I know a lot about plants, but most I don't know, so I can probably learn for the rest of my life. In The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014), we're promised that "The study of botanical plant names is fascinating and rewarding." We learn that generic "names" are always nouns, while a specific "epithet" is used rather than a "name" because, unlike generic names, species will not stand on their own.
Ok then, specific epithets, the origin of species...Darwin's thing. How do we cubbyhole this world? The Learned of yore were almost always men with a penchant for Latin. The specific epithets can describe the leaves, like coriacea; the flowers, as with grandiflora; the color, as with lutea etc. Epithets can reveal the geographic origin of a plant, such as vietnamensis for the recently discovered Xanthocyparis vietnamensis, or have been used to commemorate an individual such as Wollemi nobilis, which honors David Noble, the Australian who discovered the rare conifer genus. I doubt, however, that the defining epithets that have been finalized would be the same as I would have used if I was the naming botanist. I wonder if the old geezers decided a specific name immediately after seeing the plant or a herbarium specimen, or if they took time to mull it over, say perhaps with input from the wife, neighbor or colleges.
Acer palmatum 'Bloody Talons' in spring (left) and in fall (right)
Since I will never be a botanist, and since I will probably never discover a species, any plant name I give will have to be for a cultivar (cultivated variant). The problem with nurserymen or hobbyists naming plants is that knuckleheads are welcome to the club. Because of that we have some rather goofy names such as 'Ikandi', 'Geisha Gone Wild', 'Bloody Talons' etc. For the latter – 'Bloody Talons', not etc. – the strange leaves display vivid-red autumn color that actually do resemble bloody talons. But if you find the name goofy you can blame my office manager Eric – I didn't name it – although I am responsible for 'Ikandi' and 'Geisha Gone Wild'.
|Picea pungens 'Donkey Dick'|
The worst cultivar name of all time, thankfully not coined by me, is probably 'Donkey Dick' for a mutation on a Colorado spruce, because it was explained to me: "It just hung there." I kept a few around for a couple of years then threw them all out because I couldn't have a plant – unsellable – with a name like that just hanging out here.
|Rhododendron 'Gomer Waterer'|
I have expressed before that cultivars named for people are generally a bad idea. I don't know, but there is probably a rose named 'Queen Elizabeth' or 'Lady Diana', or 'Cleopatra' or 'Pocahontas' etc...and I guess that is ok, but a name like 'Arthur Hillier', 'Albert Edwards' or 'Andersonii' – no matter how great the rose – is absolutely a crappy name. The first nursery I worked for grew Rhododendron 'Gomer Waterer', and if you knew the history of the English company and the person it was named for you could probably accept it, but otherwise it's a dumb plant name. I like Rosa 'Betty Sherriff' better because it was probably introduced from Bhutan where I travelled 20 years ago, and because it honors the wife of the Scottish Himalayan plant explorer George Sherriff who I idolize. Also, I'm obviously partial to women names, more than men's, and I imagine that the name Betty would be apt for my happy wife if she was from England or America.
|Rhododendron 'Marchioness of Lansdowne'|
The cultivar name for the hybrid Rhododendron, 'Marchioness of Lansdowne' is absolutely too pompous. Period. Great plant though. Give me instead R. 'Sappho' or R. 'Winsome' – two names I love. A good part of garden enjoyment I think is due to the name of the plant you put into your soil. The word winsome is derived from Old English wynsum for "pleasure, delight," and that from the Proto-Indo-European root wen for "to desire, strive for." Its unusual blossom color was achieved by crossing R. griersonianum with R. Humming Bird Group, which is why 'Winsome' itself should be identified as Winsome Group. R. 'Sappho' is named from Greek Psappho who was an Archaic poet from the island of Lesbos. She was known for her lyric poetry which was to be sung while accompanied by lyre – my kind of girl.
|Cercis canadensis 'Pink Heartbreaker'|
There are a lot of "Eastern redbud" cultivars entering into the trade in recent years. Though the name of Cercis canadensis 'Pink Heartbreaker' is not my kind of name, still I like and grow the tree. I can't propagate it as it is patented, so I buy my trees from another nursery and grow them to larger sizes. It works out for me because my niche is to grow trees no one else has, i.e. trees that are new or in larger sizes than other companies; oh, and also, trees of better quality.
|Styrax japonicus 'Evening Light'|
We also purchase young trees of the patented Styrax japonicus 'Evening Light', and that's a cultivar name I truly like. It is a wonderful selection due to dark purple foliage which highlights the pure-white nodding flowers which are fragrant. Supposedly this upright, narrow selection from Europe is able to tolerate extreme temperatures, well, to at least USDA zone 5 (-20 F). Of course I gripe when trees are patented and I can't propagate them. It's better if a tree totally begins at Buchholz Nursery where I can control its appearance. Our trees have a "Buchholz look," and the last thing I want for them is to look like they came from another's nursery.
Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun'
My source of 'Evening Light' is also my source for a few other patented trees which are worth growing, in fact 90% of their product is patented. Nevertheless they grow thousands of my Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun' where I receive no royalty from them. Generally I'm anti-patent and have never done it; to me it's like prostituting nature, and I know my muse Flora is against it also.
Acer pseudosieboldianum ssp. takesimense
From the same company I will purchase a few Acer x 'Northern Glow'. Nice name, though it too is patented. It is a hybrid of Acer pseudosieboldianum x Acer palmatum 'Hasselkus', where the A. pseudosieboldianum blood will give the Japanese maple an extra zone of hardiness. I was on the ground floor with the hybridization using A. pseudosieboldianum with palmatum and japonicum, where I provided my nursery propagation skills with a Dr. S., then working at the Morton Arboretum in Chicago. The understanding, or my understanding anyway, was that I would be viewed favorably when it would come to the licensing rights to grow the hybrids. Dr. S. stood me up when she moved on to Wisconsin , and nobody ever thanked me for the trouble I went to. Now big companies who can sell a lot are given the right to peddle plants such as 'Northern Glow', with the royalty payments going back to the university. Once again: prostituting plants with a patent. My purpose to buy a few to grow on is to judge for myself if it is worth having besides the extra winter hardiness; otherwise screw everybody else who was involved.
|Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'|
|Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'|
Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker' (or 'Icebreaker')* was discovered as a witch's broom on A.k. 'Silberlocke' by Jorge Kohout of Eastern Germany. I grew it for a number of years before I learned that the German prefers it to be called 'Kohout's Icebreaker'. Groooan, great plant but who needs Kohout's name added to it? Thank god it wasn't patented and it is now available across America and Europe. I don't know how large Kohout's original propagations are, but I planted seven trees on a mound. In about three years from now, they will all grow into each other, then I'll have the largest "one" in the world.
*The RHS Encyclopedia of Conifers lists it as 'Ice Breaker', two words.
Abies balsamea 'Eugene's Yellow'
For Abies balsamea 'Eugene's Yellow' I suppose that Eugene's name is necessary because 'Yellow' alone would be an uninspiring cultivar name. We grow a Picea abies 'Yellow', and although a nice spruce it doesn't sell very well. 'Eugene's Yellow' is very slow-growing, and like with many Abies dwarves, it tends to grow into a spreading form when young before growing upward. The photo above is the largest plant I have seen, and it is growing in the conifer wonderland at the arboretum of Porterhowse Farm in Sandy, Oregon. For production purposes we grow ours in shade, and try to stake a leader when young, but the Porterhowse tree is placed in full sun and surprisingly it takes the heat quite well.
|Acer palmatum 'Lileeanne's Jewel'|
|Acer palmatum 'Rainbow'|
Acer palmatum 'Lileeanne's Jewel' is perfectly described by MrMaple.com as a "brand new introduction with a rare variegation of pink and white on a bright cherry red and heavily divided leaf." Later MrMaple adds, "This selection is fairly heat tolerant as it has handled the sun of Simpsonville, SC without burn to the variegation." It was found as a chance seedling by Johnathon Savelich and named after this daughter Lileeanne. Sadly the pretty name – and I would love to see the daughter – was butchered into 'Little Anne's Jewel' by a long-time mail-order company from South Carolina, and I would be hopping mad if they flubbed my daughter's name. Fortunately the cultivar is less likely to revert to entirely purple foliage than my variegated Acer palmatum 'Rainbow', at least in my nursery.
|Acer palmatum 'Red Whisper'|
|Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair in autumn'|
|Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair in autumn'|
Buchholz Nursery introduced Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair' about thirty years ago and our largest specimen now produces seed. Most of the seedlings will germinate with regular palmatum leaves – which eventually become rootstock – but a few will be 'Fairy Hair' look-alikes. Since we don't know who is pollinating whom we're hoping to find a red version of 'Fairy Hair'. The most red so far was 'Red Whisper' which displayed a whisper of red. I use the past tense because sadly the original seedling died before I could propagate it, so the cultivar exists no more. I'm sure there's a huge number of potential cultivars that meet the same fate, and some would say "good" and attribute it to the survival of the fittest. But don't despair because 'Fairy Hair' puts on an amazing display of red in the autumn.
|Acer palmatum 'Inaba shidare'|
Let's see, how many maples do I grow where "red" begins the cultivar name? Not 'Red Whisper' anymore, but I grow Acer palmatums 'Red Baron', 'Red Blush', 'Red Cloud', 'Red Dragon', 'Red Emperor', 'Red Falcon', 'Red Feathers', 'Red Filigree Lace', 'Red Flash', 'Red Pygmy', 'Red Saber', 'Red Spider', 'Red Wonder' and 'Red Wood', so maybe 'Red Whisper' felt too crowded. Sometimes the red word comes at the end of the name, as with 'Rhode Island Red', 'Wetumpka Red' and 'Select Red'. The latter, 'Select Red', is of Dutch origin and I never found out who selected it. It doesn't matter because I don't propagate it at all. A large order of Acer palmatum cultivars from a Boskoop, Holland nursery sent Acer palmatum 'Inaba shidare' to the American nursery where I began my career. When the maples were planted out I noticed a few labels that read 'Select Red' which were mixed in with the 'Inaba shidare'. Calling Holland, calling Holland. The Dutch broker responsible for the shipment no doubt ran short and mixed in 'Select Red', figuring that the horticulturally inferior Americans would never know the difference. He probably gulped hard that the Dutch nursery had overlooked the removal of 'Select Red' labels, damn it! My American nursery was told that they were the same, that 'Select Red' was the English translation of the Japanese name 'Inaba shidare'. Not so, and besides I have the two planted next to each other, and while they look alike in spring, by mid summer you can see that 'Inaba shidare' retains its deep color better. So, shame on the Dutchman. Question: where was copper wire invented? Answer: Holland, with two Dutchman fighting over a penny.
|Pinus mugo 'Mr. Wood'|
The late plantsman Edsal Wood of Oregon grew thousands of conifers and maples from seed, and he used to be an important supplier to bonsai aficionados. But the fun for him was to find the odd and different. He was also very generous, and once when I visited he handed me a tiny pine seedling which was blue, and said, "Take this little Pinus mugo home to try it." I thanked him, although I was sure that it was a Pinus parviflora, not P. mugo. However when I returned I examined it closely and the miniscule needles were in fascicles of two instead of the five for a P. parviflora, so old Ed was right. I temporarily named it 'Mr. Wood' when I began to propagate it, but that was never intended to be the official cultivar name. But I gave away or sold some propagules as 'Mr. Wood', so it was too late to choose a different name. Meanwhile I wasn't aware that a sister seedling was given to Larry of Stanley and Sons Nursery which looked identical. Larry chose a better cultivar name for his miniature, 'Fish Hook', because the short needles had a slight curve. Many have assumed that 'Fish Hook' and 'Mr. Wood' are synonymous, but they can't be as they are separate seedlings, no matter how much they look alike. Even the Royal Horticultural Society's publication of Encyclopedia of Conifers jumps to the conclusion that they're synonymous, and I was even accused by one conifer grower as renaming 'Fish Hook' so I could sell a "new" cultivar. Listen, I can be an asshole at times, especially since I'm a mirror of who you are, but I'm certainly not a cad.
|Picea pungens 'Blue Stoplight'|
|Picea pungens 'Sester's Dwarf'|
Cultivar names are so important when marketing plants of course. Sight unseen, if you could have Picea pungens 'Blue Stoplight' in your garden or Picea pungens 'Sester's Dwarf' you would likely choose the former based on the name. The latter cultivar is the better plant though. If your daughter announced that she was getting married but you didn't know the groom, you would cringe if his name was Alibaba Muhammed instead of say, Bill Clinton. Wait – not him either! And you would prohibit the marriage if his name was Donkey Dick. Right?
|Santolina virens 'Lemon Fizz'|
|Pinus uncinata 'Krauskopf'|
|Taxodium distichum 'Gee Wiz'|
We namers should be thoughtful and careful, but it's ok to have a little fun. For example, 'Lemon Fizz' is a fun, happy name for a Santolina virens. 'Krauskopf' wouldn't impress you unless you knew the German name meant "curly head," as the dense bun displays curled needles. 'Gee Wiz' for a dwarf Taxodium distichum is more humorous when you know it was selected and named by Gary Gee of Gee Farms in Michigan...and you picture him taking a leak behind a tree in his arboretum.
|Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Miss Grace'|
I've had fun with names, but I do regret many of my choices. You can judge for yourself if my plant names are any good by going to Our Plants on our website, then click on Buchholz Introductions.