Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Natural World

I've been watching a number of the series of famed British naturalist David Attenborough recently (highly recommended) and so I've had the wonders of the natural world on my mind. There is of course an intimate relationship between plants and animals -- in general and in many cases between a particular plant and a particular insect, bird or animal. It should come as no surprise then that there are many common names for plants that contain an animal or insect name. The use of these descriptive common names can be divided broadly into two categories -- those where the animal has a direct bearing on the plant's growth or pollination and those where the name is descriptive of the look of the plant. An example of the former would be Baboon flower, where baboons do actually eat Babianas in South Africa. An example of the latter would be Tiger lily. Tiger lilies are orange with black spots, thus invoking the look of that animal.
So, what follows is a new version of the Name Game, something I started last year in this blog. There are likely hundreds of such common names. I'll introduce a subset of those, part one here and part two next week. This time around I'm going to leave off the botanical names, as a kind of fun puzzle for those who want to see how many they know. So here are the common names, each with a short comment. Enjoy.

Not only is there the common Baboon flower, but there is a red flowering species called Rat's Tail. So, I guess that would make it a 'Rat's Tail Baboon flower.' Hmmm.
Bird of Paradise. Speaking of Attenborough, he did a program on this colorful South American bird. Or birds, as it turns out there are many species/varieties.
Bird's Eye flower. Here's a hint. This is a California native and has tiny fuchsia-colored flowers.
Bat flower. No? This flower is often sold with orchids and is sometimes called Cat's Whiskers.
Burro's Tail. This will be an easy one for many people, though I honestly don't see the resemblance between a burro and this plant.
Butterfly plant. There's two, maybe more, common plants that answer to this name. One of them famously is the host plant of Monarch butterflies.
Canary Creeper. One of my favorite common names and one that is actually quite descriptive (although we all know canaries don't creep).
Carrion flower. I doubt this succulent had a vote as to its common name. Carrion? Yuck. It is however aptly named.
Catchfly. I'm not sure if these plants were used to catch flies but it is said that the Xhosa tribe of South Africa ground up the roots to make a preparation for ritual and to influence one's dreams.
Elk clover. Elks may not have eaten this CA and OR native, at least not in the last 5000 years, but it has another distinction, being related to the only ginseng native to our west coast.
We all know about Cat-nip but did you know our feline friends are also mentioned in other plants? That would include Cat's Ears, Cat's Paw and Cat's Whiskers among others.
Speaking of animal companions, did you know there's a flower called Cockscomb? Chickens anyone?
Staying with the farm animals theme, there are actually two plants using the common name Cowslip. Can you name them?
Here's a common name that many will be familiar with: Cranesbill. But did you ever stop to think what that plant may have to do with a Crane's bill? Neither had I.
Speaking of another puzzling name, there is a plant that's found in aquatic regions of the Western states called Crow's Foot. Hmm, to the google ...
Speaking of plants found out west, one of my favorite common names is Dog's Tooth violet. A bit of artistic license perhaps?
Speaking of artistic license, anyone out there know of a plant called Dove tree? Curiously this dogwood relative is also called the Handkerchief tree or the Ghost tree.
No question where the Elephant Ear plant gets its common name. It sports large leaves that with a little imagination could be thought of as belonging to our favorite pachyderm.
Also descriptive is the fern commonly called a Foxtail fern. It goes by an even more popular common name but that would be too much of a giveaway.
Under the "huh? category, let me introduce you to one of the most common of all garden plants - Fleabane. Not quite sure where the 'flea' part comes in. Anyone?
Everyone knows Foxgloves but our red rascal shows up in a couple of other common names. That would be Foxtail lily and one that few have heard of - Fox and Cubs. This latter plant, a ground cover with orange, dandelion-like flowers, is also called Hawkweed.
You wouldn't think the the word Snakeshead would be in use as a common name for more than one plant but there's two I know of -- Snakeshead iris and Snakeshead fritillary. Herpetologists out there will get the connection.
Goatsbeard on the other hand would seem to be a common name that applies to many plants but the one I'm thinking of here is goes by the curious name of False Goatsbeard. Does that mean this plant is, in the words of that Simon and Garfunkle song, just 'Faking It'?
One of my favorite common names is Buffalo Grass. Yes, it's a real grass and it's native to the North American prairies. Where there used to be buffalo ...
Then there's Zebra grass. Not actually a grass and not actually walked on by Zebras so I guess, um, this is one where the look of the plant engendered its common name. Indeed it did.
Speaking of descriptive grass names, how about Hare's Tail? In this case it's the grass's fluffy seed heads that remind one of bunny tails. Or is that bunny tales?
Everybody knows Hens and Chicks, at least as it refers to a popular succulent. It's famous for making lots of pups off of the 'mother' plant, which I guess reminds some of chicks huddling close to mom.
Horse Chestnut anyone? And here I thought it was apples that horses liked?
Not sure how it came to be that Hound's Tongue came to describe a certain common, blue-flowering plant. Any Sherlock Holmes sleuths out there?
Many are familiar with the plant called Kangaroo Paw but did you know there is a shrub hailing from New Zealand called Kangaroo Apple? Here's a hint: it's in the same family as Tomato and Eggplant but one has to be careful because the unripe fruit is poisonous (no wine before its time?)
Lamb's Ears is both descriptive, everyone loves its soft, fuzzy leaves, and kind of fun.
There are probably several flowers claiming the common name Peacock flower but two come to mind and they are both bulbs. One hails from Central and South America while the other is found in South Africa. Can you guess what they are?
Toad lilies are well know in the trade but did you ever wonder how they came by that common name? My best guess is because of the dramatic spotting on the flowers. Not sure I know any toads that are so brightly spotted but I've never been a princess in search of the right frog.
Lastly (for this week) we have the the plant known as Lobster Claw. This plant's flowers do actually look like lobster claws though of course they are soft and one is in no danger of getting pinched.

And now some photos from my garden. A word about the photos. Although I always try to include attractive and interesting photos, I'm not a professional photographer. Sometimes I'll post a photo mainly to share my interest in, and thoughts about, that plant, even if the photo isn't perfect.

Camellia 'Little Babe Variegated.' Now in its fourth year, this japonica type is finally producing flowers that are fulfilling its visual promise. Like most variegation, be it in flowers or leaves, no two flowers are exactly alike.

The rains have begun to fill out my raised shady bed. That's the CA native Oxalis oregana below, while the Blue Bear's Paw fern is front and center and the Fuchsia 'Firecracker' is finally filling out after a necessary pruning job.

Chaenomeles 'Kurokoji.' My flowering quince went berserk in the flowering dept this year. The lower cluster of red flowers almost seem as if they're 'erupting' from the ground like some floral volcano.

Euphorbia atropurpurea. Whew, that's a mouthful. Notice the red flowers, something uncommon for a Euphorbia, where most flowers are a telltale chartreuse.

Mahonia lomariifolia. I love Mahonias and this one, despite being 'stuck' in the back of my driveway, has managed to lean forward to escape the overhang and grab some sun.

Behold a Thunbergia (AZ Red) before it has completely taken over the fence. As the saying goes, the day is young ...

My Lepechinia hastata (Pitcher sage) is blooming its heart out and that 's great news for hummers, who love its flowers. For me it's one of the (perfect) 4 star plants - tough and drought tolerant; fragrant leaves; lovely flowers; a good source of nectar for hummingbirds and bees.

Lachenalia 'Fransie.' The picture on the bulb package showed yellow flowers but as you can see they're a mix of yellow and red. One of the easiest of the S. African bulbs to grow, they just need a dry summer in order to be happy.

Here are two 'foundation' plants in the front of my garden. Up front is the silver-leaved Eriogonum giganteum. It has settled in nicely and last year it produced 'branch' after branch of pink-tinged white flowers. Behind it is a Leucospermum 'Veldfire,' possibly the showiest of all the Leucos.

Here's the front yard bed I call the Aussie bed, as it's populated mostly by Aussie native shrubs. I'm gradually adding succulents to the front.

Aloe striata. This succulent is anchoring the front left corner of the Aussie bed. That's a bloom spike elongating in the front, while a second one is nestled in the leaves behind it.

Helleborus 'Wayne Rodderick.' One of the best of the burgundy hellebores, this variety has proven to be hardy and a reliable bloomer each year. Helle-boring? No way.

Aeonium Schwarzkoph. Unmatched for adding dark tones to a garden. Here it's contrasted with Golden Sedum (Sedum x adolphii).

Even in the 24 hours since I took this photo, my Clematis armandii 'Snowdrift' has opened dozens more flowers. One of the most intensely fragrant flowers you'll ever smell. And it's got company. I have a Daphne odora marginata underneath it, alongside an Edgeworthia chrysantha. Across the walkway is the sweet smelling plant known as Chilean Jasmine (Mandevilla laxa). 

Bulbinella latifolia. A bit of winter cheer, this 'orange rocket' typically blooms in February. A favorite destination of bees.

Here's a preview of my Chasmanthe bicolor. This South African bulb is a member of the Iris family and though it looks a bit like a Crocosmia it's actually more closely related to a Babiana.

Abutilon thompsonii. I've mostly been photographing the foliage on this striking flowering maple as they're called but here I caught the sun illuminating one of the peach-colored flowers.

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