Archive for the ‘What's in a Name’ Category

What’s in a Name? Moments in Time

'SunnySmile'--a dwarf annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus)--with narrowleaf zinnia (Zinnia angustifolia) and 'Sweet Caroline Bronze' sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) [Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield]

‘Sunny Smile’–a dwarf annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus)–with narrowleaf zinnia (Zinnia angustifolia) and ‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas)

As it seemed time for a new adventure in the meaning of botanical names, time itself is a tempting topic. A little familiarity with some of the words you might come across can be handy for predicting how a plant might behave in your garden simply by looking at its name. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? Body Talk

Salpiglossis variablis

We’re finally seeing a few signs of the growing season starting here in Pennsylvania, but there are still several more days before spring officially arrives, so I’ll indulge now in one of my favorite winter topics: botanical nomenclature. One subject I haven’t covered yet is plant names that relate to the body parts of all kinds of critters, including people. Usually there’s some relation between the body part and the shape or texture of the flower, leaf, or some other structure, but sometimes it’s a clue to the plant’s historical use.

Most, if not all, of these will be obvious to those of you who work in the medical field, and I’m sure all of you will recognize at least some of these. It’s not an exhaustive list, as I couldn’t find plant-name examples for all body parts (feel free to speak up if you know of any I missed), and I deliberately left out some parts to keep things…um…safe for all readers. I’ll warn you now, this is a long one, so if nomenclature isn’t your thing, maybe you’d rather just scroll through the pictures and catch the bit of news at the end.

Still here? Ok, then, working roughly from head to hoof…

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What’s in a Name? Let’s Get Animal

Erythronium dens-canis

It’s the season for studying seed catalogs and seed-exchange lists, which always gets me thinking about how fascinating botanical names can be. For this part of my What’s in a Name? series, I’ve collected a bunch of epithets that relate to mammals. Sometimes, these epithets refer to plant traits that resemble the shapes, markings, or parts of particular animals. In other cases, the connections are tenuous at best, perhaps existing only in the mind of the person that chose the epithet in the first place. Even if you don’t know why a plant has an animal-related botanical name, it may at least help you remember the connection between its botanical and common names.

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What’s in a Name? The Good, the Bad, and the Ordinary

Asclepias speciosa at Hayefield

Asclepias speciosa (showy milkweed)

Ready for another ramble through the wonderful world of botanical nomenclature? This time, let’s look at names that relate to…well, let’s call them value judgments – not specific traits like leaf shape, flower color, or geographic origin, but more subjective descriptors, along the lines of of really pretty, desperately dull, and utterly ordinary. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? Where in the World

Asarum europaeum with Iris pallida 'Argentea Variegata' and Euonymus 'Frosty Pearl'

Asarum europaeum (European wild ginger) with Iris pallida ‘Argentea Variegata’ (white-variegated sweet iris) and Euonymus ‘Frosty Pearl’ (wintercreeper)

The yearly arrival of the Chiltern Seeds catalog, with its hundreds of pages filled with tiny type and thousands of intriguing plant names, never fails to re-ignite my fascination with botanical nomenclature. So, I’m continuing my What’s in a Name series by finally tackling the abundance of names related to places. I’ll admit that geography isn’t one of my strongest subjects, so if you catch any mistakes, feel free to comment with corrections or clarifications. And I’ll warn you now that this is a very long post, so if you’re not into botanical trivia, feel free to just scroll down and enjoy the pictures. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? Whence They Came

Oryza sativa 'Red Dragon'
Oryza sativa ‘Red Dragon’

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

Fun, fanciful, or even downright silly, cultivar names often offer some clues as to what a plant might look like. If you want a hint as to where that plant might grow best, though, the botanical name is a better place to look. I’m going to save specific place names for another post, but for this one, I’ve collected a bunch of epithets that relate to general plant habitats.
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What’s in a Name? Uses, Flavor, and Fragrance

Brassica oleracea ‘Ruby Ball’ (cabbage)
Brassica oleracea ‘Ruby Ball’

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

Bright blooms and flashy foliage are features that lure most of us into choosing plants for our gardens. But what about all those hard workers that more than just pretty faces? Looking closely at botanical names can often clue us in to plants that have some practical use, or at least some benefit besides being beautiful.

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