Saturday, April 25, 2015

Plant Names Simplified...and More

Lapageria rosea

I used to grow Lapageria rosea, and I was aware of the advice to keep the pots on the small size. The ten seedlings that I had grew well for four or five years and reached a height of about six feet. One fall I decided to put them in showy cedar boxes, which were only slightly larger than their one gallon plastic pots. Bad idea: they promptly went south and looked horrible the next spring. They wouldn't die, rather they just sat there with ugly leaves and no blossoms. By the following spring I grew weary and dumped the lot. Of course the photos (above) were from when they were in their prime, and as you can see, some flowered red and others white.

Mrs. Napoleon
The name Lapageria is derived from the maiden-name (Lapagerie), Napoleon's Empress Josephine, which is odd since it was introduced to cultivation by the Englishman William Lobb, and was growing at Kew in 1847.* Lobb collected it in southern Chile along the coastal mountains, and today it is Chile's national flower, known as the “Chilean bellflower.” To the native South Americans (Mapudungun tribe) it is also known as copihue, derived from kopiwe (co-pee-way). It fruits, which the Mapudungun refer to as kopiw, and that is from kopun which means “being upside down.” It is a vine in the Order Liliales, and I find it interesting that it always twines counter-clockwise, from right to left. Certainly there must be at least one contrarian which twines the other direction to impress the ladies. Now there are some colorful cultivars – except they are rarely offered – but I would surely acquire one again if I could.

*Lobb's trip to South America was financed by the Veitch Nursery firm, and they were understandably irked when he sent herbarium specimens and live plants to Hooker at Kew. He was also the plant collector who first sent Sequoiadendron giganteum (“Giant Redwood”) and Araucaria araucana (“Monkey Puzzle Tree”) to England, as well as discovering the rare Pinus torreyana (“Torrey Pine”). Poor Lobb was ill in his latter years, and died alone in a San Francisco hospital from “paralysis,” a euphemism for syphilis.

Embothrium coccineum

Embothrium coccineum is another Chilean native and it is commonly known as the “Chilean fire bush,” but I must boringly report that the generic name is derived from Greek referring to the structure of its anthers. Wow, that's no fun! In any case, Embothrium is not hardy outdoors in Oregon – except that it is! – judging from Plant Mad Nursery's experience (east of Gresham, Oregon where winter temperatures are not shy to hover near zero degrees F.) Guy and his endearing wife Chiyoko have a good-sized outdoor specimen which is the location of the photos above. Previously I grew the tree in my “non-profit” Greenhouse 20 – the “fun house,” but it reached the top of the structure and I ultimately sold it to a beguiling blonde woman who operates a Seattle-area (USDA zone 8) retail nursery. She was ecstatic to acquire my specimen and I received a sizeable thrill to provide it – a reminder that capitalism can be a win-win situation. Alas, that was ten year ago, and while she is still on-board and buying my plants, somehow I have discontinued with Embothrium...much to my regret.

Zea mays 'Tricolor'

I have never said my name Talon Buchholz to strangers – without first spelling the Buchholz out: “BUCHHOLZ; yes, two “h's” “t” at all – hey, just listen: BUCHHOLZ. That's right, two “h's.” Really I just wish that my name could have been Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays...the latter a fun name – say-hey – that reminds me of the corn plant, Zea mays. Zea is an old Greek name for a kind of corn, and also referred to a foliage fodder for livestock. The specific name mays is a bit more confusing, referring perhaps to the fifth month of the year, or to the early (prime) part of one's life or to a British name for the Hawthorne tree. The origin is probably from Latin maisu, and that from Maia – a Roman goddess derived from the Greek goddess of the same name. Anyway, I have grown corn both as food for my family and also as an ornamental. My cobbs of Z. m. 'Tricolor', the ornamental, didn't develop uniformly, but nonetheless I have enough seeds to supply the entire world until time immemorial. Corn is perhaps the most interesting plant in the world – at least to me – for it is a grain plant domesticated by the indigenous people of America. The Spanish named the corn maiz, and that after the Taino tribe's mahiz. Domestication is thought to have begun around 2500 BC and the crop spread through most of the Americas, and even today it is still the largest grain crop in the Americas. Native Americans were good food gardeners as well, and developed the Three Sisters system. The corn was planted on a mound that would provide support for beans, then squash provided groundcover to stop weeds and inhibit evaporation. I often suppose that Native Americans were more intelligent than we white illegal-aliens are today. Perhaps this evening I will consume Zea mays var. everta (popcorn) with my children.

Strelitzea reginae

Strelitzea juncea

Strelitzea reginae is native to South Africa, and it is commonly known as the “Bird of Paradise.” It was named for Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz who was the wife (and Queen) – hence S. reginae – of England's King George III...errr I mean H.M. King George III. Bird-like flowers arise from boring grassy evergreen foliage, and they emerge from what is called the spathe. They consist of three vivid orange sepals and three blue petals, and most interestingly, the bird-looking spathe provides a perch for sunbirds, a group of nectar-suckers in the Family Nectariniidae which are similar to our American hummingbirds. My experience with Strelitzea reginae is slight, as I have only grown one as a houseplant when I was single...when I was looking for a way to impress girls. Then I was hard-working for a large wholesale nursery, and I filled the company-provided house with tender flora specimens. With my “bird” I remember that the erect spathe had emerged, but at the time I didn't know what that would lead to. Amazingly, I returned home one evening in the summer's afternoon and discovered S. reginae in full-flower. Naturally I called up my then most-hopeful girlfriend and invited her to celebrate with me...but she didn't get what I was talking about, and eventually dumped me anyway.

Darlingtonia californica

Darlingtonia californica

Darlingtonia californica – from Southern Oregon and northern California, duh – was named for William Darlington (1782-1863), a Pennsylvanian physician, solider (war of 1812), bank president, railroad president, Congressman and oh, besides all of that – a botanist as well. The plant is commonly known as the “California pitcher plant” and was discovered by the botanist William Brackenridge in 1841, then first described by John Torrey in 1853. I don't know if the busy Darlington ever saw a herbarium specimen of Darlingtonia, but certainly he never ventured into Oregon-California to see the plant for himself. I have experienced it in a number of boggy locations, and as a carnivorous plant its unpleasant smell is the plant's strategy to attract insects. Californica is the sole member of the Darlingtonia genus and is in the Family Sarraceniaceae. Sarracenia and Darlingtonia are actually quite easy to grow – contrary to old reports – and the how-to is readily available on the internet.

Coffea arabica

The photo above is of Coffea arabica, taken a few years ago in the conservatory at the Ghent Botanical Garden in Belgium. Hey, excuse me for three minutes...ok, I'm back with a cup of coffee from my new Keurig machine. I am more inspired to write about coffee if I actually have a cup to drink. The word coffee is from Italian caffe, and that from Turkish kahveh, and that from Arabic qahwah. Perhaps all of that derivation is due to the Kaffa region of Ethiopia, one place where it is native. On the other hand, the first evidence of coffee drinking was in the middle of the 15th century in Yemen; then within a hundred years it had spread to the Middle East and most of Africa. Over the course of history leaders of the Muslim faith were wishy-washy about the stimulating effects of coffee, banning it one day, then allowing it the next. It entered Europe via Muslim trade with the Republic of Venice, and eventually the Pope (Clement VIII) got involved and decided that it was acceptable for Catholics to consume it. Divine guidance I'm sure.

Camassia leichtlinii 'Blue Danube'
Camassia leichtlinii 'Sacajawea'

Meriwether Lewis
I have a patch of Camassia planted by the pond, and I'm lucky they are still around for they suffered a serious setback for a few years when an (ex) employee decided to water them with an herbicide. Because they “looked like weeds” when not in flower. But they prevailed and today they are beginning to bloom. Camassia is a perennial in the Asparagaceae Family, and the species quamash is native to Oregon and Washington. Native Americans would eat the bulbs, in fact it was a staple of their diet, then they would sit around the campfire and pass bad gas. In 1806 Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis and Clark expedition) wrote, “At a short distance, the colour resembles lakes of bright clear water.” The city of Camas in Washington state, along the Columbia River, was named for the plant, and it was the town where my grandmother lived for a great part of her life. The quamash species usually grows about two feet tall, while C. leichtlinii grows to three-to-four feet tall, but other than that I don't know one species from the other. As with many wildflowers, the keen outdoorsman will occasionally find a white flower in the population.

Paris polyphylla

Paris polyphylla var. yunnanense

The genus Paris was named from Latin par, referring to the “regularity of the parts.” The capital of France was named after the Parisii, a Gallic people who settled on the Ile de la Cite, which is an island in the Seine. The flowering genus was first described by Linnaeus in 1753, and the Trillium-relative is in the Trilliaceae Family. Paris has a wide distribution in Europe, China, Japan and even Iceland, but no doubt it was Paris quadrifolia that Linnaeus had under observation. I have seen P. polyphylla in the wild at about 7,000' elevation in the Himalayan foothills, but I didn't have great success in growing it. The most impressive grower is Far Reaches Farm in northern Washington state, and their success is due to a shade garden heaped with processed horse manure. The photo above of var. yunnanense is from Far Reaches, and I suspect – but don't know – that they collected it in northwest Yunnan themselves.

Inula ensifolia

Inula royleana

Inula royleana
Helianthus annuus

Helianthus maximiliani

Inula is a herbaceous perennial – but sometimes an annual – in the daisy family, Asteraceae, and as with Paris, I have seen it in the Himalayan foothills. Interestingly, the name Inula was used by the Romans and is derived by the Helen of Troy myth – or fact – who was the daughter of Zeus and Leda, and who was considered the most beautiful woman in the world. She was married to King Menelaus and reigned as the Queen of Laconia, but was then abducted by Paris, the Prince of Troy, and that of course brought about the Trojan War. The association with Helen is vague, but Inula is from Medieval Latin enula campana – from Greek helenion (see-Helen) – plus campanus, meaning “of  the field.” The Helianthus genus, or “sunflower,” is derived from the Greek Helios for “sun” and anthos for “flower.” A fun observation for kids is when they learn that sunflowers, during growth, tilt during the day to face the sun, but upon blooming they stop to do so. This activity is called heliotropism, and it is also fun for children to observe that mature sunflower blossoms usually face east.

Leycesteria formosa

I have a Leycesteria formosa in my backyard and for the most part it prospers, except that this woody shrub has been known to die back in the coldest of winter. I used to grow the cultivar 'Golden Lanterns' – with golden foliage – but it perished one winter, apparently being less hardy than the type. Leycesteria commemorates W. Leycester who was the Chief Justice in Bengal, while the specific name formosa is the old name for Taiwan, a name bestowed by the Portuguese for Formosa insula meaning “beautiful island.” The name of Taiwan originates from Tayuan or Tayoan meaning “foreigners” in the Siraya language, as the southwestern inhabitants of the island referred to Chinese settlers. Back to the plant, L. formosana is commonly known as the “Himalayan honeysuckle” or the “Himalayan pheasant berry.” I don't know for sure, but I suppose the “pheasant” connotation is due to the metallic purple-blue berries of the Leycesteria seed, the same color as the male Himalayan pheasant, Lophophorus impejanus. I have not seen Leycesteria formosana in the wild, but I did stumble upon the pheasant at 10,000' elevation in the region of Mt. Makalu (27,765 feet) in Nepal, and indeed, the pheasant is the national bird of Nepal. The bird, while truly beautiful, is said to be quite dumb, and two or three villagers can surround one, close in and grab their dinner. It doesn't matter if the pheasant is rare and endangered, for the locals themselves are also endangered, and any meal could be their last.

The origins of words – their etymology – has long fascinated me, especially in association with plants. I am a very late-comer to the internet, but for many years I collected plant-name books – I must have twenty at least – and I pull them off the shelf from time to time. It must weary some of you Flora Wonder Blog readers, but if you have gotten this far I guess you can tolerate my hobby. Today's blog was inspired by Plant Names Simplified by A.T. Johnson and H.A. Smith, not that this blog itself is necessarily inspiring. The little paperback was first published in England in 1931 but I have a later edition. I don't remember where I bought it – here or in England – but I notice that it is priced at £4.95p. The book provides endless fun, and one learns that Musa (the banana) is of uncertain origin...but possibly “in honor of Antonius Musa, a freed-man of Emperor Augustus, whose physician he became; the Arabic and Egyptian name is Mauz and this is considered by some to be the basis of the Latin Musa.” Great, and even though I probably forget 95% of what I read, I love it for at least a moment.

1 comment:

  1. Am I wrong? I thought Archibald Menzies collected the Monkey Puzzle tree around 1792, not Lobb. And I thought C.C. Parry collected the Pinus torreyana around 1849 while wandering, waiting for the Mexican Boundary Expedition to get going.