Nurseries and plant breeders plunder a huge range of sources when dreaming up names for their new plants. Gone are the days of ‘Purple Prince’ and ‘Snow Queen’, most of the names in that traditional style have already been used – and you can’t use the same name twice for the same kind of plant. So new names are in constant demand.
One of the most popular tricks is to adapt a familiar phrase, often by creating a groaning pun – which may, or may not, have some relation to the plant itself. Here are a few examples from books, music and films.
Pulmonaria ‘Dark Vader’
We all know Darth Vader from Star Wars - not a very nice person. Indeed he’s become a popular symbol of evil. So it seems odd to adapt his name and attach it to a plant in the hope, presumably, that it will help sales.
Pulmonaria ‘Dark Vader’ (left, click to enlarge) is a lungwort developed by Dan Heims at Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon and is known, depending who you ask, for its silver spotted, dark green foliage or its flowers which open pink and then turn dark blue. Neither the foliage nor the flowers seem especially dark to me - and certainly bear no relation to the black of Darth Vader’s costume - although its many months of brightly spotted foliage and its prolific spring flowering make it a valuable shade garden perennial. It was introduced in 1999 although ‘Cotton Cool’, introduced the same year, is a better plant and much more popular. Most of the other pulmonarias Dan introduced that year are no longer grown.
Pulmonaria ‘Spotted Dick’ (Yes, really!) I’ll get to this another time but, in the meantime, if anyone has a picture of this variety please let me know!
Tomato ‘Sweetheart Of The Patio’
Sweetheart Of The Rodeo was sixth album by American rock band The Byrds, and their first to fully embrace country music. Released in 1968, to this day it remains an iconic country rock album. It’s simply wonderful.
‘Sweetheart Of The Patio’ is a semi-trailing patio tomato for containers developed by John Burrows at Pro-Veg seeds near Cambridge, England. It is known for its early fruit set, its prolific crop of 1in/2.5cm fruits and especially its resistance to late blight disease. It’s closely related to the All America Selections winner ‘Lizzano’ and has been popular in the US since its introduction a few years ago.
Chili Pepper ‘Born To Be Mild’
Born To Be Wild was a single released by the American rock band Steppenwolf in 1968. It was written by the splendidly named Mars Bonfire – who previously went by Dennis Edmonton and before that Dennis Eugene McCrohan. Obviously, if you want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star, Dennis Eugene McCrohan doesn’t really cut it. Mars Bonfire is much more like it, and a pretty good name for a hot chili pepper, actually.
Anyway, Chili Pepper ‘Born To Be Mild’ is a slim, 3in/7.5cm long pepper with all the flavor of a jalapeno but none of the heat.
Heuchera ‘Grape Expectations’
Here, the name of the Charles Dickens classic has undergone a clumsy metamorphosis and been applied to a new heuchera with grape-colored foliage (right, in June, click to enlarge) and the failed expectation that it will retain that that rich coloring all summer. In fact, while grapey in spring and early summer and in fall, it turns silver in between.
Developed at Walters Gardens, MI and available retail next year, Walters have also developed the red-flowered ‘Berry Exciting’ so we can see where they’re going with naming their names. In the same style, there’s also Ilex verticillata Berry Heavy (‘Spravy’) and Berry Nice (‘Spriber’), selected by Dale Deppe at Spring Meadow Nurseries, MI.
As it happens, ‘Berry Exciting’ is proving to be an exceptional plant in its first year in the garden. More about that next time.