Friday, May 29, 2015

Where in the World is Flora Wonder?



An alarming number of Americans can't identify the continents or the oceans, let alone know where most of the countries are, including the United States. Only 51% of students in the Gaston school district graduate from high school, with the remaining 49% taking the short route to crime, meth addiction or slovenly welfare. Actually I am not from Gaston, Oregon – but my post office is – and I am more proud to really be from Forest Grove, Oregon, but even that is a redundant* name.

*From Latin redundare meaning “overflow,” “pour over,” or “over-full.” Undare is “rise in waves,” from unda, a “wave.”


When I was in high school I could name all countries in Africa and all states in the USA plus their capitals. I doubt that I can now, and damn that the Soviet Union broke into numerous stans* that are difficult to spell and pronounce. My interest in geography stemmed from a nearly lifelong subscription to the National Geographic, and I estimate that I have 95% of all their magazines ever published. Now they are housed on bookshelves in my basement, and I would happily give them all away if anybody wants them. When Ronald Reagan opened his Presidential Library, he quipped that he finally had a place to put his National Geographic collection. I'll admit that my first interest in the publication was due to black-and-white images of bare-breasted African women when I was in the fifth grade, and I spent a lot of time in the school library. And though I'll never tire of bare-breasted women, my interests improved to accounts of explorations to exotic places like the Himalaya, Andes, China etc., and then I was fortunate to be able to go visit them myself

*The suffix stan is Persian for “place of” or “country,” and is also used more generally like golestan for “place of flowers,” Urdu rigestan for “place of sand” or “desert,” Hindustan for “land of the Hindus” and Pakistan for “land of the pure.” What—pure? Who ever associates Pakistan with pure?

Acer x 'Obamayama'


Haruko japonica
Mao sinensis
When I encounter a new plant – rather, a plant new to me – I first consider where it is native to. Haruko japonica would be from Japan of course, and Mao sinensis would be from China, and all serious plants-people would know that. But what about Acer palmatum 'Obama yama', would that be from the USA's 58th state? By the way, I wonder if President Obama could find Ukraine on a world map? Does Hillary Clinton know where Libya is? Oops, there goes half of the Flora Wonder Blog's readership.



Iberis 'Masterpiece'

Anyway, plant genera and species were named for a number of reasons, and one very prominent one is their country or region of origin. Take Iberis sempervirens for example, commonly called the “candytuft,” a native to southern Europe and hardy to a piss-freezing -40 degrees F, USDA zone 3. It is native to the Iberian Peninsula which includes Spain, Portugal and Andorra, and is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Biscay. The region is known as Peninsula iberica in Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan, Peninsule iberique in French and Iberiar Penintsula in Basque. The Iberian Peninsula has always been associated with the Ebro River, Iberos in ancient Greek, and the Roman Pliny attests that the Greeks called all of Spain Hiberia because of the Hiberus River. The peninsula has been inhabited for at least one million years by prehuman species, possibly Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis or Homo antecessor. Iberis sempervirens is a herbaceous perennial in the Brassicaceae family and is commonly used as a spreading groundcover which attracts butterflies. I have a clump in my garden and it is blooming now.



Rosa stylosa ssp nevadensis

I grow a couple of plants native to Nevada, USA: Arctostaphylos nevadensis and Rosa nevadensis. The rose is more appropriately known as Rosa stylosa ssp. nevadensis and – wait a minute! – it is not native to the state Nevada, but rather to the Sierra Nevada in Spain. Sierra Nevada means “snowy range” in Spanish, with the tallest peak at 3478m (11,411'), almost exactly the altitude of our Mt. Hood in Oregon. R. stylosa was originally classified as Prodromus florae hispanicae, another clue to its native range. Prodromus is derived from Greek meaning “running before,” and in the natural sciences it usually refers to a preliminary publication that will later be expanded upon. I can't find any connection between “running before” and the Spanish rose, but I invite all attractive female readers of the Flora Wonder Blog to stop by and we'll smell the roses together.

Arctostaphylos nevadensis 'Ponchito'

Arctostaphylos nevadensis 'Cascade'


Unlike Rosa nevadensis, Arctostaphylos nevadensis truly is from the state of Nevada, as well as from Washington, Oregon and California. This ericaceous groundcover is commonly known as the “Pinemat Manzanita” and it thrives in well-drained, acidic soils in open sunny sites. I have two cultivars in the rock-garden area in my Blue Forest, 'Ponchito' and 'Cascade', and both have sprawled to over eight feet in diameter after twenty years, but fortunately they are less than two feet tall. I resent their vigor somewhat, for what I value most in this rock garden are the rocks, not the greenery. A. nevadensis, like most manzanita species, requires insect visitation to ensure seed-set. Bees grasp the flowers and shake them with their beating wings, thereby accomplishing pollination. The common term Manzanita is the diminutive form of Spanish manzana for “apple,” and it describes the fruit. The name Arctostaphylos was coined by the French naturalist Michel Adanson (1707-1778) who first named the circumboreal A. uva-ursi which he found in Europe, with the Greek word arktos meaning “bear” and staphyle meaning “grape,” because bears were noticed to eat the fruit – hence the common name of “bearberry.”

Juniperus virginiana 'Royo'

Juniperus virginiana is native to Virginia of course, and the specific name is possibly due to the area where it was first encountered by the early invading Europeans. It is commonly named the “Eastern Red Cedar,” and the species is found in every state east of the 100th meridian, or basically in the eastern one-half of the United States. In other words, it could just as well have been classified as Juniperus pennsylvania or Juniperus wisconsiana. Not only that, but J. virginiana extends northward into southern Ontario and Quebec. I have seen it in the wild along highways of eastern USA states, but cruising along at 65 MPH seemed more important than actually stopping to inspect the species, for I find it quite boring. A low-spreading cultivar named 'Royo' is interesting for its blue-gray foliage and procumbent habit; we used to propagate it but discontinued due to weak sales.

Sieur d'Iberville
The history of Baton Rouge, Louisiana is interesting as the area was inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years (since 8,000 BC), and then it was mentioned by European explorers in 1699. The Frenchman Sieur d'Iberville led a party up the Mississippi River and saw a reddish cypress pole – J. virginiana – adorned with bloody animals and fish. This baton rouge marked the boundary between two unfriendly tribes, and the French built a fort near the “red stick” in 1719, and thereby “claimed” the land. Later, in the Great Expulsion (1755) – during the French and Indian War – the British expelled 11,000 Acadians, those from the northeast Maritime provinces of present-day Canada, and they settled in Louisiana and were known as Cajuns. Anyone who has visited New Orleans, LA knows how wild its French Quarter can be, but their reputation for fiery Cajun food seems odd for a group of celery-chewers that originated from NE Canada, eh?

Adiantum aleuticum

Polystichum munitum

Blechnum spicant





















Polypodium glycyrrhiza























Pteridium aquilinum


Adiantum aleuticum is our beautiful “Western Maidenhair Fern,” and I find it astounding that it ranges from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska down to Chihuahua, Mexico...and then from Newfoundland south to Maryland. I frequently meet to walk with my “grandfather” in Portland, Oregon's Forest Park where the maidenhair thrives on steep drippy banks. Also in the Columbia River Gorge, I know a place where A. aleuticum, Polystichum munitum (“western sword fern”), Blechnum spicant (“deer fern”), Polypodium glycyrrhiza (“licorice fern”) and Pteridium aquilinum (“western bracken fern”) literally touch each other, and one wonders what might occur at night. A fern's stipe is the stalk which connects the blade to the rhizome and they are black with the Adiantum genus. I'll repeat Sue Olsen's story – in Encyclopedia of Garden Ferns – of a “folkloric account of a German maiden whose lover turned into a wolf. In flight she tumbled over a precipice catching her black hair in the bushes where the hair took root and sprouted into our familiar fern. Today the maidenshair surrounds a spring, called the Wolf's Spring, at the spot where she landed.”

Catherine Creek State Park at the Columbia River Gorge

Lomatium columbianum

Lomatium grayi


Captain Robert Gray
Columbia personification
Every spring I venture east up the Columbia River in the state of Washington to a protected refuge for plants called Catherine Creek. Amongst the oaks (Quercus garryana) and pines (Pinus ponderosa) one can find scads of wildflowers, including Fritillaria, Sisyrinchium, Lewisia and two species of Lomatium – columbianum and grayi. L. columbianum is a perennial herb in the family Apiaceae, and is commonly known as the “Columbia Desert Parsley,” and it occurs in a relatively small area along the Columbia River on both the Oregon and Washington sides. The Columbia River was named by its discoverer Captain Robert Gray for his ship and since he was born in Rhode Island it was east-coast America's claim to the western half of the continent – to the dismay of the British. Columbia is a historical and poetic name used for the USA and also for its female personification, and it obviously originated from the name of Christopher Columbus. Thus we have the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) where the black hole of government gorges for itself while claiming to serve the American people. It is thought that the first name for the New World – Columbina – was used by Massachusetts Chief Justice Samuel Sewall in 1697. Even in England the name for America was Columbia, and it was used as early as 1738 in Parliamentary debates. It's baffling why the name America prevailed, especially since the sketchy Italian sailor never set foot on North America.


Fuchsia magellanica 'Pumila'

Fuchsia magellanica is hardy in my garden, although it does die to the ground each winter. The species is native to the southern regions of Chile and Argentina...south to the Straights of Magellan. We grow the cultivar 'Pumila'* – well, we have some in the gardens, but we don't propagate and sell it anymore. Fuchsias are native to America from Mexico to South America's bottom, as well as a couple of species from New Zealand and Tahiti. One New Zealand species, F. excorticata, can grow to fifty feet tall and it goes by the charming name “kotukutuku.” Say that three times fast! The first Fuchsia to be discovered was F. triphylla, found on the island of Hispaniola – present day Haiti and Dominican Republic – by the French monk and botanist Charles Plumier. He named his 1696 discovery of the genus after the German botanist Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566). Don't worry, for Fuchs is pronounced as few ks, and it is German for “fox.” The luxuriant color of some Fuchsia blossoms led to it becoming a color name. The first synthetic dye of the color of fuchsia was invented in 1859 and was called fuchsinie, and it was patented by the French chemist Verguin. Soon thereafter the name was changed to magenta...to celebrate the victory of the Battle of Magenta, a rare French victory over the Italians. The town of Magenta is in the province of Milan in northern Italy, and the French troops wore the purplish colors on their uniforms. Just imagine the Frogs marching off to battle – and possibly meeting their maker – in reddish-purple uniforms. Better to have stayed home tending to their cabbages.

Nothofagus antarctica 'Chillan'

Coming from the same general area as the Fuchsia, Nothofagus antarctica is commonly known as the “Antarctic Beech.” It was introduced (to Europe) from Chile in 1830, and it is a pretty deciduous tree with small glossy dark-green leaves. It is fast-growing when young, but unfortunately the roots don't extend far into the ground, so it is prone to tipping over from the wind, and for this reason I finally edited my one tree from the landscape. I still grow – and keep in the greenhouse – a yellow and white variegated selection called 'Chillan' which was named for Chillan, Chile, a city of 162,000 souls located in the geographical center of the country. Originally named San Bartolome de Chillan, it was shortened to present day Chillan which is the local Indian name for “where the sun is sitting.” 'Chillan' is rarely offered in the trade, but it is fairly easy to grow and is propagated by Buchholz Nursery as summer cuttings under mist.



























Quercus pontica


J.R.P van Hoey Smith with Quercus pontica


Quercus x Pondaim Group at the Arboretum Trompenburg

The specific name of Quercus pontica is derived from an ancient country in Asia Minor which borders the Black Sea, and that from pontos, the ancient Greek personification of the sea. In Latin a pons is a “bridge.” The origin of the word quercus is uncertain, but one guess that it is of Celtic origin meaning “beautiful tree.” There is no common Indo-European root word for oak, but it is thought to have originated in northern Europe, with roots such as ac in Old English, ek in Middle Low German, and eik in Dutch and Old Norwegian. Also linked together with “oak” are words such as “kernel,” “corn,” “acorn” and “acre.” Quercus pontica is commonly called the “Armenian oak” and Hillier (2014) calls it an “unmistakable species.” A most attractive hybrid is Q. x Pondaim Group, and the photo above was taken at the Arboretum Trompenburg in Rotterdam. It was raised by JRP van Hoey Smith as Quercus pontica x Quercus dentata in about 1960. According to Hillier, “This name was never restricted to a single clone and several different forms have been distributed. When van Hoey Smith was asked what his one favorite plant was, he replied without hesitation Quercus pontica.

There; we have taken a little trip around the world, accomplished while still sitting on our chairs. Every plant I have ever grown – or seen somewhere else – has a “story,” and that tale is the point (or excuse) for the Flora Wonder Blog. Thanks for the memories.

1 comment:

  1. How about the story of Simmondsia chinensis, which was so named because Johann Link read "China" where he should have read "California", or Lilaeopsis chinensis (eastern US) and Scilla peruviana (Spain), which were similarly misplaced by their namers? Article 51.1 of the latest Code must cause no end of consternation for horticultural etymologists!

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