight."

                                                                     Photo c/o Alexrk2

That reminds me that last fall I was very close to Erect, North Carolina, but I didn't know that it existed at the time. There, presumably, all the woman are good looking and all the men are vigorous and upstanding. The town is physically near the center of North Carolina, and it is the exact population center of the state; in fact there is an official marker located at the ball field behind the store at the crossroad, to the left of the dugout closest to the store. I plan to visit the zip code 27341 someday, and I will also pay my respects to the nearby towns of Hemp, Lonely, and Whynot.


Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca'

Cunninghamia lanceolata 'Glauca'

Pinus cembra 'Glauca'

Picea glauca 'Albertiana Conica'

Picea glauca 'Ketch Harbor'

Corylopsis glaucophylla

Lindera glauca

Lindera glauca

Rosa glauca

Rosa glauca

Early in my career I noticed that many plants were 'Glauca' or 'Glauca something' and that they would often sell for more than the green version of the same species. I took glauca to be "blue," as in the blue version of Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca', whereas seedling-grown "Atlas Cedars" are usually blue-green. Likewise, Cunninghamia lanceolata 'Glauca' was the blue form of the "China Fir," and Pinus cembra 'Glauca' was the selected blue cultivar of the "Swiss Stone Pine." Somewhat confusing is that there is a glauca for the species name of the "White Spruce," as in Picea glauca 'Albertiana Conica' for the dwarf "Alberta Spruce," or Picea glauca 'Ketch Harbor' for a weeping form of spruce found in Nova Scotia. Though nurserymen and gardeners think of glaucous trees to be "blue," the word really refers to the powdery white coating on their leaves (needles). This coating can actually be rubbed off, and one Oregon winter with 0 degree F temperatures and 40 MPH winds, the windward side of my blue spruces actually lost their white-blue coating, but it was produced again on new growth in spring. Related words to glauca include glaucescens, glaucifolius, glaucoides, and glaucophyllus. I don't have a clue to the origin of the name Corylopsis glaucophylla, a plant which I acquired years ago from the late Heronswood Nursery of Washington state, or even if it is a valid species. I assume that Lindera glauca, from the same Heronswood Nursery, is specifically named due to the silver-blue on the leaves' undersides, but the various species, subspecies or varieties of the Lindera genus are rather muddled as well. Rosa glauca is grown for the gray-blue foliage more than for the simple flower I think.

Phylum is a noun, representing a division of the plant or animal kingdom, and the word is from Greek phylon or phulon meaning "race" or "tribe." Plural of Phylum is Phyla, and as the major divisions of the kingdoms of living things, they are the 2nd largest unit of biological classification of living things, ranking above a class. I learned this stuff at Forest Grove, Oregon high school, and I always appreciated that everything had its own designated cubbyhole, or at least it did in theory. So, we have in order:


'Purple Ghost'
'Talon Buchholz'

The phylum in the above scheme should not be confused with another Greek word phyllon for "leaf." Chlorophyll is thus Greek chloros for "green," and phyll for "leaf." We've already discussed Corylopsis glaucophylla, but there are many other phylla or phyllums, and one of my favorites is the "Oregon Big Leaf Maple," Acer macrophyllum. You might be interested to revisit my blog from two years ago with my search for the largest maple on earth World's Champion Big-Leaf Maple Topples, but finish this blog first.

Acer macrophyllum

Acer macrophyllum

Acer macrophyllum

Azara microphylla 'Variegata'

Acer palmatum 'Toyama nishiki'

Acer palmatum 'Taimen nishiki'

Acer palmatum 'Taimen nishiki'

Acer palmatum 'Sagara nishiki'

Acer palmatum 'Nishiki gawa'

Acer palmatum 'Hanami nishiki'

Acer palmatum 'Hanami nishiki'

Acer macrophyllum is big, and macro is from Greek makros for "long" or "large." Micro, on the other hand, is from Greek micros for "small," and one example is Azara microphylla 'Variegata'. Variegata is from Latin variegatus which is the past participle of variegare, and varius is Latin for "various" plus egare, which is similar to Latin agere, "to drive." In Japanese, nishiki is a word for "variegated," and we have examples of 'Toyama nishiki', 'Taimen nishiki' and 'Sagara nishiki' due to multi-colored leaved. Nishiki can also mean "rough," and one example is 'Nishiki gawa', and the gawa part refers to a "river." I don't know why Acer palmatum 'Hanami nishiki' was so named, unless it refers to the reddish lobe-tips on spring growth.

Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca Pendula'

Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendulum'

Pendula is an Italian word from the Latin pendere meaning "to hang," as in women hanging pendants from their neck. The origin of the word depends is from Latin de for "down" and pendere, "to hang," because one must hang on for additional information. I think the first tree that I encountered with a "pendula" cultivar name was Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca Pendula', the weeping form of "Atlas Cedar." We no longer grow that cultivar as they are quite easy to produce, and they were being grown by the thousands in the Oregon nursery scene. The same was true for the weeping "Giant Redwood," Sequoiadendron giganteum 'Pendulum', where it quickly went from being a unique novelty to boringly ubiquitous. For what it's worth, pendula should be the plural form of pendulum.

Betula pendula

Betula pendula 'Golden'

Betula pendula 'Trost's Dwarf'

We grow or have grown over 50 different plants with pendula in the cultivar name. In addition, we also grow the Betula pendula species, and a number of its cultivars. The "European Silver Birch" comes in all sizes, shapes and colors, but there's not much of a market for them at Buchholz Nursery, so production of them was quietly abandoned about ten years ago. Some older cultivar specimens of Betula pendula, as well as other species of birch, are growing in the upper gardens at Flora Farm, and they are especially provocative in the winterscape. "One could do worse than be a swinger of birches," according to Robert Frost.

Acer palmatum

Acer palmatum 'Purple Ghost'

The vast majority of my nursery comes from Japan; in other words, Acer palmatum is from Japan, even though hundreds of cultivars were selected in America or Europe. I would have been in serious trouble if the foolish proposals had gained purchase fifteen-twenty years ago, namely that one could only sell and plant native plants. Some people actually think that exotic plants are evil and a hazard to the purity of our earth. I regret that I have ivy and blackberries in my woods, to be sure, but I don't think that a 'Purple Ghost' has ever harmed anyone or our eco-system.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Yoshino'

Nyssa sinensis

Fragaria chiloensis

Mespilus germanica

Pinus koraiensis 'Silveray'

Sorbus americana

Cedrus libani 'Green Prince'

Cercis canadensis 'Appalachia'

Parrotia persica

In fact I truly enjoy "travelling around the world" with my plants. In one modest garden you can visit Japan (Cryptomeria japonica), China (Nyssa sinensis), Chile (Fragaria chiloensis), Germany (Mespilus germanica), Korea (Pinus koraiensis), USA (Sorbus americana), Lebanon (Cedrus libani), Canada (Cercis canadensis), Iran (Parrotia persica) and many, many more. And you also get to know many fascinating people with your collection of exotics, such as George Forrest from Scotland (Rhododendron forrestii), Ernest Henry Wilson from England (Populus wilsonii), Philipp von Siebold from Germany (Magnolia sieboldii), Père Delavay (Osmanthus delavayi), William Henry Brewer from USA (Picea breweriana) and many, many more. All of these people are now dead, except that they live on...with their plants in my collection. Really, plants are a cheap date, and many in my arboretum will outlive me. I'm really lucky to have met so many.

Rhododendron forrestii ssp. forrestii

Populus wilsonii

E.H. Wilson

Magnolia sieboldii

Philipp von Siebold

Osmanthus delavayi

Père Delavay

Picea breweriana

William Henry Brewer


  1. I really enjoy reading your blog whenever I can! I have a question about "cannot use Latin names" after January 1, 1959 - I'm trying to figure out what this means, if it isn't a typo or an accidental double negative. I did try reading the ICBN and made my head reel for awhile, but I couldn't figure this out.

    1. I believe the statement applies to the cultivar name given to a newly discovered or propagated plant. For example take a species Norway Spruce - Picea Abies. Years ago someone discovered a drooping variety perhaps in the wild, collected/propagated it for sale and named it - Picea Abies "Pendula" . Prior to the 1960's many plantsmen used this nomenclature. Since then many plants have been discovered and/or propagated. Recently a plantsmen discovered a yellowish variety of the same plant mentioned above. Rather than name it Picea Abies "Pendula Aurea" the plant was named Picea Abies "Gold Drift". The older cultivars tend to have pure latin names.

  2. Acer palmatum 'Taimen nishiki' is a beautiful cultivar - any chance one or two might be allocated with my Maple Program order?

  3. I feel the same way you do about exotics, and in many cases they are superior choices for a landscape. Many native plants here in Florida live in the swamps, yet people actually choose these to do Xeroscaping to save water. Thinking all native plants will grow in all of Florida.