Sunday, September 25, 2016

Common Names--Too Many Choices

Since people have been using plants "forever" you'd think plants would have long ago gotten generally-agreed-upon common names. But that is not the case. The internet is revealing that across the U.S. we call the same plant by many different names (earlier post). 

It is not the internet's fault, of course. We've been calling plants by different names all along, but now, instead of digging in my local plant identification book, I google the plant and come up with a series of different responses. For example Lithospermum incisum came up on the USDA plants list as narrowleaf stoneseed, at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center as golden puccoon. and on as fringed gromwell. 

fringed puccoon, Lithospermum incisum
narrowleaf stoneseed, golden puccoon,
fringed gromwell, Lithospermum incisum

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Plant Story--Three-Leaf Sumac

You walk by without noticing. Its a nondramatic shrub, but very common across the whole western half of the United States link

Rhus trilobata three-leaf sumac

The USDA calls it skunkbush sumac. Other sources call it three-leaf sumac, skunkbush, lemonberry sumac and in the older literature, squawbush. It is Rhus trilobata in the sumac and poison ivy family, Anacardiaceae.

The name skunkbush comes from the odor of the shrub, which many people find unpleasant and I have never noticed.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Tallgrass Prairie--the Lost Ecosystem

Romance is in the eye of the beholder. Many people find forests romantic. Many fewer love prairies.

So let me talk about tallgrass prairie.

tallgrass prairie, Nebraska

Most people have never seen a tallgrass prairie. Just two hundred years ago, tallgrass prairie extended from the forests of Kentucky and Tennessee to the middle of Nebraska and Kansas, from the Gulf of Mexico to southern Canada.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Plant Confusions--The Three Bergamots

THREE unrelated plants are called bergamot, a pear, an orange and a mint.

Monarda fistulosa, wild bergamot
wild bergamot
The original plant to have the name bergamot was the bergamot pear, Pyrus communis, (rose family, Rosaceae). (Link scroll down to lemon bergamot pear). Pears came to Europe from Asia before Roman times and were very popular fruits. Many sizes and shapes developed, across the Middle East and in Europe. Bergamot pears were a variety with a very round fruit. The food timeline website (link) suggests the name was from Pergamos, a village in Cyprus, because these bergamot pears
came from the Middle East during the Crusades and were also called Syrian pears. The Oxford English dictionary states the name is from their Italian name bergamotta, from the Turkish

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Plant Story--Chokecherries, a Native American Cherry

chokecherry Prunus virginiana flowers

We call them chokecherries. They are native American shrubs or small trees, in the same genus as cherries and plums, scientifically Prunus virginiana. They grow all across North America except the deep South (USDA map). We could have called them Virginia cherries, a much more dignified name. The name chokecherry name probably comes from the fact that the raw fruits are a shocking experience to your mouth: you pop one in and oh! my! it is sour, puckery, chokingly astringent. Yet chokecherries are edible and were widely used by Native Americans and settlers. Fruit pictures

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Common Names--What a Mess!

Saskatoon berries, or you might know them as...
Here are the fruits on my saskatoon--you might know them service berries or June berries. In the East you might call this a shadbush. Robins don't argue over the names, they just gobble the fruits down.

To entertain with the stories I love, I have to identify the plant. That is what names are for--communication. Why is it so difficult to have widely recognized plant names?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Visiting Baja California--Flowers in the Desert

mesquite, Baja California
mesquite, probably  Prosopis glandulosa, honey mesquite 
Deserts are stressful places for plants. Water is in short supply and often unpredictable in its arrival. Growing and flowering are difficult, since they require water. Yet plants like the mesquite, above, and the cardรณn cacti, below, were in flower in the dry Baja California desert in April.

desert, Baja California
desert scene, Baja California
Deserts plants cope with drought various ways.  Annual plants are opportunists. They spend most of the time as seeds, then grow, flower and go to seed within one to four weeks after a good rain, not to reappear until the next heavy rain. Other plants are perennial, visible members of the community. They have woody stems that increase in size or expand without wood from a big root system. Perennial plants must store water, soaking it up like a sponge when it rains, so that they can consume it slowly during long dry periods. Some perennials flower based on rainfall, but others flower the same time every year, using their stored water.

On the islands of the southern half of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), a surprizing number of perennial plants were flowering in mid-April.