Friday, January 19, 2018

Words, Names and Languages...

My first blog of the 2018 new year noted that Americans and the British toast by saying “cheers.” In Japan they say “kanpai,” in Portugal “saude,” in Thailand “chokdee” etc. Biagioli Alessandro greeted me with, “Buon anno Talon!!” which was easy to decipher. Petra wished for me Boldog uj evet or “Happy New Year.” She wrote in Magyaral, egeszsegedre which I think translates in Hungarian... “To your health.” Magyar is “Hungarian,” a member of the dominant people of Hungary.

Thank you Petra. I started to look up Hungarian words, and one slang (szleng) phrase I liked is from kolbasz for “sausage,” and that phrase is kolbaszolni meaning literally “to sausage,” to be “walking around in a place with no specific destination.” Tokolni is from tok for “pumpkin,” and tokolni is "to pumpkin,” or “to be pumpkining” which means “to waste time.” Tejelni is from tej for “milk,” and tejelni is literally “to milk,” or “to be milking” which means “to pay money.”

When I started my nursery 38 years ago – and had very little money – I didn't buy a full piece of shade cloth for one of my first greenhouses. The shade was attached from the bottom at the south side and went only two-thirds the way over to the north side. My ex-wife demanded to know why, certain that I was making a big error. I responded that the sun was never in the north. She was incredulous, certain that I was either crazy or just wanted to make an argument. She was a college graduate in horticulture from California, but had never tracked the placement of the sun. Indeed, if the sun ever shows up in the north sky I will hurry to a mental institution.


With that in mind, the Hungarian word for “north” is eszak (from ej(szaka) for “night,”) as the sun never shines from the north. “South” is del (“noon”) as the sun shines from the south at noon. “East” is kelet (“rise”) for the sun rises in the east. “West” is nyugat (“set”) because the sun sets in the west.

Acer crataegifolium 'Eiga nishiki'

Norm Jacobs from Arbutus Garden Arts ( – buy something from him! – gifted me a plant of Acer crataegifolium 'Mueri no ofu', a variegated form of the “Hawthorn maple.” He warned me, however, that the cultivar name was probably misspelled.* I presented the challenge to my Japanese wife to figure out the correct name, and out of a sense of national pride she accepted th task and grabbed her smart phone with access to the Japanese language. I had looked previously in Yano's Book for Maples and in Vertrees/Gregory's Japanese Maples, but neither had a listing of 'Mueri no ofu'. Hmm... Haruko said the name was “almost” Japanese, but definitely not. She left the room and headed to the kitchen to start dinner, and all the while I could hear her muttering to herself. Ten minutes later she returned, “Ha! I have it. It should be 'Meuri' ofu' (not Mueri) and the “no” [of] is not necessary.” She claims that meuri is the Japanese name for the crataegifolium species, so in a sense it is redundant to have it follow Acer crataegifolium. Ofu means “big variegated.” As Norm describes, “Hawthorn shaped leaves display striking variegation in green, light green, white and pink...” So, big and variegated then, but I told Haruko that the species' leaves are relatively small. Was it big leaves that are variegated, or was it perhaps a big amount of leaves that are variegated? She, somewhat deflated, retired to her purpose in the kitchen, and I almost regretted receiving the damn maple at all.

*For that matter, “misspelled” is frequently “mispelled.”

Acer crataegifolium 'Awa uri nishiki'

The crataegifolium species is known as the “uri maple” (urikaede), meaning “melon maple” due to the bark pattern resembling the skin of a melon. This “snakebark” can be rooted or grown from seed, and also can be grafted onto any snakebark species such as A. davidii, A. rufinerve, A. tegmentosum etc. It is native to the mountain forests of central and southern Japan, usually as a small tree or shrub, and was introduced by Charles Maries in 1879. The species is supposedly hardy to USDA zones 5-6 (-20 degrees to -10 degrees) but I doubt that the cute variegated cultivars would be as hardy. It was Siebold and Zuccarini, both Germans, who coined the “hawthorn-like” specific name, but then the leaves resemble only some species of Crataegus, so I'm partial to the “melon maple” name.

Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette'

Last week I mentioned a great plant, Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette', although that's a lot of letters to cram onto a label. It was Linnaeus – who's real name was Von Linne, but he chose to Latinize it to Linnaeus – who provided the generic and specific name of the American “Sweet gum.” For some reason both names refer to the liquid sap of the tree so I feel he could have been more creative, or to have scientifically referred to another feature of the tree. The cultivar name 'Slender Silhouette' was given by plantsman Don Shadow of Tennessee for his narrow-growing discovery. Slender it is, but a silhouette not really. A silhouette is the image of a person or object, usually black, which is featureless in the interior, and it is presented against a white background. The word originates from the French finance minister, Etienne de Silhouette, who was forced to impose severe economic burdens on the French people due to a credit crisis during the Seven Years War. Therefore anything done cheaply, such as a silhouette profile, is traced back to his name and policies. As children we have all probably put on a shadow play, with some kids being very creative with making finger animals. In photography one can create a silhouette image, especially when there's not enough light to do anything else.

The word slender is from Middle English sclendre or slendre, and that from Anglo-French esclendre. A skinny person is one without anything extra, and “the skinny” or “what's the skinny” or “that's the skinny” means the simple truth without any extra spin. During the Great Depression the skinny was slang for ten cents, as in “one thin dime.” If you go skinny dipping you go with only yourself and no clothes, unless others go also, and that's the naked truth.

Illicium parviflorum 'Florida Sunshine'

Anise is a Mediterranean umbelliferous plant, Pimpinella anisum, which blooms with clusters of yellowish-white flowers which produce licorice-tasting seeds. The anise word is ultimately from Greek anison. Coincidentally anise – no jokes here – is a specific name for an evergreen genus with aromatic leaves and fruits in the Schisandraceae family, as with Illicium anisatum, a Japanese aromatic shrub. Illicium verum is from northeast Vietnam and southwest China, and it is commonly called the “star anise.” The spice is obtained from the fruits which produce an oil used in cooking and for a number of other uses (like toothpaste). The fruits often contain eight points, thus its Chinese name is literally “eight horns.” One shouldn't cook with just any Illicium species for some are highly toxic, such as I. anisatum and I. parviflorum from southeast USA. It was Linnaeus who chose the generic name Illicium, from Latin illicio meaning “entice.” We grow Illicium parviflorum 'Florida Sunshine', obtained from Plant Delights Nursery, and I bought it based on their lively description of “Screaming yellow” leaves. Can an Illicium plant be illicious – like something badly delicious? Very goodly delicious are/were springerle – they were quite licious (permissible) – a German anise Christmas cookie baked by my Grandmother that puffed up into dusty-white rectangular pillows.

Pinus cembra 'Glauca'

Pinus cembra is a welcome species in the Flora Wonder Arboretum, and we have, or have had, about thirty different cultivars. It is a slow-growing 5-needle species from high altitudes in central and eastern Europe. It is an edible nut pine, but the cones never open without the intervention of man. Birds and other critters eat the nuts (seed) when the scales rot. Sadly I have never seen it in the wild, but in the garden the larger cultivars (like 'Glauca') grow into formal pillars and gleam with silver-blue needles. The species was named by Linnaeus, but I'm not certain if he ever travelled to find them in the wild. I don't know how the locals pronounce the species but in America we say “scem bra.” Cembra is a municipality in Trentino in northern Italy, and one common name is Arolla pine, and that is a village in the canton of Valais in Switzerland.

Pseudolarix amabilis

Specific plant epithets were given for a variety of reasons: for example for geographical locations, for honoring people, for describing plant growth habit etc. I like some happy names where the botanist was obviously in a good mood. Amabilis means “lovely,” and some examples are Abies amabilis, Kolkwitzia amabilis and Pseudolarix amabilis. I don't care for the generic name of the latter, though, which means “false larch.” If its so lovely why must it be named in context with another genus? In fact I think Pseudolarix is far more beautiful and interesting than any larch. Its name is a curse which actually limits plant sales because the uninitiated assume that it will grow into a big ugly deciduous tree. It is deciduous, but not big and ugly.

Alnus formosana
Lilium formosanum

Leycesteria formosana
Pleione formosana

Corydalis 'Blue Panda'

Formosa is a happy name too, and it means “beautiful.” We grow a lot of formosa or formosana such as Alnus formosana, Lilium formosanum, Juniperus formosana, Leycesteria formosa, Pleione formosana and Corydalis formosa. The generic name of the latter is due to the spurred flowers, from Greek korudos for “crested lark,” from korus for “helmet” or “crest.” I first became aware of the Corydalis genus because my Grandfather smuggled out a plant of it – maybe C. flexuosa – from the Panda Reserve in China, long before the Chinese wised up to the potential to reap millions from the pandas. He would divide from the original and sell plants to his retail customers. Later a cad with a penchant for tissue culture propagation patented* the selection and has since sold many thousands. I grow it too but I don't honor the inappropriate patent, so if you buy them from me I encourage you to divide and disseminate as many as you want.

*You cannot patent a plant unless you have full control of it, and 'Blue Panda' was on the market for at least five years previous. And, I don't think you can patent a plant that was collected from the wild.

Abies procera 'Silver'

Alfred Rehder
David Douglas discovered the “Noble fir” in 1825, then five years later he collected seed to send to England. To him the true firs were considered “pines,” and so was his Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii. I like to pull out my 1858 copy of George Gordon's The Pinetum to see how things were classified in the old days – and that's part of their interesting history. Synonyms to Douglas's Pinus nobilis are Picea nobilis Loudon and Abies nobilis Lindley. By 1900 Veitch's Manual of the Coniferae lists it as Abies nobilis. At some point Alfred Rehder (1863-1949) of the Arnold Arboretum changed the specific name to Abies procera, but I wasn't around then to argue about it. Why didn't the Douglas name stick? I have not discovered the scientific paper that Rehder certainly must have presented to accomplish the name change. At least the common name is still in use. What does procera mean anyway? One guess is that it might have something to do with the needle arrangement. Or perhaps due to the large erect cones. Rong. Procera (or procerum or procerus) simply means “very tall,” so that's not a very exciting epithet. To Rehder's credit Abies procera is the tallest of all Abies, and one specimen in Washington state soared to 278' (85m). That was in the 1960's, but the area around it was clear cut and it still stands on the edge, but in decline. It lost its top by 50' and I hope the loggers are ashamed at what they did.

Juniperus procera

Another tall conifer is Juniperus procera, the “East African juniper.” Yes! – a tall juniper from the mountains of Africa – who would have thought? This is the only juniper that extends into the Southern Hemisphere and obviously it is not very winter hardy. Look at the map – it's native from Saudi Arabia to Zimbabwe. You can see from the photo above that the green leaves are awl-shaped on juvenile plants. Generally speaking I am not a juniper aficionado, so if J. procera was native to China or America, or somewhere like that, I wouldn't mention it at all.

I'll never see these junipers in the wild because I'll never step foot on the continent, although South Africa is tempting. You see I have a premonition that Africa would be my demise: a lion would eat me, or more likely a snake would bite me to death...or maybe a 13 year old with a machine gun would twitch his trigger finger and blow me away. Oops, sorry.

The name Africa was used by the Romans for “land of the Afri,” but they were only familiar with the northern portion, so the Afri were possibly a Berber tribe. Another theory is that it is derived from the Greek word aphrike which means “without cold.”

Juniperus cedrus

If I do have a favorite juniper I suppose it is J. cedrus, a species native to the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa; and yes, it really does look like a Cedrus. I have a few specimens in the Flora Wonder Arboretum and they have survived winters at near 0 degrees F. I propagate by grafting onto J. scopulorum 'Skyrocket' so maybe that assists with sufficient hardiness. J. cedrus is a fast-growing upright conifer with silvery weeping branches, and it makes for a very graceful landscape tree which is especially attractive in winter.

The narrative has wandered from Hungarian slang to African junipers, with words, name and languages the only theme. Sorry if we've been pumpkining.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations, you found these slangs very well :)

    I was really enjoying it again