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Naming Rights


Brace yourself. I’m going to smack you across the kisser with a cold, wet herring of truth: Gardening ain’t easy.

There. I said it. You may now wipe that fish oil from your cheek.

One of the reasons that gardening is harder than it looks is that the people who make the rules keep changing them. I’m talking about the keepers of the binomial nomenclature. (Note: If you enjoy reading this column because it’s fact-free, just close your eyes for the next couple of sentences, while I get the serious stuff out of the way.)

Binomial nomenclature is the rule that every living thing – like a plant – has an unpronounceable scientific name that was created to confuse the bejesus out of people who are not scientists. For instance, you think you’re growing a pansy but it might really be a Viola × wittrockiana Gams ex Nauenb. & Buttler. I’m not making this up! As Randy Shakespeare always said, before he was unceremoniously expunged from the history books, “Google it!”

But, periodically, the Binomial Nomenclature Naming Committee (BNNC, sometimes pronounced “bunk”) gets all itchy and decides that it’s not enough just to confuse ordinary people – they need to confuse scientists, too! So they’ll take a perfectly good genus name like Aster and they change it to Symphyotrichum. I swear I’m not making this up!

The genus Chrysanthemum, which, despite its resistance to correct spelling, was at least well known, has been split into things like Arctanthemum, Argyranthemum and Leucanthemopsis.

I say it’s time to fight back. From time immemorial (going back at least to the days of black and white TV), people have given common names to plants – foxglove, bee balm, lamb’s ears, coneflower, little bluestem, etc. And if the BNNC is going to mess with us, we’re going to mess with them.

I’m in favor of starting the People’s Nomenclature Naming Committee (PNNC, pronounced “punk”), that will focus on randomly changing common plant names. Here are some examples to get us started.

Neighborweed
The plant that you had never seen before your neighbor introduced it into his garden. It didn’t survive there, but now it’s strangling everything in sight in your yard.

Blackout Rose
One whiff and you wake up on the ground a couple of hours later.

Died-in-the-Mist
Lovely, delicate specimen that contracts pneumonia in the rain.

Brown-Nose Susan
Sucks up to gardeners by being relentlessly colorful and cheery.

Never Blooms
The only flower it produces is the one on the garden center tag.

Back-of-the-Garage
It will grow through cracks on concrete or in the middle of an oil slick, but put it in good soil within sight of a human being and it shrivels to nothing.

Curfewbane
Blooms so late in the day that you’ll never stay awake to see it.

Dog’s Breath
Plant this in a container near where your in-laws will be sitting and they’ll leave the gathering early.

Bitterbuy
You regret having bought it the moment you bring it home.

Weeping sucker
Person who purchases a Bitterbuy.

Soxwood
Tree featuring wood with density and strength of your crew socks.

Some plants have been believed to have curative properties concerning the named parts. Hence, lungwort was thought to cure pulmonary problems
and liverwort … well, you get it. So here are members of my own “wort family.”

Baldwort
Rub it on your head and see if you grow hair. Go on, I dare you.

Appendixwort
This plant is useless.

Toe Jam Wort
You don’t want to know.

I have tons more but I need rip out some neighborweed and get to the PNNC meeting. Unfortunately, in the spirit of our organization, it’s at a random location. That could be a problem.

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

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questions

I have a nicely sheltered, rounded 7-foot tall Japanese red maple on the southeast corner of my backyard. Half of the tree has lost its leaves, the formerly red bark is turning gray, and a good-sized square of bark has been stripped off on the side that faces the yard. I sprayed the exposed bark with black pruning spray to close any entry for insects. I have not cut off any of the branches.

Does the winter have any effect on the tree? Should I look for some insect infestation? What should I do now?

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Is there an overall rule about when to pinch back my leggy plants?

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