When Carl Linnaeus Meets T.S. Eliot

Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) on the Willow City Loop

I’ve always considered the phrase “flash of inspiration” to be mostly metaphorical, but it perfectly describes a recent experience. In the course of responding to my current post about Ferdinand Lindheimer on Lagniappe, Curt Mekemson said, “I find it appropriate and interesting that naturalists get to add their name to discoveries.”

In a flash, the phrase “the naming of plants” came to mind. It recalled T.S. Eliot’s wonderful poem, “The Naming of Cats.” In my response to his comment, I told Curt there was a parody demanding to be written, although I wasn’t certain Carl Linnaeus’s system of categorizing plants by genus and species could be contained in the form of a poem, and the fact that plant names are given in Latin only added to the challenge.

Nevertheless, the thought of having a little fun with binomial nomenclature — what botanists call those two-part names like Lupinus texensis — was appealing.  In fact, it was so appealing everything I’d been working on was set aside in favor of having a little pure fun.

If you’re not familiar with Eliot’s poem, you can hear a recording of him reading it here. If you already know “The Naming of Cats,” you’ll hear the echoes below. Whether Linnaeus would enjoy it, I can’t say. I’m sure that Eliot would, and I hope you do, too.

 

The naming of plants? It really does matter.
It isn’t correct to think all are the same.
You may think at first I’m indulging in patter,
but I tell you — a plant must have four different names!
First comes the name that tells us its genus —
Gaillardia, Solanum, Ilex or Phlox;
Clematis and Salvia,  Silphium, Quercus —
the Latin is easy, not hard as a rock.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
some for the cactus and some for the canes —
Monarda, Justicia, or even Lantana
make lovely and sensible Latinate names.
And then, every plant needs a name more particular,
a name that’s specific and quite dignified —
else how could it keep all its stems perpendicular,
spread out its anthers, or blossom with pride?
For namings of this sort, I ‘ll give you fair dozens:
lyrata, drummondii, frutescens, and more —
crispus, limosa, luteola, texensis —
those names help describe what we’re all looking for.
Of course, there are names by which most people call plants,
like violet, hollyhock, iris, and thyme;
there’s nothing more common than sweet dandelions,
or peaches, or rhubarb for making our wine.
But above and beyond, there’s one name left over,
and that is the Name that you never will guess;
the Name that no researcher ever discovers —
which the plant itself knows, but will not confess.
When you notice a bloom in profound meditation,
its rays sweetly folded, or its leaves well-arrayed,
its mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
of the seed of a thought of a thought of its Name:
its sturdy and windblown,
sunkissed and shadowed,
deep and firm-rooted most singular Name.

 

Comments always are welcome.

104 thoughts on “When Carl Linnaeus Meets T.S. Eliot

    1. Of course you may. I’d prefer that you share the link to the post, but if you want to pass on the poem itself, just give credit, and that will be fine. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It was wonderful fun to write.

        1. By the way: I keep forgetting to ask if you know about Woman Made Gallery in Chicago. An exhibit called “GrassRoots” is almost at the end of its run. You can see their page about it here. If I’d known about it earlier, when the call for submissions first was made, I would have passed it along.

          You might keep an eye on their site, and see when new submission calls are made. I’m not sure the next exhibit would be your cup of tea, since I don’t think you do collage, but you can look around the site and see what you think.

          1. Thanks, Linda. I’d forgotten about them and enjoyed visiting their website again. It has been years since I approached them. We are on an entirely different wavelength, but I like it that they are there.

            1. I’m not surprised about your “different wavelength” comment. While their current exhibition appeals to me, there are certain things in their self-description that point to a world-view quite different from my own.

    1. I was especially happy to find the recording of Eliot reading “The Naming of Cats.” It sounds to me as though he was having a good time with his poem, too. I’m glad you liked it, Nia: but of course, that doesn’t surprise me!

  1. Very well done. I did hear echos of T.S. in there. I will forward your post to one who is big on plant names and gardening. He will enjoy it.

    1. The trick with this sort of thing is finding a way to keep the feel of the original, without slavish one-to-one substitutions. I’m glad you caught the echoes, and enjoyed them. Thanks for passing it on, too. I hope your friend likes it.

    1. I thought about that when I added Ilex to the poem. I didn’t add it for that reason, but it did cross my mind. It’s one scientific name I can remember, because of the plant’s distinctive use. When I first became interested in plants, I was completely flummoxed by the names, but slowly, slowly, the system’s starting to make sense to me. I certainly wouldn’t have tried a poem, even a year ago. I’m glad you like it.

    1. It looks like you’re sharing our early summer temperatures — I hope you’re taking a little mid-day break, too. And I hope you had a nice morning with the flowers. Did you ask them to tell you their secret names/ More importantly — did they tell you?

      1. I did not think to ask their names. I simply tell them how gorgeous they are and thank them for delighting me every day. I often think of my grandmother’s, who always had some type of flowering plant or shrubs to care for in front of the house… despite having busy farm lives. Plants allow me to indulge another aspect of a nurturing nature within. Speaking to the posies just seems like the right thing to do! :)

        1. I understand completely. I talk to the mallards on the dock every day, and to the occasional squirrel who crosses my path. And, yes: I’ve been known to talk to a plant or two, as well. When I remember my own grandmother’s cutting garden, I realize how much thought she had to put into it. From earliest spring all the way through fall, there always were flowers to clip and bring into the house. Perhaps she coaxed them along with kind words, too.

  2. A beautiful poem. I particularly liked this;

    “When you notice a bloom in profound meditation,
    its rays sweetly folded, or its leaves well-arrayed,
    its mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
    of the seed of a thought of a thought of its Name:
    its sturdy and windblown,
    sunkissed and shadowed,
    deep and firm-rooted most singular Name”

    Each time I read this I feel it sums up our garden.

    1. What a lovely comment, Gerard. I think your garden must be beautiful. I know how much pleasure it gives you, and I’m glad this little post gave you pleasure, too. As you enter your winter months, will you have flowers still blooming? It doesn’t look as though freeze is a problem there, so perhaps you have at least some blooms that hang on, or cool weather plants that emerge.

    1. Thanks, Tina! It certainly was fun to write, and posting it was a pretty nice start to my day, too. The plants-plus-poetry combination sometimes gets a little too sweet and sentimental for my taste, but this seemed just right. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  3. I love your poem and poem that inspired it. Your talent never fails to impress me. I also love the term “flash of inspiration” so don’t be surprised if it shows up at my blog sometime.

    1. Some time ago — years, maybe — I wrote about a kaleidoscope as a metaphor for the creative process. I remembered that today, because it still seems like the best way of describing what happened with this post. Life gave my mind a twist, and all those little bits of experience and information formed a new, unexpected pattern. Of course, when one of those bits is T.S. Eliot, you’re ahead of the game.

      I’m glad you liked it. I’ll look forward to your “flashes” in the future.

  4. Beautifully done! The two poems belong together!

    Naming flowers seems to be one of the most puzzling of all things. First, who gathers the evidence which must be used to come up with the “common name”? Whoever it is must travel extensively and have a real ear tuned to hearing the colloquial.

    The “scientific name” ought to be very specific and authoritative, but if so, why does it get changed so often and so many times? When I try to look up a flower from a “scientific name” that was trusted a decade ago, it no longer appears, and an extensive search of the plant’s “common names” is usually required to find its new one.

    Someone, please, compile a reference based on the “deep and firm-rooted most singular Name”!

    1. Terry, when I first started paying attention to flowers, it was the most confusing thing in the world. Even the common names weren’t easy. Sometimes, the same common name referred to a dozen different plants, and sometimes a single plant had a dozen common names.

      Those name changes are something to deal with, too. I heard a speaker a few months ago who said the truth of the matter is that many (most?) of the name changes these days are due to people sitting in labs and analyzing DNA. The most amusing change I’ve bumped into recently involved gaura. The various species got moved from the genus Gaura to Oenothera. That’s all well and good, but the horticulturalists weren’t pleased, and decided to keep the name Gaura. I don’t know how things stand now.

      One of the most interesting and amusing stories I’ve read about the issues is titled “Why Do Taxonomists Write the Meanest Obituaries?”. I just took the time to re-read it, and I think you’d really enjoy it. In some ways, botany (especially in its earlier days) really was the wild, wild west.

      1. Thanks for that link! Besides being fascinating, it was sad and humorous and does explain a lot of what I’ve seen. It is actually just as difficult for an established scientist to correctly identify a plant as it is for an amateur, and probably both get confused by trying. I sincerely hope though that the matter never becomes political or all is lost!

    1. I’d never heard of itch weed. Eventually, by combining the plant name with your state, I found references to stinging nettle, and decided that must be it. I’m not sure I’ve seen that one, but I backed into some bull nettle a month or two ago, and it was a memorable experience. Very memorable. There’s a very specialized vocabulary that goes along with those plants, too.

    1. Now, that made me laugh — both the reference to your grim reaper posts, and also your comment about the challenging rhyme. Never in my life did I think I’d be sitting and searching for a two-syllable genus that rhymes with “genus,” or a three-syllable genus to round out a line. The things we do for art.

    1. When inspiration comes to visit, I never turn it away. “Ideas” can be tucked into draft files and dealt with later, but true inspiration needs to be tended to before the breath goes out of it. Thanks for the kind words — I do appreciate them.

  5. Wow! I second all the compliments above, this is wonderful. I agree with Gerard Oosterman about the conclusion, just terrific, and I also especially think “keep all its stems perpendicular, spread out its anthers, or blossom with pride?” applies to you! You deserve to strut a bit for this one. :)

    1. I am happy with it, no question about that. On the other hand, as I’ve mentioned, when you’re starting with Eilot, you’re already halfway there.

      The biggest change (apart from the subject matter) was regularizing the rhythm while including those plant names. And the bits that you like? Lots of observation, and a little imagination, mixed with a conviction that there’s always a secret hidden away in the heart of reality.

  6. Oh, my goodness! That was just delightful!

    I had to wait until I quit laughing to try to post a comment. As you know, I’m one of those ‘Cat Ladies’ and am very familiar with T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Naming of Cats.’ Twisting that into ‘The Naming of Plants’ is genius. hehehehehe

    1. Remember “The Grinch That Stole Graphics”? And the cat carols? It’s interesting to me that the parodies I’ve tried all are based in poetry. I suspect it’s the rhythm and the sounds that evoke the association, rather than more abstract ideas.

      In any event, I’m glad to have made you laugh. My sense of humor can be a little twisted at times, but in this case, I don’t think I’m in much danger of offending anyone: unless it might be a stray botanist who didn’t approve of that fourth name.

      1. Poetry lends itself to parody extremely well. I think you’re right: it’s the rhythm or cadence.

        I sent a link to my cousin, who is a Cat Lady and Master Gardener. I’m sure she’ll get a kick out of this!

  7. Bravo! Eliot would love it as well. I’m waiting to hear what Curt has to comment. Now I will take a turn around the garden to see if I can figure out what the flora are plotting. It’s clear that the animals carry on their own meditation, why not the plants?

    1. There have been some intriguing studies done on the secret life of plants. A few I’ve read are a little “out there,” but it’s clear that plants respond to their environment, and even to each other. So, why not a garden coup? Be careful, Kayti — be very, very careful. Perhaps you should keep Charlie close by, just in case.

    1. That’s the best kind of compliment, Lex. Holding the attention of someone who (speaking honestly here) isn’t really that interested in the subject at hand is happy-making for a writer!

    1. That’s kind of you to say, Lisa. You’ve also made me laugh, because you’ve reminded me of my all-time favorite Twitter bio, which happens to belong to someone I know. It reads: “Husband, father, social scientist, writer, Madisonian. Or: right-wing ideologue, pseudoscientist, evil. Opinions differ.”

      It’s a fact that one person’s “brilliant and creative” can be someone else’s “quirky, eccentric, and idiosyncratic,” but I’ll accept your judgment with thanks, and try to live up to it.

  8. Aah Linda, you have done it again. You are too clever and talented. I like all the verses and it’s difficult to pick just one as did Gerard. Just like the naming of cats, it’s catchy. Don’t know if that’s really a pun or not but it just happened. I might want to share this one as well as the other blogger and so I’m asking permission. I’m not sure if I ever will and if I have your permission and re-blog, I will of course include your link and your name. Here’s to a salute to naming of plants. I loved it.

    1. Of course you can share it, Yvonne. I prefer not to have pieces reblogged, but I’d never object to a link on your blog, or a posting on Facebook, or whatever. I’m just happy that you enjoyed it.

      Now, your own little word play has me wondering: why do we have dog-catchers, but not cat-catchers? I’ve never thought about that before.

      It surprises me to remember a time when I knew only a few flowers’ names. It’s enjoyable to know more now, and to know the scientific names of a few. I enjoy finding and photographing them, but trying to identify them is fun, too. There still are plenty that I haven’t sorted out — especially all of our lovely yellow ones. I’m sure there aren’t a million, but sometimes it seems that way.

      1. You have a point about cat catchers. Actually it’s cat trappers and that’s what I used to do with feral colonies and then get them “fixed,” vaccinated and, released if it was feasible.

        The yellow flowers are another matter. There are many in the composite family (hope I got that right). I once upon a time knew a fair share but then left that area and devoted myself to animal rescue and pet photography.

        I think you have gotten very good at identification as well as photography.

        1. You’re right, Yvonne. When it comes to cats, trapping is easier than catching, although even trapping isn’t the easiest thing in the world. You’re right about composites, too — the ones that have both ray and disk flowers, like sunflowers. One of the first bits of flower-jargon I learned was “DYC.” It stands for “darned yellow composites” — unless the person trying to identify the plant is really frustrated, and substitutes another word for “darned.”

  9. Now wasn’t that just the sweetest poem ever! Brilliantly thought out. Very clever of you to have a mind to do it. I had never connected T. S. Eliot with such a fun poem. The other fellow who inspired this event – well, my thanks to him, but I’ll probably never know anymore about him than my friend, Linda, tells me. She does take me into so many unknown places! :D

    1. “The Naming of Cats” is taken from Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which was the basis of the musical, “Cats.” There are some other of Eliot’s poems that have echoes in the musical, and I love them all. I often quote from his “Four Quartets,” but haven’t often had a chance to make use of Old Possum — I was glad to have that chance now.

      Curt’s a neat guy. We were in Liberia at different times, but in exactly the same neighborhood. In fact, I taught in the town where he lived, and we shopped at the same market — another example of the “small world” phenomenon. I think you’d enjoy his blog.

      1. I enjoyed his story of his lost friend, Bob. Left a follow. Enjoyable reading but it takes a special kind of writer to keep me for eight minutes. You have set a record with me – and sometimes I even wanted more! :D

        1. I think that’s what they say in the show business world — always leave them wanting more. I’m tickled you’ve had that experience here. As for Curt, that was quite a tale — one I’d rather read about than live.

  10. I love the poem. My father was a Botanist and as a small boy I learnt quite a few of the complicated Latin names for plants and wild flowers (long forgotten). A distant ancestor of ours was Joseph Dalton Hooker – director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. He visited the Himalayas and popularised Rhododendrons amongst many other things, and his name was added to the Latin names of a number of species. I can’t recall a specific name to mind but we saw one quite recently on one of our recent garden visits.

    1. As it happens, one of my favorite native Texas plants bears your ancestor’s name: Hooker’s eryngno, or Eryngium hookeri. I saw it first in photos, and spent a couple of years looking for it. Finally, I found some two years ago.

      It’s interesting that he popularized the rhododendron, too. Have you heard of Dorothy Draper? After WWII, she took on the redesign of the popular Greenbrier Resort. The theme was “Romance and Rhododendrons,” and it was completely over the top — and rather beautiful. Architectural Digest has a nice overview here. There’s a link to a slideshow just under the header photo that gives a taste of it all.

      I’m happy you like my little poem, and I’m happy to have been introduced to Joseph Hooker. I see he was aboard the Erebus for one of his voyages. That’s another connection worth exploring.

      1. Yes, I had heard about Dorothy Draper and seen the interiors. Eryngium Hookeri is a rather grand specimen. I’m puzzled how he ended up having his name associated with a Texan plant as I don’t think he ventured to the USA.

        1. The erygno isn’t solely a Texas plant. Whether he made it to Texas, I don’t know, but in 1877, his last expedition took him to the Rocky Mountains and California, where some species of erygno are native.

  11. Oh, delightful fun! My father used to read The naming of cats and the other poems to me when I was little. I took my parents to Cats when it played in the Washington, DC area, and gave my father the album. My sister would love the plant version….

    1. I saw the musical Cats in Kansas City, with some cousins and the aunt who read the Eliot poem to us when we were younger. All of this cat-plant associating finally led me to wonder: what is the scientific name for catnip? It turns out that it’s Nepeta cataria — and that specific epithet means, “pertaining to cats.”

  12. This is a delightful romp (Do you think cats and plants share common origin? Sometimes they have so much in common HAHA)
    Is this what you read recently? “Plants listen out for the sound of dripping water when they’re thirsty, scientists have discovered. They can sense water in a flowing pipe – or even a buzzing insect – by detecting the vibrations the water makes, experts claim.”

    Seems plant whisperers had more secrets than they were willing to share? Newest job requirement: must speak plant.
    Cool post

    1. No, the article I came across was in Nautilus magazine, I think. But the sense of it was similar — that rooted plants have a more complex sense of their environment than we’ve realized.

      As for “speaking plant,” there are people who seem to have the ability. That reminded me of the expression about someone having “a green thumb.” It seems to be a relatively modern idiom, with some fun explanations.

  13. Oh, I can hear how much fun you had with this one, Linda — well done! Isn’t it amazing to be able to turn a phrase like this and have people enjoy it so much?!

    You posted that picture of Texas Bluebonnets just for me, didn’t you?? I love them, you know! I recall one early trip between Dallas and Denton when the highway was ablaze with them, and I knew then that Texas would become my home. For a while at least!

    1. Debbie, I was a bit surprised at how easily this came together — and it was great fun. Imagining the cat-plant connection was the creativity, I suppose. After that, with Eliot’s template to follow, it was simply a matter of fleshing it out.

      I did remember that you like bluebonnets when I choose this. Bluebonnets had the additional advantage of having a scientific name that’s easy to interpret, so in they went. I’m glad you enjoyed them, too. Did you know that Texas has an official state flower song, too? Of course the song’s about bluebonnets!

    1. And how sweet you are to say so, Dina. The good news is that I have a cat right here next to me who is committed to making sure I never think too highly of myself; that allows me to accept such a nice compliment without risking a swelled head.

      I am glad you liked my little ditty. I’m envisioning your garden right now, thinking Lindheimer would enjoy a chance to do a little botanizing there. While he was at it, perhaps you could persuade him to help organize, too!

    1. And of course I did read it aloud, all through the writing process. With poetry — especially poetry with a strong meter — there’s no other way to be sure the lilt comes through. And I’m glad you found it fun. As far as I know, a little fun’s never killed anyone. Sometimes, it can be life-giving.

  14. You are a clever wordsmith, Linda. I enjoyed your poem and will send it to my friend Donna, who is a landscape designer, master gardener, and owner of a major citrus nursery in Watsonville, CA. She knows those taxonomies of which you write.

    As for Mr. Elliot.

    Had he only stayed as light and clever as he did with Practical Cats.

    I taught the Waste Land, Prufrock, and the Hollow Men for many years.

    Although Eliot won the Nobel Prize, although he has been hailed as the first genius of Modernism, although he was brilliant…I am not sure that I really like any of his poetry. Sometimes, I don’t think it is that good. (Oh boy…what a blasphemous thing to say!)

    1. Well, if I’d been stuck with “The Waste Land,” “Prufrock,” and “The Hollow Men” for years, I might have a different opinion of Eliot, too. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to pick and choose, and my favorites are the “Four Quartets” and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” although even within the Quartets there are portions I ignore. But the practical cats? The whimsy is wonderful, and his insight into the feline mind is second to none.

      Would it be fair to say we can appreciate a poet’s (painter’s, composer’s, novelist’s, essayist’s) work without having to like it? I surely hope so, because there are a few with substantial reputations that I prefer to ignore.

      1. Your question in paragraph two is a curious one. Can we appreciate the winning mincemeat pie at the fair if we don’t like mincemeat?

        Can we put aside a writer’s personal life and appreciate his/her craft?

        Asking either of these questions generated hours of debate.

        If we know that Eliot was an anti-Semite (or whatever), does it take more work to truly appreciate his art?

        What about Pound and his cantos?

        Or Mailer?

        1. Interesting. I wasn’t thinking at all of an artist’s personal life. Instead, I was thinking of a situation like this: I’d never hang a Jackson Pollock on my wall, and my eyes glaze over when I find his work in a museum. But I think the history of his artistic development is fascinating: particularly his time with Thomas Hart Benton. It’s interesting to trace his journey from American regionalism to abstract expressionism, and I can appreciate his later work. But I don’t like it.

          I’ve been trying to think through this. It seems to me that back in the early days of “the personal is the political” and “everything is relative,” the division between the artist and the work began to blur. Judging a work became more and more a matter of judging its creator, for good or for ill.
          But there’s a difference between saying, “This book is good, even though its author is a total imbecile [amoral jerk, manipulative swine — whatever]” and saying, “I don’t like the way that person lives, so I’m not going to read what he or she writes.” Granted, there are books I don’t read, and films I won’t see — but that has to do with their content.

          Anyway, those are a few scattered thoughts. And by the way — if you don’t want that mincemeat pie, I’d be happy to take it off your hands.

  15. You had fun with this one. T.S. Eliot had his tongue as firmly in cheek as you did yours.

    And naming things is what men do. It’s their job. After creation, the first thing Adam did when he woke up in Eden was give names to everything. (And then they get geeky about it and invent systems of nomenclature, and classification systems, etc.) But it is a bit overweening to call our own species “Thinking Man” — I’ve noticed a distinct lack of thinking in our species, particularly lately. — “Naming Man” might be more apt. (And you will notice I’m skirting the whole issue of how wrong it is for a select few of the members of our species to arbitrarily and rather high-handedly to give our species a name (“Homo” meaning “Man”) which categorically excludes over half the members of the species.)

    The first thing that came to mind, though, was the poem by Henry Reed, “The Naming of Parts” http://www.solearabiantree.net/namingofparts/namingofparts.php and it’s chilling juxtaposition of two very antithetical realities.

    You also raise an interesting point — and one people all too often forget. The name is not the thing. What we call something has no effect on the thing itself. It’s going to be what it is,whether we give it a name or not, and regardless of what name we give it. The old childhood chant: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is one aspect of this idea. So is Shakespeare’s “That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell just as sweet.”

    Which reminds me of a sterling moment from the old B.C. newspaper comic by Johnny Hart. B.C. has found a new animal he’s never seen before. It has a bushy tail, clawed front feet, a long snout and a stringy tongue, but he can’t figure out what to call it. Thor asks him what its most outstanding characteristic is. B.C. replies that it eats ants. And Thor says, “Well, there you are. It’s an eatanter.”

    And then there is the idea in some magical systems that if you know something’s “TRUE NAME”, then that gives you power over it.

    And then there is that wonderful cat in the novel “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman, who tells the titular heroine, “Cats don’t need names. We know who we are.”

    1. Actually, Linnaeus was the one who gave us Homo sapiens. In the binomial system, we’re a subspecies — Homo sapiens sapiens, — and despite our modern sensibilties, the designation was meant to cover both male and female, just as it does for dioecious plants, and animals. Linnaeus’s goal was to include, not exclude.

      As for the specific epithet, sapiens, a more accurate translation would be wise, with echoes of sensible, or judicious. The word even lingers in our English language as “sapient,” “sapience,” and “sapiential.” Still, your point about a lack of critical thought is apt. There’s not a whole lot of useful cogitating going on right now.

      I take your point about a name not affecting the thing itself, but anyone who’s ever been “called a name” might have a different view. What intrigued me in Liberia was the other side of the coin. People often changed their names as their sense of identity changed: tribal names got Americanized, while western names might change back to tribal.

      As for the magical power of names, there was a Liberian proverb that said, “Don’t name your children until the measles has passed.” Kids often weren’t named until they were older — perhaps presuming that, without a name, the evil spirits wouldn’t see them and would pass them by. As a result, children often were named after the day of the week on which they were born. There were a lot of Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays running around!

      That line by the cat in Coraline is so true it’s scary.

  16. Absolutely brilliant! Excellent hommage to Eliot – and so well done in serving the naming of plants!

    As a person who has worked with plants for a living for over 20 years, I am completely delighted with your efforts. And yes, the Latin does add a whole new dimension and complexity to the problem, but you’ve handled it so very well!

    This is truly, wonderfully well done :)

    1. Such nice comments. I’m happy you stopped by, and I’m especially glad you enjoyed my bit of fun. That such a connection even came to mind is evidence that I’ve been hanging around plants long enough now to be able to play with them as well as study them — always a nice transition. It especially surprised me that the Latin worked in as well as it did. My 8th grade Latin teacher would be pleased!

      Thanks again for stopping and commenting. You’re always welcome here.

      1. I never had the chance to study Latin – actually a regret for me, but it wasn’t part of the curriculum in my days, but it would be most useful to know, I think!

        One again, great delight in this piece – and thanks for the warm welcome :)

  17. Linda, you have surpassed yourself! Outstanding! I’m happy to be left with the final image of a plant “feeling” its own name, which we’ll never know. A little unknowing is good for the soul.

    1. Now that we’ve moved from the information age to this new age of — well, of whatever it is — the thought of anyone or anything having secrets seems unbearably retro. Still, it’s true. There are things we never can know, and there are times simply to appreciate the mysteries that refuse to be revealed.

      Your comment about a little unknowing being good for the soul reminded me of the 14th century spiritual classic, The Cloud of Unknowing. Its author asserts that “This Unknowing is, paradoxically, a kind of knowing by not knowing,” and that brings up another interesting connection to T.S. Eliot. His “Four Quartets” are laced through with passages like this:

      “In order to arrive at what you do not know
      You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
      In order to possess what you do not possess
      You must go by the way of dispossession.
      In order to arrive at what you are not
      You must go through the way in which you are not.
      And what you do not know is the only thing you know
      And what you own is what you do not own
      And where you are is where you are not.”

      I still remember my response when I first confronted that passage: “Gobbledygook!” Now, many years later? It’s clear that Eliot understood the value of a little unknowing.

    1. Here’s a closer view for you. The white tip is characteristic. You probably know that it’s the state flower of Texas, and it’s beloved. The great spring ritual is the photo-in-bluebonnets. Wildseed farm in Fredericksburg, which grows acres of them, sets aside a special area for photo-taking, just so people aren’t tempted to trample their fields.

    1. I never would have imagined a “binomial poem” — until I wrote one! I think all of us who’ve tried to deal with Linnaeus’s system have been variously frustrated, bemused, confused, and flummoxed. It took some time for me even to grasp even the basics of it, but it certainly does help make identification more precise.

      Still, there’s a place for common names, too. Not everyone is a botanist, and precision isn’t required to appreciate a flower.

  18. And a perfect title for your delightful poem, Linda! I’ve never learned to pronounce much of the Latin names, much less spell them, but I smiled through your clever cross-over poem.

    1. One of the great benefits of joining the Native Plant Society of Texas is being around people who know their plants well enough to actually use the scientific name in conversation. Another benefit is being with people who are just as new at this as I am, so there’s no embarrassment in asking for a spelling, or a repeat pronunciation.

      I thought about you when I posted about Lindheimer’s gaura on Lagniappe. When the taxonomists changed that genus to Oenothera, the horticulturalists demurred, and continued referring to the genus as Gaura. I wondered if the same thing happens in the rose world. I assume that all of those wonderful names you use are the names of cultivars. Who decides on those names? Is it like any other new species, and the “discoverer” or developer gets to choose?

  19. Oh, ho, this is brilliant, brilliant. The naming of plants is SO much like the naming of cats. I recall to mind a weed that grew in our garden on Long Island. I don’t actually remember its proper name, but we called it “bean weed.” Not terribly instructive. What I remember reading about it in a Weed-Lover’s book was that its seeds were viable for up to forty years, and surely someone more clever than I am (a wide field, to be sure), could come up with the perfect name in an instant. As for the plant’s own name for itself? A secret never to be revealed.

    1. I’d be willing to bet that your bean weed is in the pea family. There are so many plants in that family that make pretty substantial bean-like seed pods. Even the bluebonnet I showed up above has that kind of seed.
      I had no idea seeds could remain viable that long. Silly me. I found an article on tests done over the years, and those legumes (your “bean weed”?) were sometimes still ready to get up and grow after a hundred and more years.

      Whatever name the weeds give themselves, it surely reflects their persistence.

  20. What a delightful poem, and thanks for the link as well! I was so happy to catch the line about rhubarb wine, a treat I make most summers. In our first home it grew in spades, but now we have a bit too much shade, and so I have taken to driving out in Mennonite country, where it is sold at the end of lanes. Not a bad way to get rhubarb, I’d say!

    1. See? My midwestern roots are showing. Dandelion and rhubarb wine were staples when I was growing up, as were rhubarb and strawberry pies and jams. And you’ve found one of the best ways to get your supply. When I was in Kansas last fall, I was surprised to find Mennonite communities there. In fact, my first clue was coming upon a barn that was being constructed the old-fashioned way — that, and the sign that said something like, “This portion of highway is being maintained by the Mennonite 4-H Club.” Past and present joined, in a wholly delightful way.

  21. Yay! First, sorry to take so long to get back to this, Linda. There’s been a lot of Curtis-Interruptus lately, to put a Latin twist on things. But what a great and humorous job you’ve done. I am sure that jaunty Jellylorum would purr with pride. (Cats, BTW, is one of my all-time favorite musicals.)
    I just counted 11 books on my shelves totally dedicated to wild flowers and plants, not to mention numerous other natural history books that devote numerous pages to out petaled friends. So your poem was particularly enjoyable to me! Glad I could provide a bit of inspiration. –Curt

    1. You know there’s no “late” around here, Curt — especially for a Muse. They get to come and go as they please, and generally do. I’ve adored Eliot’s poem from the time I first read it, and I did enjoy Cats — although I confess to preferring the poem, especially with a good reading.

      I’m not surprised you enjoyed the flowery side of things. You always seem to include a few in your posts, and they’re great complements to the more dramatic mountains and coasts. It’s been fascinating to learn a bit about the related species you have (lupines come to mind), as well as to enjoy the photos. There never can be too many flowers — or too much fun.

    1. Thanks so much for visiting, and for your kind words. I suppose there might be people in the world who don’t admire and enjoy Old Possum, but I haven’t met one yet. Some characters are more memorable than others.

      For that matter, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like bluebonnets. Some like them more than others, I suppose, but they do decorate our spring wonderfully well. I’m glad you enjoyed them!

  22. Nicely done, Linda! Now, do one on birds, for me. -:)) And, beautiful flowers in the pic. Wish I could have the floral profusion of your neck of the woods but our lovely weather. (Not too hot, not too cold now)

    1. I’m thinking, I’m thinking… A bird poem parody didn’t come to mind right away, but then I thought of some wonderful photo series you’ve done, and thought, “Quoth the owlet: bring some more!” There just might be some possibilities there, given the voracious appetites of baby birds.

      I’m so glad to hear you’re enjoying some nice weather. We’re moving beyond spring into summer now, and it’s hot. It’s not unusually hot; it’s just always a shock to remember, “Ah, yes. This is what it’s like — and will be until October.” I hope you’re getting out and enjoying the weather a bit. I miss your bird photos!

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