Photo: KingsbraeGarden (Flickr)
I once visited a garden that contained only plants with the names of animals: Lamb’s Ears, Tiger Lilies, Catmint, and so on. It is interesting to think about the bases for these names. The Lamb’s Ears feel soft to the touch, Tiger Lilies have dark brown markings, and some varieties of Catmint seem irresistible to felines. Many common names are associated with their visual, tactile, or olfactory appeal.
Hen and Chickens are clustered together in a pattern that evokes the image of small chicks grouped around a bigger mother hen. Granny’s Bonnets have a shape similar to old fashioned head gear, and Naked Ladies are lilies held high on long completely bare stems.
The name Venus Fly Trap explicitly describes the function of its flower. A popular annual, Million Bells, has a name that signifies not only the shape of its flowers but also the extent of its exuberant mass production. Many flowering plants have names that vary from region to region. For example, Monarda is referred to as Bergamot and also Bee Balm.
And like people, plants have more than one formal name: the genus name, the species name, and often a cultivar name, as well as common names. Like nick names given to people, common names given to plants are often not only descriptive, but playful too.