Friday, March 6, 2015

Further Afield

L'Arbre du Ténéré by Michel Mazeau

I am not an Acacia expert, far from it, but I have observed a number of species – in either Californian botanic gardens or in southern retail nurseries – but I have never grown one. I have never been to Australia to encounter the “wattle trees,” but there are tons of species endemic to that southern continent. I recently read about the L'Arbre du Ténéré, or in English the “Tree of Ténéré,” which was an Acacia growing in isolation in the Sahara Desert in northeast Niger, a full 400 km (250 miles) away from any other tree. Naturally it was a landmark on caravan routes through the Ténéré portion of the Sahara, and its success was due to the discovery of a 131' well located nearby. Sadly, the phenomenal specimen was terminated by a rough-house-drunken Libyan truck driver in 1973. Why the solo-tree was able to survive was because it was considered taboo by the caravaniers, and known by the resident tribe as the first, or last, lighthouse when crossing the Ténéré.

Acacia abyssinica

Acacia is in the Leguminosae family, and its Greek name refers to Acacia arabica, for akis, meaning a “sharp thorn.” The “wattles” are the most widespread of all Australian plants, and frankly, I find most of them to be quite ugly. Nevertheless, some inhabit most inhospitable regions in desert sand. They can vary from low scrubby brush to upright trees, and locally (Australia) they are known as “Mulga,” from an Aboriginal language of New South Wales. Acacia abyssinica, from Ethiopia, impressed me with its reddish-tan flaking trunk, even though its boring pea-foliage did not, but I liked its flat-topped canopy when I encountered it in a southern-Californian arboretum last year. This “Umbrella Acacia” is also known as Vachellia abyssinica, due to the International-Botanical-Congress decision in 2011 to split what was once lumped.

Acacia nilotica

Acacia nilotica (or Vachellia nilotica) is also native to Africa, but it is now considered an invasive species in Australia. This “Arabic tree gum” was the “type species” of the genus Acacia, and was rendered by the eminent Greek botanist-physician Pedanius Dioscorides as a medicinal in his book Materia Medica. Thereafter the “classifier” Linnaeus named the species nilotica because its best-known occurrence was along the Nile River. But it is also native to Mozambique, India and Burma, and it's interesting that its seed is spread by livestock. The twigs of the tree are used as a toothbrush in Africa, and I have seen such use in India.

Buddleja 'Tutti Fruitti'

So what's the point of this blog, and why am I describing plants that I don't have for sale? Because I usually discuss plants that I sell, and I felt like going further afield this time. Actually it was inspired when I pulled my well-worn Dictionary of Plant Names by Allen J. Coombes off the shelf. I never get tired of the story of a plant, and the name can be fascinating. I'll bet that 95% of American nurserymen who grow and sell Buddleja (Butterfly Bush) don't know that the genus was named after the Reverend Adam Buddle (1662-1715). Linnaeus bestowed the name posthumously on the good Buddle, but the reverend-botanist never once set eyes on the plant. I keep a couple of Buddlejas in the garden, and do so for my children's sake: so they can experience the honey-like fragrance. And also Clerodendron for its peanut butter-like smell. Its name is from Greek kleros for “chance” and dendron for “tree,” referring to various medicinal properties. Well-adjusted kids will have more fun with peanut butter-and-honey trees than with video games and digital gadgets.

Corokia cotoneaster

Cotoneaster 'St. Monica'

Cotoneaster bullatus 'Floribundus'

We used to propagate Corokia cotoneaster, and I still keep a pot of it in GH20; if planted outdoors it would probably croak in many of our winters. The genus name is from the Maori korokia, as these evergreen shrubs are native to New Zealand. The species name cotoneaster is due to the branching habit of some cotoneasters. However, I've never seen any cotoneaster that resembles Corokia cotoneaster. Did you follow that? Anyway cotoneaster is from Latin cotoneum for “quince,” and aster for “resembling somewhat,” due to the similarity of the leaves of some species. Corokia cotoneaster is a fun plant, commonly called the “wire-netting bush,” and its pretty tiny flowers are slightly fragrant. Still, I think the powers-that-be did a poor job in naming the plant, but the rules are the rules so we're stuck with it.

Crataegus monogyna 'Inermis Compacta' at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Crataegus monogyna 'Inermis Compacta' at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Crataegus cunneatra
Crataegus calpodendron

Crataegus comes from the Greek kratos for “strength,” referring to the hard wood. The common name today is “Hawthorne,” and in Old English it was haguthorn for haga (hedge) plus thorn for thorn. I grow C. monogyna (pronounced mon-o-gi-na) 'Inermis Compacta'. Monogyna means “with one pistil,” inermis means “without thorns” and compacta you already know. I have one Crataegus cunneatrea in the collection, and it features white flowers in spring followed by yellow fruits resembling small apples, but I don't know what the specific name means. Any Crataegus experts out there? Crataegus calpodendron is a pretty tree. We know that dendron is Greek for tree, while colpo means “vagina,” and is from Greek kolpos for “fold” or “hollow.” Yikes, a vagina tree! We can imagine what was in Jakob Friedrich Ehrhart's mind when he looked at the trunk when naming the species.

Primula secundiflora

Primula japonica

The name Primula is from Latin primus meaning “first,” referring to its early blooming. The common name is “primrose,” but in England the native Primula veris is known as the “cowslip,” which is thought to have derived from Old English for cow dung, probably because the plant was often found growing amongst the manure in cow pastures. Another derivation could refer to slippery or boggy ground which is the typical locale of the species. Veris means “of spring” in Latin, but old folk names include “herb peter,” “fairy cups,” “petty mullein” and “cuy lippe.” “Herb Peter” could possibly refer to the pendent flowers that suggested a “bunch of keys,” the emblem of St. Peter for his keyes to heaven. That was possibly derived from Norse mythology where the flower was dedicated to Freya, the “key virgin,” where one could hopefully be admitted into her treasure palace. The best “treasure” is that the flowers have a fresh fragrance and are slightly narcotic, and they are used in making the fermented liquor called “Cowslip Wine.” Sadly, I have never sampled that concoction, but I would do so immediately (if possible)... from a research perspective. Medically, Primula veris can be used as a sedative and antispasmodic, and home-remedies suggest their value to strengthen the nerves, the brain and to relieve restlessness and insomnia – all of which afflict me.

Primula 'Zebra Blue'

There are many species and hybrids of Primula, and even my local Safeway grocery store now – March 7th – has them for sale – for cheap – next to their doorways. My wife bought a few gaudy hybrids a few years ago and planted them in front of the house. I counseled her that they would probably die after the first season...but go ahead and plant them. To my amazement they still thrive and soon again they will be in bloom. I even paid a ridiculous retail amount to acquire Primula 'Zebra Blue' from Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina. A New York customer who visited a week ago wanted to plant a mass of fifty in their arboretum after seeing one in my nursery in bloom, but they certainly didn't know that I paid $16.95 for a small 3 ½ inch pot for my one. These “types” cannot relate to my despair when they want to buy something that I have gone through hell and high water to acquire, then expect that since I have it, then it must be for sale. Geeze, just look at my Availability, and decide from that what to buy. Of course, like me, every customer – or potential customer – is “special” and wants to be treated as such, but at least I show more respect for a plant company's protocol, as it usually has evolved from the need to survive.

Primula vialii

Back to Primula, I think my favorite species is vialii. It is from China and was named for Pere Vial, a French missionary who labored in the northern Burma – southern Yunnan area. The story about Vial's experiences in Yunnan are known largely due to the British engineer Archibald Colquhoun's account in 1883, while he was searching for a Burma-to-China route. Colquhoun had a dickens of a time with the Chinese, and of course he could speak none of the tribal languages or Chinese. Vial offered to act as his guide, and being fluent in Chinese, he was able to settle difficult and dangerous situations. I don't know if Vial actually discovered the Primula, or if it was just named after him. I have not seen P. vialii in the wild, but there is a thriving colony of them in a boggy area at the Rhododendron Species Foundation in Washington state, and the photo above is but one of their many clumps.

Feijoa sellowiana

I do not grow Feijoa sellowiana because it is not hardy in Oregon. The generic name is after Don de Silva Feijo, a 19th century Brazilian botanist, and how appropriate that de Silva would be in a botanist's name. The genus is an evergreen tree native to South America and is known for its egg-shaped reddish-green fruit that smells and tastes like pineapples. The specific name is after the German (Prussian) botanist Friedrich Sellow (or Sello) 1789-1831. Sellow was an interesting fellow. He began his career as a gardener, then gained experience working and studying at the famous botanical gardens in Berlin and Paris. In 1814 he was recognized as an “official naturalist,” and he then joined an expedition to Brazil. He collected thousands of specimens and sent them to botanical gardens in Europe. One reason he took off for Brazil was to avoid Europe during the Napoleonic wars. He never did return to Europe, as he drowned in a river when only 42 years old.

Hosta 'Medusa'

Hosta 'Dragon Tails'

Francis II
Napoleon Bonaparte
Hostas are herbaceous perennials and were named for Nicolas Tomas Host (1761-1834). The Austrian botanist was also the personal physician of Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. Unlike Sellow, his Holiness Francis stayed in Europe during the Napoleonic wars, but his empire was dissolved after Napoleon whipped his army at the Battle of Austerlitz. Downsizing his realm, he declared himself the first Emperor of Austria, thus becoming the only Doppelkaiser (double emperor) in history. Francis's greatest defeat was not on the battlefield, but from the humiliation from Napoleon when he demanded Francis's daughter Marie Louis for marriage. Back to Host, he was honored for the eastern Asian genus (Hosta) by a later Austrian botanist, Leopold Trattinnick. Host published works on new species, the grasses of central Europe and Salix. Hostas are commonly known as “plantain lilies” in Britain and “giboshi” in Japan. Another name for Hosta is Funkia, and it has been suggested that Funkia deserves generic status; but forget about it as the notion has been rejected. I've got a few Hostas in the gardens, but I'm not big into them because they become slug hotels.

I must thank Allen Coombes for this little excursion into plant names. He was the Botanist at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in southern England, and I have read his articles in The Garden and in The Plantsman, two very fine British plant publications. Surprisingly, he is now the coordinator of the Scientific Collections at the University Botanic Garden in Puebla, Mexico. And damn! – I was in Puebla not so long ago – but I had no clue that there was a botanic garden there. By the way, Timber Press, publisher of Coombes's Dictionary of Plant Names, my 1987 2nd edition is literally falling apart; not from over-use or abuse from me, but because it was poorly made. I see that it was “printed” in Finland, but does that mean that it was “bound” there also? Anyway, send me a new copy at no charge.

I'll conclude with a skeletal list of more Coombes plants with their derivation and meaning (at risk of plagiarism):

Robinia pseudoacacia

Robinia: named after Jean Robin (1550-1629), herbalist to Henry IV of France.

Parrotia persica 'Select'

Parrotia: named after F.W. Parrot (1792-1841), a German naturalist.

Globularia cordifolia

Globularia: from Latin globulus for a “small ball,” referring to the flower heads.

Rehderodendron macrocarpum

Rehderodendron: named after Alfred Rehder, early botanist at the Arnold Arboretum, and dendron, Greek for “tree.”

Syringa chinensis 'Lilac Sunday'

Syringa: from Greek syrinx meaning “a pipe,” referring to the hollow stems.

Ribes sanguineum 'King Edward VII'
Ribes sanguineum 'Poky's Pink'

Ribes: from Arabic or Persian ribas, meaning “acid-tasting,” referring to the fruit.

Skimmia japonica

Illicium parviflorum 'Florida Sunshine'

Illicium floridanum 'Halley's Comet'

Skimmia: from the Japanese name Miyami shikimi. Chotto matte (Japanese for “wait a minute”). Haruko says there is no word Miyami, but rather it is Miyama, literally meaning “deep in the mountain,” but in this case it means “deep in the woods.” She's not so sure about shikimi, but one meaning can be “bad fruit,” as in the berries are poisonous. Chotto matte – Haruko has her smart phone in one hand and a Japanese tree-book in the other. It could mean “like Illicium the woods.” Or, or. It's late at night. I'm tired, but Haruko has taken up the puzzle in earnest and she won't stop. I stumble off to bed, too weary to care anymore. Besides, how about I stay out of it, and Haruko and Mr. Coombes can work it out.

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