Friday, August 21, 2015

Quis est nomen illius planta?

"Quis est nomen illius planta?" I heard that frequently during the couple of days of my open garden last month. It wasn’t spoken in Latin, which is just as well as I probably wouldn’t have understood the question anyway. My command of Latin is pathetic. Most often, the plants for which I do know the botanical names are the ones that haven’t been given a common one, at least none that I’m aware of.

One in particular that attracted a lot of attention was a vine on the trellis. It has small, maple-like leaves and sprays of red flowers that turn yellow as they mature. I grew it easily from seed this year and it’s performed rather well. Naturally, the question arose — Quis est nomen illius planta? — about a couple of hundred times. I was happy to answer, but the only name I had for the plant was the botanical name from the seed packet that I had stuck in my back pocket (be prepared).

The plant in question is Ipomoea lobata and it’s a member of the morning glory family, except it doesn’t look anything like a typical morning glory. Hence the Latin, except it made me sound so pretentious. I’ve since learned, however, that it’s also known as firecracker vine or Spanish flag, but since no one else appeared to know it by either of those names, I’m going to make up my own. Henceforth, in my garden, it will be known as the ‘question’ vine.

On the other hand, the true name of certain plants is used more often than the common one, especially if it doesn’t sound too botanical. I was frequently asked about a plant in the perennial bed. It has sword-like leaves and show stopping red flowers. I was happy to reply that the plant was Crocosmia. It’s sometimes called copper tip or falling stars, but those names don’t seem to be in use around here, so I’ll stick to the botanical name.

Crocosmia is a great plant and deserves to be grown more often. There are only a few varieties available, ranging from yellow to red. Cultivars go by the names ‘Lucifer’ (orange-red) ‘Jenny Bloom’ (orange buds open yellow), ‘Meteor’ (yellow tinged with orange), ‘Red King’ (red with orange-yellow center), and ‘Emily Mckenzie’ (orange). ‘Jacanapes’ is red and yellow while ‘Golden Fleece’ is lemon yellow. In a group planting, they’ll pop out flowers for a month or two, and they’re also excellent as a cut flower.

Crocosmia are small corms and are usually sold in time for spring planting. Look for them in bulb catalogues if you don’t spot them at a garden centre. They may not flower the first year, but then they reproduce nicely. Interestingly, they’re not supposed to be hardy in this region, and it’s often suggested they be lifted for the winter, 
yet mine have been coming back year after year without the slightest care. They aren’t too fussy about soil as long as it’s reasonably fertile and well drained.

If you have any doubts about their hardiness, plant them against the house in full to part sun, but I have hundreds of witnesses who can confirm that mine grow just fine in the middle of the garden, and they all know the correct botanical name, should anyone ask.

It's a pleasure to share, to discuss plants, and to answer questions from so many garden lovers, like "What’s the name of that plant?" Why, I frequently replied, it's Anonomenthanum something or other.

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