Thursday, October 29, 2015

What? Whence?*

Some have suggested that I should leave out of the Flora Wonder blogs my fascination for word origins – etymology – and just stick to the plants. Well, the blog is not produced for you, you or you, and even if nobody reads it ever again I would still put it together my way. Actually, when someone tells me that they read the blogs I get kind of embarrassed and feel a little sorry for them. I write in a mental zone that has no audience, otherwise I couldn't do it, and my position contains absolutely no arrogance. So read no further if you choose, because today I'm going to lather on the etymology.

*Whence, is of Germanic origin, to Old English hyanon, then to Old English whenne, and since it literally means "from where" you never say from whence, as that would be "from from where."




The noun word plant is derived from Latin planta and meant a “sprout, shoot or cutting,” while the verb plant means to “put into the ground to grow.” In German a plant is pflanz, in Irish cland, in Spanish planta, and in French plante. Chloris in Greek mythology meant “green” – hence chlorophyll. Daphne and Chloe meant “laurel” and “green shoot” respectively. Demeter is “earthmother.” Melia is an “ash tree,” Phyllus is “foliage” and Thalia means “to blossom.” Nephele is “cloud,” nix is “night” and orpheus is “the darkness of night.”


Tree comes from Old English treo but the proto-Indo-European (PIE) root was deru. Keep in mind that PIE was never written down and is a reconstruction from languages that derive from the root. In Russian drevoi is “tree” or “wood, in Old Irish daur is “oak” and in Greek drys is “oak.” The Dutch use boom for “tree” and Germans use baum as they were derived from the PIE verb root bheue, “to grow.”

Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca'

Calypso bulbosa

Atlas Santiago Toural by Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez
There, I feel etymologically better now, so back to plants. Cedrus atlantica is native to the Atlas Mountains of northern Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, peaking at 4,167 m (13,665 ft.) at Mt. Toubkal. The etymology of Atlas is uncertain, but it could be from the Berber word adrar for “mountain” and then you would have the “Mountain Mountains.” The Ancient Greeks were aware of the African range, and the Roman writer Virgil later translated durus as “hard, enduring” from the Greek word meaning the same. In Greek mythology most of us are familiar with the Titan Atlas who bears the weight of the world on his shoulders. He was the father of the pretty nymph Calypso*, and nothing is cuter than the terrestrial orchid of the same name. The nymph lived on the mythical island of Ogygia where she captured Odysseus with her captivating singing and fell in love with him. While his heart longed for his wife Penelope back home he was detained for several years. Finally Calypso freed him at the bequest of the goddess Athena; but I don't know, I might have stayed. The Atlantic Ocean** is also named after Atlas, and the early Greeks believed it to be a river beginning at Gibraltar...that went around the world. Yep, around, way before Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue.

*The origin of Calypso's name means “to cover” or “hide” or “to conceal,” and you can see why.

**The Atlantic Ocean is thought to be the second youngest of the earth's five oceans. It did not exist 130 million years ago...until the drifting breakup of the super continent Pangaea. Before, all of the continents were joined, and the ocean surrounding it was called Panthalassa.

Cedrus deodara

While on the topic of cedars, it is botanically Cedrus, but there are a lot of other conifers that share the common name, the genera of Chamaecyparis, Thuja and Juniperus. Even for the “true” cedars the taxonomy remains a muddle as botanists are perhaps the most contentious of any group of scientists. I have been fortunate to see C. deodara in the wild, impressive, big gnarly monsters at 8,000 ft. in the Himalayan foothills. The specific name is derived from Sanskrit devadaru which means “wood of the gods.” Indeed, the word Himalaya means “abode of the gods.” The deodar is the national tree of Pakistan, but then who really cares? We have grown a large number of deodar cultivars which were selected primarily for the blueness of the foliage and also for cold tolerance – to -18 degrees F – such as 'Eisregen' (Ice Rain), 'Eiswinter' (Ice Winter) and 'Polar Winter'. It is fun to propagate deodars because of the pleasing smell of the wood, and in fact it is used for its aromatherapy properties.* In northern India people who suffer from asthma are directed to sit under a deodar early in the morning. The species grows well in most of America, and in the wild it can attain an age of 1,000 years and grow as tall as 250 ft.

*Hindu Kush sibyls (female oracles) breathe the burning smoke for divine inspiration, while insects reject the wood.

Daphne genkwa 'Hackenberry Group'

Daphne genkwa is the “lilac daphne,” a scentless shrub from China and the Himalayas, and was first discovered by the energetic plant collector, Charles Maries. He was sent by the famous English Veitch Nursery to Japan, China and Taiwan between 1877 and 1879 and discovered over 500 new species. The Chinese know it as yuan yan meaning “poisonous plant,” nevertheless it is one of the 500 most important herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. We grow the 'Hackenberry Group' which was raised by Don Hackenberry from wild collected seed which are renowned for delightful lavender-purple blossoms in late spring. In addition the shrub appears to be more compact than the type. Genkwa can “wander,” meaning that lower branches can take root in the soil, but to me that's a good thing. It is also nice that the plant blooms before the leaves appear – such a precocious garden goodie.

Sequoia sempervirens

Sequoia sempervirens

Cupressus sempervirens 'Swane's Golden'

There are a lot of species with the name sempervirens, such as Cupressus sempervirens, Sequoia sempervirens and, and – I don't know, but a whole bunch more. It can mean “always flourishing” or “vigorous,” but with plants it means “evergreen.” Semper fidelis is a Latin phrase that means “always loyal” and is best known as the motto of the US Marine Corps. Oh – I just thought of a few more sempervirens, such as Buxus, Iberis, Lonicera, Solidago etc. The coast redwood champion is the tallest tree on earth (379 ft.), and is named “Hyperion” after the Ancient Greek term meaning “the high one.” Its location has not been revealed, to save it from people, but it has been climbed to the top by a few brave knuckleheads, and they report lightning damage has kept it from being even taller. Cupressus sempervirens grows too fast at Buchholz Nursery and it will fall apart with just a couple of inches of snow, but I have seen Oregon specimens receiving very little irrigation and they can grow up to 50 ft. tall, with only 5-6 ft. in width. They are perfect pillars. The “Mediterranean cypress” is particularly ornamental in Greece, and one particular church – well over a thousand years old – was graced by ancient specimens. We still intermittently propagate the cultivar 'Swane's Golden' which I think was originally introduced by Monrovia Nursery. It was hyped as being “dwarf,” but now they admit that it's “slow growing 15 to 20 ft. tall.” I have seen it larger than that and I wouldn't consider it “slow growing” either, as eventually the truth reveals itself. The Monrovia website indicates for blooms – “Does not flower” which is rong – it's just that the male and female inflorescences don't look like roses or petunias, but indeed it “flowers.”

Abies amabilis 'Indian Gold'

Abies amabilis 'Indian Heaven'

Pseudolarix amabilis

Pseudolarix amabilis

I like everything with the specific name amabilis. It is Latin for “lovely” and related terms include amata, amatorious, amica and amicula, with the latter meaning a “loved one” or “mistress.” Amabilis is the specific name for a number of orchids, a Calochortus, Pseudolarix and a Northwest conifer, Abies amabilis. The Abies is known as the “Pacific silver fir” and is found from sea level to about 5,000 ft. in altitude. On old specimens the trunk has a silvery color, and the two stomatal bands under the needle are silver as well. We have introduced two selections named 'Indian Gold' and 'Indian Heaven' as both were found in the Indian Heaven Wilderness in Washington state, but neither is worthy because the variegation is limited. Pseudolarix amabilis is the false larch known commonly as the “Chinese golden larch” due to its impressive autumn color. I used to grow it as a commercial crop but sales were usually slow, and I suppose that customers feared it would grow too large, then would look dead for half of the year. Its range is in a restricted area with fragmented populations and the IUCN lists it as vulnerable trending toward endangered.* It was introduced into Europe in 1852 by Robert Fortune when the plant-hunter was actively stealing tea plants (Camellia sinensis) and tea-harvest secrets from China for the British. I love Pseudolarix and have a grand specimen in my Upper Garden at Flora Farm. Male and female strobili are present on the same tree, and maybe I will attempt to germinate seeds which are borne on the globe artichoke-appearing cones.

*Fossil records show that it was once widely present throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

Sorbus commixta

“One of the best species for autumn color” is how Hillier describes Sorbus commixta, my favorite of the “rowans.” The specific epithet means “mixed,” “mingled” or “combined,” but I don't know what that has to do with the Sorbus – perhaps something to do with the flowers, and there are other plants specifically called commixta, such as an Aloe from South Africa. The origin of the Latin name is from sorbum. The common name of “serviceberry” applies to S. aucuparia, and the name in Old English was syrfe. Rowan is from the Germanic verb raudinan which means “to redden,” in reference to the ripening red fruit. S. commixta is commonly known as the “Japanese rowan” and also can be found in the Russian Far East. Its Japanese name nana kamado means “seven stove,” because the hard wood can be burned in the stove seven times before being consumed. Arboreta in England love S. commixta, so be sure to visit in the autumn and see such cultivars as 'Embley', 'Jermyns' and 'Olympic Flame'. We used to graft it onto S. aucuparia, and when we didn't have any rootstock we would switch to Crataegus monogyna, for both genera are in the Rosaceae family.

Lindera obtusiloba

Above I have discussed trees both evergreen and deciduous. You know green already, but the word ever entered into Old English as aefre with unknown origin. Deciduous is from Latin decidere which means to “fall down” or “off.” Since it's autumn I'll go with another shrub or small tree that rivals the Ginkgo for rich yellow foliage, Lindera obtusiloba. Commonly known as the “spicebush,” the broadly-lobed green leaves give off an aromatic scent. In late winter the bush is covered with bright yellow flowers which look for all the world like Cornus mas flowers. L. obtusiloba is dioecious, which means that male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. Male flowers are the larger of the two, but female plants feature shiny black berries. The species is native to China, Korea and Japan, and in China an extract of the wood and bark is applied to treat inflammations and chronic liver diseases. My oldest specimen is 15 ft. tall by 12 ft. wide after 25 years, so don't try to cram one into a tight space.

Actinidia kolomikta

I mentioned earlier that Charles Maries introduced over 500 species while he was employed by the English Veitch Nursery, and none is more fun than Actinidia kolomikta with its happily painted leaves. Maries collected it in Sapporo, Hokkaido – Japan's northernmost island – but it can also be found in Korea, China and the Russian Far East. It is a scrambling vine which likes shade, and the most impressive specimen I've ever seen was growing in the famous garden of the late Cecil Smith where it draped over a large stump. The vine is dioecious so you need a male and female for fruit; just understand that the kolomikta species bears fruit smaller than the kiwi fruits that you buy in the stores. Don't tell me that A. kolomikta wouldn't be hardy in your climate, for it can survive to -40 degrees F. If you get colder than that you should consider moving, but the poor Russians are stuck. The generic epithet comes from the Greek word atkin meaning “ray” due to the rayed stigmas of the female flowers. I don't know what kolomikta refers to, but it certainly sounds Russian – perhaps a place name – but one thing I know is that the “k” in the name comes before the “t,” so you must focus on the spelling...just as with the “k” coming before the “g” with Ginkgo.

Forest Park

Oregon is famous for trees, but the term “old-growth” is often misunderstood. I am old-growth because I have never been harvested, but while old-growth forests used to cover much of Oregon, today less than 10% of our state's heritage forests remain. Since the definition of “old-growth” ranges from “never touched by man” to “no major changes (such as logging) for more than 100 to 150 years,” you can see that not much remains. At Portland's Hoyt Arboretum – part of Forest Park, one of the largest (5,100 acres) of all urban forests in America – the Parks Department will cut down a tree that poses a danger to visitors, joggers or drug dealers, and their safety measures always elicit a howl from local denizens, that “how dare they interfere with the old-growth trees.” Of course, the answer a lawsuit. Before settlers arrived, the site was covered by Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) forest, but was then eventually logged. Civic leaders beginning with the Reverend Thomas Lamb Eliot – love the middle name – proposed a natural preserve in the woods; and thank you, Lamb Eliot, because I walk the trails about 30 times per year with my grandfather. In 2004 a 53-year-old man was discovered living with his 12-year-old daughter in Forest Park for the previous four years, and their tarp-home was stocked with encyclopedias for “home”-schooling – and fortunately there was no evidence of any other abuse. Previously, in the 1950's I think, a leper lived in the forest, and he was sustained because of the donation from a kindly rich-woman who lived nearby who would daily deliver a plate of food.

So, what does the above paragraph have to do with “etymology” – word origins? I guess – nothing – my mind just wanders. It was just a brief account of a place where I actually do wander...a place where my grandfather and I converse and try to understand the world's problems. We never solve anything; nevertheless we entertain the situations. You could say that the origin of the persona buchholzii does not begin with, but is strongly influenced by my connection to Forest Park. I have been there almost 500 times, so you could say that the place has “begat me.” Everything comes from which I can add no more.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My Home Clouds

It can be tedious to keep the business viable, and there are times when I wish I could be relieved of my duty to care for plants, employees, customers etc. On the other hand there are many benefits to owning a nursery, such as when I go home to my country house and witness the drama of the sky. The clouds can be equally fantastic at the beginning or at the end of the day, so come float with me and explore my heavenly world.

"Come float with me Talon."