I am on a kick of looking at how we humans agree to certain classifications. No matter what your background, political affiliation or gender we can usually agree on the common names of at least a few plants. Indeed, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” So roses, violets and daises are pretty recognizable and carnations if you ever ushered in a wedding.
But unless you spent your summers taking walks with my grandmother, as I did, you probably didn’t see or learn about some of these floral gems. Join me as I speculate (conjure up out of thin air) how these wildflowers got their names. A visit to the swamp or pond would always be a visit to “Jack-in-the-Pulpit”, a stem inside what looked like a medieval pulpit awning splendorous in green and purple strips. But which intrepid traveler had seen both the cathedrals of Europe and then slogged through American muddy swamps naming things? “Dutchman’s Breeches” looked more like pantaloons on a clothes line. Albeit for teeny tiny beetle sized men of Holland. There was always “Skunk Cabbage” which I hope no one ate to decide the name because the smell alone could kill you. “Lady’s Slippers” on the other side of the spectrum were rare and a delicate pink and in the orchid family. I suppose, at some angle, they looked like a petite slipper, if it was marked a triple wide. My favorite swamp flower was the “Marsh Mallows” which were often yellow and not resembling a s’more in any way shape or form. But still the name made me laugh. I think I laughed much more easily when I was four.
Out in the fields were large stands of wild carrot aka “Queen Anne’s Lace” which only made sense when later in life I saw a portrait of said Queen with copious amounts of folded lace around her wee face. “The Queen’s Collar” would have been easier to understand. And close by were “Black-Eyed Susans” a bit tougher than her ladyship. “Foxglove” come later in the summer. I guess the white ones looked like a fox paw to someone in the boonies. Someone with a tad too much moonshine, me thinks. “Baby’s Breath” must have been named back when there was no central heating system in the dead of winter…a little cloud of white of moisture. Well at least someone was watching to see if the baby was still breathing. “Johnny Jump Ups” are small pansy-type flowers that indeed do jump up. That is, after a while, the flower shoots up on a five-inch stem almost overnight. But why Johnny? What was his deal? First one up to help with the dishes, or first one out the door avoiding work? “Loose Strife” and “Fever Few” probably had to do with healing and maybe “Bee Balm” unless that just helped the bees. There is a wild flower called “Bride’s Feathers.” That has me puzzled. Where do brides sprout feathers? Although I am sure a few feathers have been jammed into ensembles at the “Elvis Wedding Chapel” in Vegas.
Next are my nominees for Rock Band Names: “Rocket Larkspur”, “Catchfly”, “Dead Nettle” aka “Purple Arch Angel”, “Siberian Wallflower”, “Witches Thimble”, “Ragged Robin”, “Farewell to Spring”, “Blooming Sally”, “Toadflax”, “Devil’s Tomato”, and “Duck Potato.” And my number one Rock Band name of all time goes to “Hot-rock Beard Tongue.”
So grab a guide book and take a walk on the wild side.
Sally Franz and her third husband live on the Olympic Peninsula. She has two daughters, a stepson, and three grandchildren. Sally is the author of several humor books including Scrambled Leggs: A Snarky Tale of Hospital Hooey and The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Menopause. She hosts a local radio humor segment, “Baby Boomer Humor with Sassy Sally”.