A bobcat in our woodpile
Christmas morning in the digital age

Fun with plant names

Hebejeebie Plant names exasperate many gardeners But some of the more entertaining aspects of the naming of plants, and of other forms of life, derive from the fact that – if they follow certain rules as to the way the name is constructed – scientists can name new plants, animals and insects pretty much whatever they like. And they do. How else would a new genus from New Zealand, related to Hebe, come to be called Hebejeebie (left)?

At Kew, long ago, I remember coming across a plant labeled Cirsium acaule subsp. inacaule – literally: the stemless thistle that’s not without a stem! Now I find, courtesy of the wonderful Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature, that there’s a plant called Eriogonum inflatum var. deflatum – named by Ivan Johnston, formerly Associate Professor of Botany at Harvard. Then there’s the little lily relative, the European may lily, which was once called Unifolium bifolium (but is now, I’m sorry to say, Maianthemun bifolium). There’s also, it turns out, a beetle called Euphoria morosa.

You have to admire the botanists who split of a few species from the genus Allium to create Muilla (right)Muillamaritima  (Sereno Watson, another Harvard man, was responsible for that one) and some from Arabis to create Sibara. And there’s the orchid taken out of the genus Aerides and named Sedirea.

Some botanists just like to oh too clever. French botanist Raymond Hamet and his friend Alice Leblanc together named a new Kalanchoe: Kalanchoe mitejea – mitejea is an anagram of Je t’aime. And Sir Peter Scott coined a name for the Loch Ness Monster, Nessiteras rhombopteryxm, which is literally “Ness monster with rhomboidal fin". But it was also noted that the name is an anagram for "Monster hoax by Sir Peter S”.

Some names are just too too too too long. That’s all there is to it. For example, there’s a longhorn beetle called – the label would take up most of the museum case – Brachyta interrogationis interrogationis var. nigrohumeralisscutellohumeroconjuncta.

Two tongue-twisting cacti, Austrocephalocereus dolichospermatichus and Weberbauerocereus cephalomacrostibas, both need a deep breath before attempting. The label for Saxifraga aizoon var. aizoon subvar. brevifola forma multicaulis subforma surculosa would be bigger than the plant. But Aquilegia flabellata nana pumila alba 'Rama Lama Ding Dong' (a dwarf white columbine named by Diana Reek of Collector’s Nursery in Washington state) fails as the Latin part of the name is not formulated correctly. Perhaps Aquilegia flabellata var. pumila forma alba 'Rama Lama Ding Dong' is more correct.

Iaio But don’t you prefer the wasp Aha ha? Named by Arnold Menke of the Ammophila Research Institute in Bisbee, Arizona, he also used the name as the license plate for his car. The relatively common Asian vesper bat Ia io (left) has the shortest of all zoological names, and there’s also supposed to be an orchid called Ada aa but this name may never have been validly published. Shame.

None of these are made up - I give full credit for many of these to the collection of strange scientific names at Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature. Thank you Mark Isaak (who, I’m sure, would be delighted to hear more). For some great fictional plants visit Shady Deals Nursery.