Archive for the ‘Language and plants’ Category

Coneflowers and Goldfinches

September 14, 2014

Now the flowers of the late summer and early fall. Message from Liz Fannin in Columbus OH a little while ago:

Today I had the best reward for planting echinacea: a goldfinch on it. There was a little female who was so engrossed in eating those seeds that she didn’t even fly off when I went out the front door to the car.

On echinacea, from Wikipedia:

Echinacea … is a genus … of herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family, Asteraceae. The nine species it contains are commonly called coneflowers. They are endemic to eastern and central North America, where they are found growing in moist to dry prairies and open wooded areas. They have large, showy heads of composite flowers, blooming from early to late summer. The generic name is derived from the Greek word ἐχῖνος (echino), meaning “sea urchin,” due to the spiny central disk. Some species are used in herbal medicines and some are cultivated in gardens for their showy flowers.

… The flower heads have typically 200-300 fertile, bisexual disc florets but some have more. The corollas are pinkish, greenish, reddish-purple or yellow

I’ll get to the goldfinches in a moment.


Linguistic diversity among the nopalries

September 13, 2014

I’ve been reading through Amy Butler Greenfield’s fascinating A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire (HarperCollins 2005, paperback in 2006), which abounds in great topics: conquest, colonialism, skullduggery, official secrecy, piracy, medieval-style commercial guilds, mysteries of natural history, the growth of science, international trade, cultural diffusion, and more. Officially it’s about dyes, in particular the intense and durable true red dye sought by cultures around much of the world. So of course it turns out to be about cactuses and scale insects. Plenty of linguistic interest in there.


I never promised you a rose garden

September 8, 2014

Yesterday I posted four birthday presents to  me, appealing to various parts of my life: a penguin, language, comics/cartoons, and the the lgbt angle (plus food). And then came a wonderful language-and-plants offering, from an old friend: a “rose garden”.


Some actual roses (of the genus Rosa), plus primrose, Christmas rose, tuberose, and rosemary (none of them roses at all or botanically close to them or (for the most part) with names etymologically related to rose. A wonderful conceit.



August 30, 2014

It’s the end of summer here, and the fall-blooming anemones are in flower: plants with tall stems (several feet) and elegant purplish-pink flowers (there’s also a white variety, but the local ones are all pink). The flowers, with a couple of insects as a bonus:



Farewell to the trees

August 16, 2014

On Wednesday morning the tree people arrived to deal with the last stand of trees in back of my Ramona St. condo — a silk tree and a (Chilean) potato vine — in a neighbor’s garden on the south side. A long, astoundingly noisy, and rather dusty operation that completely removed the last of the trees (though I was expecting something a bit less drastic). Now there is (sun)light.

I’ve posted about the silk tree  (Albizia julibrissin) before, and also about the privet trees (Ligustrum) back there, but not about the potato vine, Solanum crispum, a pretty and not very large shrub, which had gotten a bit ratty and was obviously in need of judicious pruning, but was completely removed anyway (for good reason, as it turns out).

The potato vine in bloom:


(More on the plant below.)



August 4, 2014

A few weeks ago, I found myself having lunch next to a table of two men (speaking Dutch; this might be relevant), one of whom was wearing a t-shirt that said quite clearly


in large bold letters. Puzzling slogan; what could it mean?

Eventually, I got a closer look and discovered that there was an initial letter in each word, in a fancier, much lighter typeface. The slogan was


But what was Speed Devil? Something automotive, maybe.

But no: a plant variety. A strain of Cannabis, in fact. Marijuana, pot, weed. And very potent.


Japanese knotweed

July 9, 2014

My usual postings on plants are about plants that are ornamental or useful or both, but occasionally I look at invasives: recently, on privets and tumbleweed, and a bit earlier on monstrously invasive vines —  kudzu and mile-a-minute. Today, thanks to a piece in the 7/5/14 New Scientist (“Let them eat weeds” by Stephanie Pain), I turn to a dreadful pest, the Japanese knotweed. The plant will push aggressively through concrete, survive volcanic eruptions, and more.



July 1, 2014

First, the photo:


Men collecting tumbleweed. You assume that this is somewhere on the Great Plains, North Dakota maybe. But no. It’s Los Angeles.



June 24, 2014

It’s been privet week at my house. Behind my back patio are two of my neighbors’ gardens, separated from my space by a high fence. One neighbor has a gigantic privet tree, probably Ligustrum lucidum, or broad-leaved privet; over the years it has seeded a great many saplings on my side of the fence. These provided a pleasant green screen — until they too became gigantic, so surgery was called for. Slowly, but relentlessly, I chopped them down and up. (I’ve been physically in bad shape for several months, so my anti-privet project was a tribute to my gradually returning powers. Considerable rejoicing.) All that remains are some stumps that will need professional attention.

Things to know about this plant: it’s fast-growing, tough, and appallingly invasive, and its pollen (now being produced in huge amounts) is fabulously allergenic. I have not been a happy gardener.


Sunday jottings

June 22, 2014

Four items from the front matter in today’s New York Times Magazine: the compound poolside memoirs; the euphemism go to Spain; the term binky ‘pacifier'; and citronella for warding off mosquitoes.



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