You say Litchin, I say Like-in, let’s call the whole thing moss. If you bash out the pronunciation with enough confidence, very few will call you out. That said, at a recent flower show, a heavily powdered punter objected to my soft “c” in Senecio. She qualified her protest by informing me that her father taught Latin at Cambridge, inferring that she spoke the language of the ancient Romans while the rest of us were struggling with Spot and his benighted red ball.
Rhododendron yakushimanum (Japanese for Yaku island)
I did what any seeker after truth would, of course; upon return to my computer, I hit Google. My research indicates that c words depend on whither the roots arrive. Now I have another level of confusion at my command. I can point out that the scientific name derives from the Greek in this instance, thus my “Seneesio” is correct. A note of caution before you put money on this; we may yet find out that Pater was an expert there, as well. All language is a moveable feast. Terms fall in and out of fashion, as you will know if you describe that woman down the road as a slattern, when the modern idiom would call her a slapper. Gardeners of a certain age will have noticed that CLEM – a – tis evolved from clem – A – tis a few years ago. The broadcasters have been taking lessons, it would seem and old favourites are shuffling about similarly. Added to this, the botanists are busy reordering their house. For example, Daturas are now Brugmansias and Hostas used to be called Funkia. I could go on but having some regard for your patience and my sanity, I won’t.
Houseplants, mostly Calatheas
Science is trying to nail down specimens across the globe, so that a plants woman in France may swap sense with a horticulturist in Mumbai. The formal designation often describes a growing habit or shape of petal, so Hydrangea comes from the Greek for water vessel, in reference to the shape of the seed capsule. Plena refers to double flowers. Alba promises white blooms, sanguinara translates from blood colour and caerulea means blue. Foetidissima suggests that your plant smells, not necessarily nicely. Odoratissimum indicates that the blossom is sweetly scented. Tomentosum makes a big thing of downy leaves, vernicosa notes that foliage shines as if varnished and carnosula says that it is somewhat fleshy.
Helleborus foetidus “Wester Flisk” (stinking hellebore)
The specimens are given designations using European alphabets. Nevertheless, we are cultural kleptomaniacs as well as garden addicts; Cos is the Arabic for lettuce, Petunia comes from a native Brazilian name for tobacco, to which the species is related. The Chinese knew about Rhododendrons centuries before plant hunters in tropical climates scampered about in heavy plus four trousers, lumbering the shrub with a moniker which means rose tree. Individual names often celebrate the tweed clad plant nuts who despite the difficulties of terrain, brought to our attention such delights as Dahlia (Mr. Dahl) and Fuchsia (Herr Fuchs). My spellchecker has been given a thorough workout, as it doesn’t care for many of these terms. My brain and the hard drive are making clattering noises and both seem to be having a breakdown. I’m calling a halt to let the smoke dissipate. One of us is going to get a cup of Camellia sinensis or 茶 which is Chinese for tea.
If you are thirsty for more, try Plant Names Simplified, Their Pronunciation Derivation & Meaning by A.T. Johnson & H.A. Smith ISBN number 900513 04 7