Some plants have really bad names. Not bad reputations, you understand -- just really, really bad names. Common names, some passed down over the centuries, can put you right off a plant before even setting eyes on it.

 

When plant propagators and nurserymen develop a new plant, they spend a lot of time and effort coming up with an interesting and marketable name. Apparently making a plant sound interesting and attractive was not at the top of the list when many common names for plants were chosen.

 

Some plant names have become so familiar that we no longer think of them as strange -- baby's breath (Gypsophilia spp.), bleeding heart (Dicentra spp.) and naked ladies (Amaryllis belladonna), for instance. Other names, like bearded tongue (Penstemon spp.), are technically descriptive so no one seems bothered by the strange image the name conjures up.

 

A quick look at common names makes it easy to see why Carolus Linneaus was on the right track when he created the binomial system of taxonomy. The binomial system made it possible to classify and identify a particular plant by genus and species by botanists and horticulturists from all over the world. Prior to that, common names created their own Tower of Babel with myriad different names often being used to describe a single plant.

 

The names themselves, at least those that have come down through the ages, may describe a physical characteristic or a medicinal benefit of the plant, but just as often the names seem to have been chosen without rhyme or reason. While many common names deserve points for creativity, they leave something to be desired when it comes to marketability. Common names can be pretty awful without being completely disgusting, but others cross the line into the land of "What were they thinking?":

 

For some reason, wildflowers and tropical plants seem to suffer more than other plants from the bane of the truly horrible common name. Cheeseweed (Malva parviflora) was named for the resemblance of its fruits to wheels of cheese but it brings images of limberger to mind. It's hard to beat the stinkhorn fungus (Phallus impudicus) when it comes to really bad common names (and a pretty provocative botanical name, too).

 

Then there is the dead horse arum (Helicodiceros muscivorus), a Mediterranean plant that attracts flies with its noxious odor. Competing for the worst common name is the corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum), a giant tropical plant whose size is rivaled only by a stench that is said to be so strong it can literally knock out passersby. The stinking corpse lily (Rafflesia arnoldii) is an endangered plant featuring what is said to be the world's largest flower, up to three feet across.

 

Other common names may describe a notable feature of the plant, such as a strong odor: skunk cabbage (Veratrum  californicum), skunkleaf polemonium (Polemonium pulcherrimum), stinking benjamin (Trillium erectum), stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) and stinking iris (Iris foetidissima).

 

The word "bane" is a word with a negative impact that is often used as part of common names: wolfbane, henbane, fleabane, bugbane, even dogbane. Derived from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "murderer," "bane" was used as a suffix to indicate a plant that was poisonous or noxious in some way.

 

The suffix "wort" sounds a little nasty but it is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word "wyrt," meaning a plant or herb. Wort is often used as a suffix with words that describe a feature of the plant or that describe a particular characteristic of the plant. In the case of spiderwort, both apply -- the plant has spidery leaves and the plant had a reputation has a cure for spider bites.

 

A "bad" name is not indicative of a bad garden plant any more than a dainty name indicates a delicate plant. Common names can open our eyes to the history or background of a plant, and help us make the best use of these plants in the present.

 

 

The Names of Plants

 

 

 

What are your favorite "bad names" for plants? Here are some of mine:

 

Adder's tongue (Erythronium spp.)

Bar-room plant (Aspidistra elatior)

Bastard indigo (Amorpha fruticosa)

Bedstraw (Galium odoratum)

Beef plant (Iresine herbstii)

Beetleweed (Galax urceolata)

Beggar lice  (Galium aparine)

Belly-ache weed (Solidago bicolor)

Bitterbloom (Sabatia angularis)

Bladderwort (Utricularia spp.)

Blister cress (Erysimum spp.)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodwort (Achillea millefolium)

Boneset (Eupatorium spp.)

Bruisewort (Saponaria spp.)

Bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa, syn. Actaea racemosa)

Catchfly (Silene spp.)

Chokeberry (Aronia spp.)

Convulsion root (Monotropa uniflora)

Cowboy's fried egg (Argemone polyanthemos)

Cow cockle (Saponaria spp.)

Crocodile jaws (Aloe humilis)

Crowsoap (Saponaria spp.)

Cuckoo spit (Cardamine pratensis)

Curdwort (Galium spp.)

Dead nettle (Lamium spp.)

Deadly nightshade (Solanum spp.)

Deadman's bones (Linaria vulgaris)

Dog blow (Leucanthemum vulgare)

Fleabane (Erigeron spp.)

Gagroot (Lobelia inflata)

Gallberry (Ilex coriacea)

Gas plant (Dictamnus albus)

Hag's taper (Verbascum spp.)

Hairy broom (Cytisus hirsutus)

Hairy hound's-tongue (Cynoglossum nervosum)

Hedgehog (Agave stricta)

Hoary gromwell (Lithospermum canescens)

Hogweed (Polygonum  spp.)

Impudent lawyer (Linaria vulgaris)

Lambkill kalmia (Kalmia angustifolia)

Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus)

Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis)

Mealy-cup sage (Salvia farinacea)

Liverwort (Hepatica spp.)

Mugwort (Artemisia spp.)

Navelwort, Navel-seed (Omphalodes spp.)

Nosebleed plant (Achillea millefolium)

Painted tongue (Salpiglossis spp.)

Palsywort (Caltha palustris)

Pigsqueak (Bergenia crassifolia)

Pitchforks (Bidens spp.)

Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberosa)

Poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii)

Poverty birch (Betula popufolia)

Puke weed (Lobelia inflata)

Ratstripper (Paxistima canbyi)

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium)

Rotnest daisy (Trachymene coerulea)

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

Smartass (Polygonum pensylvanicum)

Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale, also sometimes Achillea millefolium))

Spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.)

Stammerwort (Ambrosia spp.)

Stickyheads, Gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa)

Stinking ash (Ptelea trifoliata)

Stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus)

Thoroughwax (Buplureum spp.)

Throatwort (Trachelium spp.)

Tickseed (Coreopsis spp.)

Toadflax (Linaria spp.)

Tongue grass (Stellaria media)

Toothache tree (Zanthoxylum piperitum)

Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare)

Wartwort (Chelidonium majus)

Water blobs (Caltha palustris)

Wet dog trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Wormwood (Artemisia spp.)

Comments
by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-01-2010 01:04 PM

Seasons Greetings Scraps, Graphics, Glitters and Comments for Orkut, Myspace, Facebook

by on ‎12-11-2010 09:48 PM

Hmm

 

Cow Itch

Why ever is it called a dog wood?

 

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎12-12-2010 12:10 AM

Dave's Garden has this explanation: 

 

"The Dogwood has a rich history other than a pretty landscape tree. The name Dogwood could be attributed to two different sources. Dogwood is a very hard and strong wood, and it was said that the term Dogwood could have easily evolved from the Celtic word dagdagga, or dagwood over the years. The wooden dagge was simply a useful, pointed tool. The tight-grained wood contained no silica, so it was useful in cleaning small spaces that were easily scratched, such as in watches and jewelry. The wood is so hard that the finest weaving shuttles were made from it, and later, golf club heads. The botanical name Cornus reflects this quality, as it means horn, as in bull's horn."

 

http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1049/

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