Thursday, June 16, 2011

UGLY NAMES, LOVELY FLOWER


As a card-carrying arachnophobe—at least when it comes to humongous eight-legged critters—you might therefore logically guess I'm not a big fan of applying the word spider to even part of a plant's name. Why go there and inadvertently dredge up all those sinister connotations? Thus, spider plant, spider lily, and spider wort are not high on my list of favorite plant names…though the latter, the Ohio spiderwort, is as pretty a wildflower as you've ever seen. 

Yes, I know that in the old herbals, the suffix wort once indicated a plant's supposed medicinal usefulness, generally in treating whatever the prefix named. In this case, spiderwort might have been thought a treatment for spider bites. (See what I mean about all those menacing connotations?) 

Of course, another common name for the same plant is cow slobber—which is just plain disgusting. And I've been slobbered on by enough cows over the years to have a right to that opinion. However, should you think you've heard the worst of the names, I say the apex of appellation indignities vested upon this lovely native wildflower is snotweed, which is simply too gross to dwell upon even in jest. Talk about being a three-time loser in the name game!

Both of these last two loathsome names come from the fact that when the plant's stem is damaged or broken, long, shiny strings of juice leak out. Incidentally, some texts claim it's the resemblance of these long juice strands to the silk of a spider's web that gives the plant its name…but because of the usual herbal "wort" linking to use in treatment, I frankly have my doubts.

Ohio spiderwort is often found around prairies, and that's where I photographed these plants yesterday, in a little prairie patch just up the road. Spiderworts are dayflowers, each blossom lasts only a day, and most of the time—the exception being heavily overcast days—the flowers seldom stay open past noon. Typically, the blooms tend more toward shades of purple and violet. However, as you can see, these flowers were decidedly on the blue end of the scale.   

What's in a name? In the case of the Ohio spiderwort, a lot prettier flower than you might imagine.
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26 comments:

Beyond My Garden said...

This post is really interesting to me. I love words and their etymologies. "Wort" actually comes from very old English for "root" or It also evolved into the first syllable of raddish) I think it was "wyrt." Maybe if we check the root of spiderwort it will have that same slobbery, snottiness. It is raining now or I would go check my plant. (and if I wasn't basically lazy.) Your right, it is not a pretty name in any of those versions. Perhaps your commenters could come up with something better. Maybe call it a "blue slippery" or "collagenous blue"? Your turn.
nellie

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ-
Great picture, great 'name-play' :-), great post!
Love to you always
Gail
peace......

Julie Baumlisberger said...

Tradescantia is one of my favourite spring time perennials, and I have 3 different colours of them in my gardens!..I do agree, though, "spiderwort" does not sound very pretty. I just love that every morning, it's vivid blue or purple or white flowers appear as fresh as can be, only to say goodbye by late afternoon...repeating this cycle day after day. Lovely green foliage, great hardiness...Thank you for the pictures :D

Grace said...

Snotweed! Hardly seems fair when you consider other weeds with names such as jewelweed and Pearly everlasting:)But at least spiderwort as witchy connotations!

Mila said...

You take such gorgeous photographs of flowers. Such amazing detail. I feel as if I can touch and smell them.

These flowers are so beautiful and iridescent. Maybe your readers will come up with some interesting names for such lovely flowers.

Grizz………… said...

Nellie (BMG)…

Like you, I've also always enjoyed the history of words. And you're right re. "wort." Its lineage descends from the Old English (wyrt), Old Saxon (wurt), Old and Modern High German (wurz), Old Norse (urt), and Gothic (waurt), historically employed as the secondary element in many plant names, especially the roots of pot herbs or plants used medicinally.

Its connection with radishes was shared by various members of the Brassica family, which also includes cabbages. But the word "radish" is derived from the Latin "radix" which means "root," which is the connection that gets us back to wort.

Now, no offense…but I'm thinking "blue slippery" is something that sounds like it ought to be written into your homeowner's policy, while "collagenous blue" might be a disease related to poor circulation or repeated frostbite—though both are arguably better than spiderwort, cow slobber, or snotweed. But hey, you're certainly more creative than the original namers. :-)))

Grizz………… said...

Gail…

Thank you…and I take it you're still in remodel phase. Have fun and take care!

Grizz………… said...

Julie…

I've already decided I'm going to add spiderwort to my cottage garden this fall (to give the seeds the necessary stratifying time). Everyone who grows it seems to love it—and the flowers are just lovely. I'm going to stick with the native, Tradescantia ohiensis.

Grizz………… said...

Grace…

Well, if pressed, I'd absolutely choose spiderwort over snotweed or cow slobber…but none seem appropriate for the flower.

Hey, my witchy thoughts typically go to tongue of bat and eye of newt, not spiders. I refuse to employ spider-wielding witches. I say if they can't do a simple wart-on-the-nose hex, money spell, long-term curse, or instant-action love potion done without resorting to arachnids, they need to turn in their Witches Union card, and I need to take my business elsewhere!

Grizz………… said...

Mila…

Thank you. Really, it's hard to NOT take good shots of such beauties—focus and snap is about all I have to do. But I always hope the image does whatever I'm photographing justice—so if you feel like you can inhale their subtle fragrance and feel the soft petals, then I've succeeded.

Kelly said...

...the blue of this petal is so soft and cheerful...we really should start a petition to have this plant renamed! :-)

Bonnie said...

Names of almost anything conjure up memories, feelings, reactions, prejudices, beliefs ... What's in a name? A lot!

Beautiful photographs as always Grizz.

Grizz………… said...

Kelly…

Alas, we're probably a couple of centuries too late…but it's a nice "if only" thought, nonetheless.

Now what you could do is paint a nice prairie scene with two or three soft and cheerful blue Ohio spiderworts a'bloom in the foreground and, say, a male red-wing blackbird, scarlet epaulets showing as he tilts on a up-and-coming coneflower, in the background. That'd be pretty cool…

Grizz………… said...

Bonnie…

Isn't it interesting how we prejudge or react to names? Names are so much more than simply an arrangement of letters into syllables…are indeed something more than words. Names can carry the weight of magic.

Robin said...

I always get a kick out of your posts about wild/native/field flowers, mostly because what you have strewn about in great numbers.... just there for the pickin', I've got in my garden center selling for 6.95 and up.

The sad thing is that a.) people here don't realize how common they are in other places and b.) seldom buy them. So many of these beautiful plants have such delicate, fleeting flowers that no one wants them.

When I DO see a customer buying them, I know it's out of true appreciation for the plant and not the show it's going to give to the neighbors.

Thanks for showcasing Cow Slobber. I shall never forget.

Grizz………… said...

Robin…

Funny, there have been any number of times when I've thought of you up there in your big-box garden center—wondering if you have this or that plant, what it costs, whether anyone likes it, etc. I see some of them in my local Lowe's…and have very mixed emotions about the whole business, mostly because—and I know this sounds pathetically silly—I feel bad about the plants no one seems to want. If I had your job, I'd probably become a sort of plant-retailer version of Chris Morley's old bookman in Parnassus On Wheels. (And probably get canned inside a month!)

There was a really neat documentary you may have watched on PBS a couple of seasons ago, about a guy who has this fabulous garden somewhere down south, which he's done single-handed using plants nurseries and garden centers couldn't sell, didn't want, were broken, near-dead, misshapen, and have thrown away. He has acres and acres of gardens, and regularly receives tour buses of appreciative visitors. There are some real lessons in there…

The thing about Ohio spiderwort is that it has a long blooming season—practically all summer once it begins—plus it's not at all fuzzy about requirements. So it's a really good choice for gardens.

Mark said...

I was told to check out your blog, and I'm glad I did. Beautiful photos, and enjoy your writing. Didn't know Ohio was so beautiful.

Grizz………… said...

Mark…

Hey, I'm grateful that someone pointed you this way, that you came over for a visit, and liked what you saw. You're always welcome.

I think Ohio's natural diversity surprises many folks, including long-time residents who've never really gotten to know their home state. We certainly have our share of cities and shopping malls and industrial areas, plus lots of soybean and corn fields. But we also have Lake Erie to the north and the Ohio River to the south, the Appalachian foothills in the southeast, and the rolling farmlands and woodlands in the southwest, where I live, which includes numerous pastoral rivers and creeks, and any number of natural "pocket" prairies, plus, nowadays, planted prairies. A lot more pretty county than you'd guess.

Again, welcome to Riverdaze!

Robin said...

Well, you can rest a little easier. Unlike the OTHER Big Box Store, we have a clearance area and my customers love it. I troll around with a cart picking out this and that and marking it down right there.... then put it on the clearance racks. Last weekend I had people waiting to see what I would drop off each time.

Also we're supposed to mark it down only a certain amount but with a nod from my managers, I put them at rock bottom prices... which means that they will go home.

A few people turn their nose's up at them, but many people have entire gardens from them (and bring me pictures) and most are like the gigantic man who came in last weekend and said in a booming voice, "I LOVE THIS AREA!"

Grizz………… said...

Robin…

Really, that's just great to hear—I just wish every store did the same. Often, folks who would like to have a certain plant simply can't afford full retail, but would be able to buy at a good discount. It makes no sense to me to throw away stuff as opposed to selling it cheaper…or even giving it away. I know folks who've landscaped their yards with trees and plants retrieved from the dumpster! We are just too wasteful in this country.

Kelly said...

...that does sound like a cool painting, Grizz! The red-orange flash of the red-wing's epaulets is a natural complement to the blue. I've never painted a full prairie scene...sounds fun!

Scott said...

The flower's lovely, I'll admit, but I think that the plant is sort of coarse--all green, gangly leaves with little floral payoff. I'm not adding it to my garden. And, for a name, why not just use Tradescantia--it rolls off the tongue musically (in my opinion)--and has no negative connotations (of which I'm aware)?

Grizz………… said...

Kelly…

If you give it a shot—and I really wasn't kidding—let me know and email me a jpeg. I think it world be a neat start to doing Ohio wildflowers with related birds in the background. You certainly have the talent to pull it off.

Grizz………… said...

Scott…

Hey, I like you name suggestion, though it lacks anything of the "folklorish" feel, but then those folksy folks are the ones to blame for spiderwort, cow slobber, and snotweed…so they obviously can't be trusted.

I'll part ways, however, re. the plant's appearance. In fact, I bought three or four yesterday. I like its looks, and love the flowers. And after all, a rose is just a thorny green runner with lovely, fragrant flowers—not so much to look at, either, apart from the blooms.

Send Flowers Online said...

Wow these pics are so lush and splendid! Thanks for providing some visual relief over here.

Grizz………… said...

Send Flowers Online…

They are, indeed. Thank you.