Friday, August 26, 2016

Mitsch Memories

The coffee/book room

Old Mitsch catalogs

The room that adjoins the office is lined with books and nursery catalogs. It also contains the coffee maker. I usually make a cup in the morning and then again at about 3 PM, and each time I pull something from the shelf to read. Thus I encountered a pile of old Mitsch Nursery catalogs, and though they are no longer in business they were my main inspiration to grow the types of plants that have made my career.

Actually there's quite a lot of difference now – I am much more into maples for example. Mitsch was almost exclusively a liner nursery, whereas I grow most of my plants to larger sizes. Mitsch thrived in the heyday of the nursery industry, virtually supplying other wholesale nurseries with their product line.

The catalog I picked up to examine was the fall 1980 - spring 1981 Wholesale Lining Out Stock. John Mitsch had already been in business for over 30 years, but that was the first year for me. I went to visit him and in less than an hour's time my head was spinning and overwhelmed with the cultivars of Chamaecyparis pisifera, thyoides and obtusa. I had very little money to invest, so I focused primarily on Tsuga and Chamaecyparis obtusa cultivars. The first seven years since my nursery's establishment I worked full time for other companies, then I would come home at night to pot and propagate, often with a head lamp in the dark. In the beginning I was essentially a mini-version of Mitsch Nursery, selling liners to keep the cash flowing.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea'

Mitsch Nursery was considered “progressive” in the sense that you could buy old tried-and-true varieties as well as the newer plants. Let's take a look back at what was happening 36 years ago. Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Lutea' was new to the West Coast, and the catalog describes it as “rare,” and a cutting was going for $0.45 apiece. By comparison, most of the Chamaecyparis pisifera selections were $0.20 each. The 'Nana Lutea' originated as a sport of the well-known 'Nana Gracilis', which was discovered in 1966 in the Netherlands. For what it's worth, Jan Spek of Boskoop, the finder, gave the plant an invalid name, for Latin was against the rules for cultivar names as of 1955.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Gracilis'

And speaking of Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Gracilis', Mitsch called it “one of the best of all dwarf conifers.” True, it is a beautiful dark-green plant that is “one of the most attractive and best selling of all dwarf Hinokis.” Two-inch pots were offered at $0.75 each, but it would still take another three years before the grower would have a saleable one-gallon pot. The same with the 'Nana Lutea': neither are very profitable.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Juniperoides'

Germinating seed from C.o. 'Nana Gracilis' can yield many different colors and forms. C.o. 'Juniperoides' (or 'Nana Juniperoides') is one offspring that was raised by W.H. Rogers & Sons at their Red Lodge Nursery in England in about 1915. I've never seen the original – if it still exists – but I wonder what a 100-year-old 'Juniperoides' would look like. Even less profitable to produce, the tight-bun hinokies, at least in Oregon, can burn or die back in winter, and there goes your 10-year-old investment. Mitsch says that it takes about 20 years to grow a 6” plant, and that it is “not recommended as a shade tree.” Ha ha.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana (true)'

Equally as slow as 'Juniperoides' is C.o. 'Nana', which Mitsch calls “rare and choice.” The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) claims that their specimen attained only 75cm high by 1m wide at the base in 40 years. Hillier reminds us that “the stronger growing plants found under this name in many collections throughout Europe is 'Nana Gracilis'.” I invented the name 'Nana (true)' for my plants because we have the same knucklehead nurserymen in America too. Interestingly the true 'Nana' was introduced from Japan by J.G. Veitch in 1867.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Pygmea'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Pygmea Aurescens'

Mitsch was selling many other obtusas, such as 'Pygmea' and 'Pygmea Aurescens'. They are not bad plants – I used to grow both – but they get big and wide fast, and they have absolutely fallen out of favor with the gardening public. In fact most of the obtusa cultivars that Mitsch used to produce are ones that I can't sell at all today.

The Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Sanderi' is described as “Semi-dwarf upright. Mostly plumy, juvenile foliage; makes it very distinctive.” One reason it is very distinctive is because it is not a C. obtusa – it is Platycladus orientalis. I don't have a photo because I never liked it and never grew it.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Baby Blue Ice'

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Harvard Gold'

Buchholz Nursery used to produce about 20 cultivars of Chamaecyparis pisifera, all originating from Mitsch. Generally they are easy to root, easy to grow and also very winter hardy. Today we continue with only two – 'Baby Blue Ice' and 'Harvard Gold', neither of which were available in the 1980's. I suppose some of the golden thread-branch selections are still in the trade, but nobody asks me for them. Besides they are considered “cheap” plants; but if you grow and can sell lots of them at a dollar profit each, there are nurseries that like those odds. That's what the neighboring nursery did for the past 30 years, however they recently went bankrupt.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Minima Aurea'

Of course Mitsch nursery produced Chamaecyparis lawsoniana cultivars, especially the dwarves, and in 30 years that would be thousands and thousands of them. There is no way to know for certain, but I suspect that the vast majority are now dead, having succumbed to root rot (Phytophthora lateralis). Major nurseries continue to root and sell them even though their longevity is questionable – the plants, that is – and the reason is greed, pure greed. They root almost 100% and they tend to be sold in small pots, similar to our QT (cutie) pots. While they thrive in production they are also addicted to fungicides, and of course the clueless gardener won't keep up the habit. It is disgusting for sure, although John Mitsch never had any evil intentions. I know, I know that I rant about it too often, and tell you how wonderful I am for grafting lawson cultivars on disease-resistant rootstock, and hopefully this will be the last time.

Tsuga canadensis 'Betty Rose'

Tsuga c. 'Pendula' at Buchholz Nursery

Tsuga canadensis 'Pendula' at Mitsch Nursery

Mr. Mitsch was an accomplished propagator, and he pioneered the rooting of hemlocks in Oregon. He always sold out in the old days, so I copied him and rooted them also, and they were very easy to market. Eventually the fun stopped with the invasion of the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (Adelges Tsuga Annand) which was discovered in Connecticut in 1985, and by the mid 1990's orders began to peter out. We still sell a few each year, but they're no longer a major part of our company. Old specimens still exist in the Display Garden, and I imagine I have the largest Tsuga canadensis 'Betty Rose' in the world. Mitsch's 1980-81 catalog lists 19 different hemlocks, and eventually we were propagating every one of them, with T.c. 'Pendula' in the greatest number.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Fernspray Gold'

I bought plants from Mitsch, always to get a start, and then I would produce them myself. He knew what I was up to but didn't seem to mind. Actually I sort of stole some of his customers because I had cuttings and grafted liners. Again, he didn't care, and I was very proud when he bought his first Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Fernspray Gold' from me.

Premna microphylla bonsai in Taiwan

Even though he was a conifer expert, John Mitsch also propagated tons of “broadleaved evergreens, deciduous shrubs, ground-covers and miscellaneous.” One such plant was Acer buergerianum 'Jako kaede' – the “musk scented maple” – which was easy to root but absolutely impossible to graft onto A. buergerianum. According to J.D. Vertrees in Japanese Maples (1978), leaf samples were submitted to Dr. Tanai of Hokkaido University, “a noted authority on leaf venation, particularly on paleobotanical determination.” The expert Doctor concluded that the maple in question was actually Premna japonica (or microphylla), a plant in the Verbenaceae family – now Lamiaceae – so no wonder it would root but not graft. I never saw the plant, but decided that I didn't want it if it wasn't a true maple.

Cotoneaster microphyllus 'Cooperi'

Mitsch propagated every Cotoneaster imaginable, and that's another sure 100% profitable endeavor as long as you were able to sell them. I didn't care for C. apiculata, the “Cranberry cotoneaster,” but I did like the more dwarf C.a. 'Tom Thumb' and I have sold quite a few over the years. Yes, they too are considered “cheap” plants, but I think that's because they are so easy to root and grow, but it does not diminish the fact that 'Tom Thumb' grows into a choice dwarf ground-cover. Even better is Cotoneaster microphyllus 'Cooperi', although it is only hardy to USDA zone 7. The species is from the hills beneath the Himalaya and I was pleased to see it – or whatever I saw – in the wild twenty years ago. What is most confusing is that the Royal Horticultural Society lists cooperi as a species, not a mere cultivar, from Bhutan, Tibet and India. Hillier concurs, and describes the species as a “medium-sized to large shrub.” So, just what's up with the identity of our dainty ground-hugging creeper?

Berberis thunbergii 'Crimson Pygmy' in summer

Berberis thunbergii 'Crimson Pygmy' in fall

It seems like ancient history now, but we used to be kings of Berberis production, with my starts usually coming from Mitsch Nursery. B. thunbergii 'Crimson Pygmy' was by far the most popular, and one year we rooted and sold over 12,000. That's incredible to me because we haven't propagated any for the past 20 years, and even if I did now nobody would buy them. That's the unstable situation characteristic to horticulture, that you need to quickly jump onto – then off – the bandwagon. 'Crimson Pygmy' has been replaced by countless other dwarf cultivars, always patented, and I concede that some look very nice. Every day I drive past glowing beds at the neighbor's – bankrupt – nursery. My employees were most thankful when I dropped Berberis production, because no mater how careful you were, a barberry thorn would imbed itself into your finger or thumb.

Ilex aquifolium 'Ferox Argentea'

Mitsch had a cool-looking Ilex aquifolium – at least I thought it was cool back then – called 'Ferox Argentea Marginata'. Its common name was “Silver Striped Porcupine Holly” to John while Hillier calls it the “Silver Hedgehog Holly.” If I read Hillier's Manual correctly, the male Ilex won an Award of Merit in 1988, but amazingly it was introduced in 1662. I didn't realize that non-edible and non-herbal horticulture went back that far. Ferox is a Latin word meaning “fierce,” and again my employees were happy I discontinued with the thorny thing.

Pieris japonica 'Bisbee Dwarf'

Pieris japonica 'Pygmaea'

Pieris japonica 'Bonsai'

Perseus Saving Andromeda
I've always liked cultivars of Pieris japonica, and both 'Bisbee Dwarf' and 'Pygmaea' came from Mitsch Nursery. I always thought my prices were fair, but everyone else was selling theirs for half of mine, so except for 'Bonsai' I have discontinued with Pieris. Be sure to never ingest the leaves of Pieris because they are poisonous and the toxic substance is andromedotoxin. The common name of “Andromeda” is due to the chain-like flower panicles. In Greek mythology Andromeda was the daughter of the Ethiopian King Cepheus and his wife Cassiopeia. Poseidon was angry about Andromeda's great beauty so he sent a sea monster to strip and chain her naked to a rock as a sacrifice to sate the monster. Fortunately Perseus flew in on his Pegasus to save her and later they married.

Calluna vulgaris 'Robert Chapman'

I have a nice-sized old Calluna vulgaris 'Robert Chapman' in the Display Garden, and I acquired it by buying cuttings from John about 35 years ago. My specimen is still attractive even though it also serves as a root weevil hotel. 'Robert Chapman' is a dazzler in the spring garden due to its bright yellow foliage, then in winter it changes to orange and finally to red. Callunas root so easily that Mitsch charged only $15 per 100. At one point I had a large Calluna and Erica collection, all planted out in the gardens, but a severe cold snap reduced it greatly. I could have begun it again, but instead moved on to more hardy plants.

Mitch's "automated planting devices"

There were a number of successful spinoff nurseries from Mitsch Nursery, such as Colony Nursery and Steve Germany Nursery. Even though I never worked there in a sense I was a spinoff too. John was a kind and humble man, never bragging about himself, and even when he knew everything about a subject he would reply “that could be” or “maybe so.”

The Father of Oregon horticulture.

John Mitsch played a vital role in the development of the Oregon nursery industry, and though he'll never lobby for himself, the fact that he was never enshrined into the Oregon Association of Nurseries Hall of Fame means...that said Hall has no validity. Imagine the millions and millions of dollars in American horticulture that was generated at Mitsch Nursery, then later by me and all of John's other copycats. As George Washington is the Father of our country, John Mitsch is the Father of Oregon horticulture.

Geri & John Mitsch, 1980

A final note: I have taken the liberty to plagiarize some photos from the 1980-1981 catalog. I hope I won't be hearing from John's attorneys.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Be Specific

Today I will assume the challenge to make a botany lesson as enjoyable as possible.

Whoa, did I just hear a collective groan from the Flora Wonder readership? C'mon, I'll keep it simple and quick and show you a lot of pictures. I'll discuss species names, the (usually) Latin names that horticulture takes for granted, names that were bestowed from recent to 250 years ago by Linnaeus.

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Arthur Menzies

Sometimes a botanist is credited with a specific name, even though he may not be the one who discovered the plant. Take Pseudotsuga menziesii, the dominant conifer of western North America as an example. It was first discovered – by white men anyway – in 1792 by Archibald Menzies and in 1827 it was introduced to Europe by David Douglas. It was previously named P. taxifolia and P. douglasii, but later the scientific community settled on Frenchman Charles-Francois Brisseau de Mirbel's (1776-1854) P. menziesii. It is surprising that a French botanist would give due credit to the Scotsman Menzies, but perhaps within the Brotherhood of Botanists there is a close bond.

Wollemia nobilis

Another species named for a person is Wollemia nobilis. The generic name was chosen because the recent discovery of the “pine” occurred in the Wollemia Wilderness, just 150 km from Sydney, Australia in 1994. The specific name honors the discoverer David Noble – whose name I covet – and was given by three botanists, W.G. Jones, K.D. Hill and the lovely and brainy Jan Allen. Wollemi is an Aboriginal word meaning “look around you, keep your eyes open and watch out.”

Pinus bungeana

Alexander Bunge
The German botanists Joseph Gerhard Zuccarini (1797-1848) named Pinus bungeana to honor D. Alexander Bunge who first saw the species in a temple garden near Beijing in 1831. Bunge belonged to the German minority in Tsarist Russia, and he found the pine during a scientific expedition from Siberia to Beijing in 1826. Pinus bungeana used to be rare in the trade when I began my career, but I got ahold of some scionwood and propagated about twenty trees onto Pinus strobus rootstock. They grew fast and well and I had a row of the largest size around, and customers were just dying to buy them. I viewed them like a piggy bank, that when they were worth $500 apiece, then I would sell them. That winter we had a brutal ice storm and it ravaged my trees, a case where mother nature humbled my ass.

Pinus armandii
Armand David

Pinus armandii was named by the French botanist Adrien Rene Franchett (1834-1900), and it honors the French missionary Armand David (1826-1900), a Lazarist Catholic priest as well as a zoologist and botanist who sent many specimens back to Paris. David was the first to send the giant panda to Europe for example, but unfortunately it died quickly in captivity. I find it interesting that David's first name was used for Pinus armandii, while it was his last name that was used for Davidia involucrata.

Decaisnea fargesii
Pere Farges

There are scads more species that were named for people, such as Decaisnea fargesii that honors another missionary, Pere Farges. Besides, the generic name honors the botanist Joseph Decaisne (1807-1882).

Acer sieboldianum

Friedrich Miquel
Kusumoto Ine
Acer sieboldianum was named by the Dutch botanist Friedrich Anton Wilhelm Miquel (1811-1871) to honor Philipp von Siebold (1796-1866), another physician/botanist who toiled in Japan. While there Siebold dallied, naturally, with a woman named Kusumoto O' taki, and she bore him a beautiful daughter, Kusumoto Ine, who became the first female Japanese western physician and court doctor to the Japanese empress.

Acer nipponicum

A lot of species, of course, were named for their country of origin, even though many can also occur in more than one country. Acer nipponicum is from Japan, and the Japanese word nihonjin means “from Japan,” and that is how they refer to themselves. The word “nippon” or “nip” is considered derogatory. The name of Cipango is believed to have come from Marco Polo, although he referred to the island from Chinese soil and never set foot in Japan. Cipango would be Giappone in Italian or Japon in French. The epithet Acer nipponicum was coined by Japanese botanist Hiroshi Hara (1911-1986), although he was mainly famous for his classification of mosses.

Acer cappadocicum

Acer cappadocicum is native to Caucasus and western Asia, for Cappadocia was an ancient district of the upper Kizil Irmak River in modern Turkey.

Acer pensylvanicum

William Penn

Acer pensylvanicum's name was published by Linnaeus in 1753 because the maple can be found in Pennsylvania (as well as in many other states). Pennsylvania was named for William Penn, the Quaker Englishman with two “n',” to his name, but the Linnaeus spelling mistake lives on. The sylvania part originates from Latin silva meaning wood, woodland, forest, orchard or grove, and that from the Greek hyle for “forest.”

Eucryphia x nymansensis

Eucryphia x nymansensis is a hybrid of two South American species, E. cordifolia and E. glutinosa. The cross received its name because it was produced at Nymans, Sussex, by the Head Gardener to Col. L.C.R. Messel of Magnolia 'Leonard Messel' fame.

Acer campestre

Acer campestre's specific name means “of the fields or plains,” and it self-seeds from Russia to north Africa. It has been known for hundreds of years, and the name was coined by Linnaeus in 1753.

Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca'

Cedrus atlantica hails from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria. The Flora Wonder readership is the exception, but very many people don't know that those two countries are located in northern Africa. 20 years ago I had just returned from the Himalaya and a fellow nurseryman was asking about my trip. So I told him a few stories, some of which were true, and he wistfully sighed and wished he could visit the Himalaya too, because he always wanted to see Morocco. Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca' is commonly used in the Northwest, often planted way too close to houses. They're skinny when young but watch out! I even witnessed a regionally-known landscape company, who have been in business for over 100 years, install a 'Glauca' as a street tree under the power lines.

Cedrus libani

Himalayan house made with Cedrus deodara.

Cedrus libani is from Lebanon and southwest Turkey, but sadly it is now scarce due to exploitation for centuries. The species is referred to Biblically as the “cedars of Lebanon” and are perhaps what Solomon used for building the Temple in Jerusalem. I have been inside Cedrus deodara houses in northern India, and the wood is wonderfully aromatic, so much so that you can smell them from 50' away.

Cornus florida
Ponce de Leon

Cornus florida can be found on the east coast of North America, from Maine to northern Florida, and as far west as the Mississippi River. It used to be classified as Benthamidia florida Spach, and even the Asian dogwood was Benthamidia kousa. The specific name florida is derived from flora, and the state of Florida was originally named Pascua Florida by explorer Ponce de Leon on Easter in 1513, and it translates to “Flowering Easter,” after Spain's “Feast of the Flowers.”

Alnus formosana

Corydalis formosa

Juniperus formosana

Leycesteria formosa
Lilium formosanum

Tricyrtis formosana

The island of Taiwan was formerly known as Formosa, so-named because an early Portuguese naval explorer thought it was “beautiful.”* There are quite a number of formosas in botany, such as Alnus formosana, Corydalis formosa, Juniperus formosana, Leycesteria formosa, Lilium formosanum and Tricyrtis formosana, to name a few that I have photos of.

*In Portuguese Formosa insula means “beautiful island,” and formosa is derived from Latin formosus for “beautiful, handsome or finely formed.” Hey, that would be a great surname: Talon Formosa.

Abies koreana

I guess I don't have to tell you what country Abies koreana is native to.

Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire'

Ok, enough of place names, lets find some species named for color. Cornus sanguinea is one, though Linnaeus had it as Swida sanguinea. In any case it is the common dogwood of Europe. In the right place it can be attractive, such as C.s. 'Midwinter Fire' down by my pond, but the species is known to “travel” by sprouting from the roots. Even the straight species turns reddish in winter, hence the specific name, from Latin sanguis meaning “blood.” A sanguine person is “cheerful, hopeful and confident” because these qualities were thought in medieval times to spring from an excess of blood as one of the four humors.

Puya caerulea

Passiflora caerulea

Passiflora caerulea 'Constance Elliott'

Summer's Day by Berthe Morisot 

Alba in botany is white, while rubra or rubrum is red. You already knew that, but lets consider the color of caerulea – what color is that? The common name of Puya caerulea is “Blue Puya,” so there you have the answer. Passiflora caerulea displays a blue part to its flower, while the cultivar 'Constance Elliott' is white. The elderly Ms. Elliott herself has white poodle-like hair, but it does have a blue tinge to it. The word caeruleus is derived from the Latin word caelum meaning “heaven” or “sky.” One of my favorite painters is the French impressionist Berthe Morisot, and she used caerulean blue for the woman's coat in her 1879 painting of Summer's Day. But for heaven's sake take off the coat – it's hot!

Aesculus flava

Sarracenia flava

Hymenosporum flavum

Acer palmatum 'Flavescens'

Aesculus flava has yellow flowers and so does Sarracenia flava and so does Hymenosporum flavum, while Acer palmatum 'Flavescens' displays yellow-green foliage. So, we can assume that the word refers to “yellow.”

Acer griseum

Ferdinand Pax
Acer griseum was so-named due to the gray down on new leaves, and I always enjoy the unfurling of the foliage in spring. The name is derived from Latin griseus for “gray.” The species was discovered in China by E.H. Wilson in 1901, then named by the botanist Ferdinand Albin Pax (1858-1942) in 1902. I wonder why the German Pax was allowed to choose the specific name, and you would think that Wilson, or at least his employer Veitch, would have wanted some say in the matter. I don't know – maybe they did – but I would have chosen something to do with the trunk's exfoliating bark. Pax was unable to use the three leaflets for a specific name because botanist Kamarov christened Acer triflorum at the same time (1901) that Wilson was in China.

Taxodium ascendens 'Nutans'

There are many other ways that plants are specifically named. Taxodium ascendens refers to the ascending branches, but I find it humorous that there exists a cultivar 'Nutans', for that means “nodding.” I grow one by my pond and it's an attractive tree, but the only thing that nods is the erect foliage sprays that hang downward as the season progresses. I guess you could call it the up-and-down tree.

Spartium junceum

Spartium junceum is the “Spanish broom,” and even though it is considered a noxious invasive species, I enjoyed my two specimens until a hard winter got the better of them. It received it Latin specific epithet junceum due to its rush-like shoots which show a resemblance to the rush genus Juncus. The name Spartium is from the Greek word denoting “cardage” in reference to the use of the plant, where cardage means “the action of, or rate charged, for carting.”

Manihot esculenta

Phytolacca esculenta

Esculentus is Latin for “esculent, edible.” Manihot esculenta is commonly known as tapioca for example. Phytolacca esculenta is the “pokeweed” from China, and its leaves can be cooked and used as a spinach. Only the young leaves should be used since they become toxic with age. Hmm, at what point do you stop using them? I think I'll pass in any case, and I would furthermore suggest that the specific name be changed instantly.

Encephalartos horridus
Oplopanax horridus

Plants with horridus for a specific name are just as you imagine: horribly armed with spines or barbs. Encephalartos horridus is commonly called the “Ferocious Blue Cycad” and is native to the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Oplopanax horridus is commonly known as the “Devil's club” as the stems are viciously studded with spines, and the photo above was taken in a soggy meadow below my house. Native Americans used the inner bark and roots to treat rheumatism and arthritis. It was also taken by shamans wishing to attain supernatural powers, which would come in handy for me as well...but I've yet to try it.

Betula utilis

Betula utilis 'Jermyns'

Betula utilis is so-named because it is “useful.” This birch from the Himalaya grows at elevations up to 4500m (14,800'). Locally known as bhojpatra, its bark was used in ancient times for writing Sanskrit scriptures and texts. Even now it is used as paper for writing sacred mantras, then placed in an amulet and worn for protection.

A few more specific plant epithets follow:

Tulipa humilis

Tulipa humilis – “low-growing, dwarf.”

Rhododendron insigne

Rhododendron insigne – from Latin insignus for “remarkable.”

Helleborus hybridus

Helleborus hybridus – “hybrid, mixed, mongrel.”

Alnus glutinosa

Alnus glutinosa – from Latin glutinosus for “gluey, sticky.”

Angelica gigas

Angelica gigas – “of giants, immense.”

Cathaya argyrophylla

Cathaya argyrophylla – from Latin argyrophyllus for “silver leaf.”

Magnolia denudata

Magnolia denudata – from Latin denudatus for “denuded.”

Osmanthus fragrans

Osmanthus fragrans – “fragrant.”


Sequoiadendron giganteum
Toxicodendron diversilobum

Acer sterculiaceum

Acer sterculiaceum

Some specific names are quite obvious and seem essential in the plant's classification, such as for Sequoiadendron giganteum. In other cases it is apparent when you look at the plant, such as with Toxicodendron diversilobum, but not really the defining essence of the plant. And finally there are times where the botanist nitpicks at the tiniest detail when bestowing the specific epithet, such as with Acer sterculiaceum which was named for Sterculius, the Roman god of smell (from stercus or “manure”). I don't know but I don't smell anything. Except see below...

Unutilis politicians

If I ever start a zoo I'll do a similar blog on specific animal names. For example: Homo sapiens is considered homo for “man (technically male human),” and sapiens, from sapare, to “be wise.” Clearly our political leadership does not consist of Homo sapiens, but rather of Homo unutilis.