A Rose By Any Other Name

Baby Bunny Bellies plant.

Some lucky plants have names that entice you to buy them: Baby Bunny Bellies, Fairy Foxglove, Bells of Ireland, Cupid’s Dart. Other plants, through no fault of their own, have less appealing names: Bloody Dock, Lungwort, Bitter Root, Viper’s Bugloss, and this year’s best worst name, Ratstripper.

Bloody Dock (Rumex p. 12)

Bloody Dock (Rumex)

Any plant name that contains words like false, weed, wort, snake, goat, bleeding, or dead, tends to be off-putting enough that, when we are putting the catalog together, we do try to choose a more attractive name if the plant has several common names. Which would you rather have in your garden: Mountain Death Camas or Elegant Camas? Sneezeweed or Helen’s Flower? Liver Balm or Fairy Foxglove?

Helenium Mardi Gras
Of course, when a name like Spiderwort is the most widely known common name, we use it, even if there’s a prettier but obscure name like Blue Jacket. (Thankfully, we don’t have to use another of Spiderwort’s common names: Snotweed!)

Tradescantia Sweet Kate

But perhaps you are a gardener who is not turned off by medicinal, anatomical, frank, or lurid common names, but who rather relishes them. Perhaps you enjoy knowing that “wort” has nothing to do with warts: it simply means “herb” or healing plant. A Lungwort, despite the way it sounds, is not a nasty disease symptom, but rather a plant that in folklore was thought to cure lung problems because the speckled leaves resemble a lung. And just look at how cute the plant actually is! All of the plants mentioned here are wonderful plants, beloved of gardeners.

Pulmonaria 'GaelicMagic'

So, my question is, would we be as fond of a rose if it was called, say, Thorny Blackspotleaf or Bleeding Pierce-flesh?

And my second question is, does anyone know how Ratstripper, a handsome evergreen groundcover, got its verminous name?

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