“What’s that?” a neighbor asked the other day. “It’s a Lychnis Chalcedonia,” I answered, enthusiastically. She laughed and asked, “No, I mean, what’s its real name?!” I paused, thinking I had already told her the real name. She sensed my hesitation and asked, “What’s its street name?!” “Oh,” I said, “It’s a Maltese Cross.”
Even though I’m a language geek, I used to think that people who used botanical names for plants were snobs or show offs. After taking a botany class, however, I learned that botanical names provide a universal method of communication. I learned that common names vary from region to region, but botanical names are the same worldwide. An example is Aegopodium, which is called Snow on the Mountain, Bishop’s Weed, Gout Weed, and Ground Elder depending on the region you’re in. A guy told me Saturday he called Mondara “Firecracker flower” because they were blooming at the Fourth of July and they looked like exploding fireworks. Up to then, the only common name I’ve heard for Monarda is “bee balm.”
On the worldwide front, my aunt and I were “talking plants” last summer while I was visiting her in Norway, and she wanted to know if we had any Hortensia in the US. I didn’t recognize the name and asked if she could point it out to me. Turns out, the common name for Hydrangea in Norwegian is Hortensia.
So, if you stop by Auntie K’s Garden and ask what something is, I’ll likely use the botanical name for a plant rather than the or a common name.