More news not for penises

Start with this little poem, “Spurring him on”, which seems to be heavily sexual:

Hotspur Cockspur:
Thorny, horny, over-
Heated prick.
Spiky, showy dandy,
Sharply tipped.

Actually, this is a continuation of my 2/4/16 posting “Some news not for penises”, which was about senses of cock that aren’t about penises, and it’s mostly about plants, a whole hell of a lot of plants, some of them with sharp thorns (like spurs) that will prick you, some of them with showy spikes (like a rooster’s comb), all of them with cock in one of their common names. So, what with the noun cock, the phallic spurs, and the phallic combs, the topic fairly drips with male sexuality — but this posting is not about men’s bodies or mansex. It’s mostly about birds and plants, plus some vintage dandies and Sir Henry Percy.

Spurs and combs. Start with some basics. From NOAD2:

noun spur: a device with a small spike or a spiked wheel that is worn on a rider’s heel and used for urging a horse forward.

noun comb: a strip of plastic, metal, or wood with a row of narrow teeth, used for untangling or arranging the hair; a short curved type of comb, worn by women to hold hair in place or as an ornament.

Both nouns have poultry uses, extended by metaphor:

noun spur: a hard spike on the back of the leg of a cock or male game bird, used in fighting; a steel point fastened to the leg of a gamecock.

noun comb: the red fleshy crest on the head of a domestic fowl, especially a rooster.

The poultry senses can be clarified by compounding these nouns with the modifying noun cock ‘male fowl, rooster’: cockspur, cockscomb. Both amply illustrated in the logo for Cockspur brand rum:


The spiny cockspur and crested cockscomb are both available as phallic symbols, of course, especially in conjunction with the noun cock. But my interest here is in a different direction of metaphorical development, from the bird parts to parts of plants that resemble either cockspurs or cockscombs.

But first, two digressions, one to conceited dandies and another to impetuous young men.

Coxcomb. From NOAD2:

noun coxcomb: dated a vain and conceited man; a dandy. ORIGIN mid 16th century (denoting a simpleton): variant of cockscomb, in the sense ‘jester’s cap’ (resembling a cock’s comb), hence ‘a jester, a fool’

So it starts with the metaphorically named cockscomb (in the spelling variant coxcomb), now viewed simply as the name of a poultry body-part. Then the name is applied metaphorically to a jester’s cap / fool’s cap / cap and bells —


Then by metonymy to the bearer of the cap, a jester or fool. And that used metaphorically for someone who behaves like a fool, in particular a conceited ass, or more specifically, one conceited about his dress, that is, a dandy. Voilà!

hotspur. From NOAD2:

noun hotspur: archaic a rash, impetuous person. ORIGIN late Middle English: literally ‘a person whose spur is hot from rash or constant riding.’

Metonymy from a hot spur to a person with a hot spur. The compound hotspur then used metaphorically used to refer to an impertuous person. And then the compound gets used as a nickname. In particular for:

Sir Henry Percy KG (20 May 1364 – 21 July 1403), commonly known as Sir Harry Hotspur, or simply Hotspur, … a late-medieval English nobleman [eldest son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland]. He was a significant captain during the Anglo-Scottish wars. He later led successive rebellions against Henry IV of England and was slain at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 at the height of his career. (Wikipedia link)

Made famous by Shakespeare in:

Henry IV, Part 1 … a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written no later than 1597. It is the second play in Shakespeare’s tetralogy dealing with the successive reigns of Richard II, Henry IV (two plays, including Henry IV, Part 2), and Henry V. Henry IV, Part 1 depicts a span of history that begins with Hotspur’s battle at Homildon in Northumberland against Douglas late in 1402, and ends with the defeat of the rebels at Shrewsbury in the middle of 1403. From the start it has been an extremely popular play both with the public and critics. (Wikipedia link)

Plants: both cockscomb and cockspur. On this blog, in a 6/14/17 posting, the spectacular legume tree

Erythrina crista-galli, often known as the cockspur coral tree… Its specific epithet crista-galli means “cock’s comb” in Latin.

(still blooming gorgeously at Palo Alto’s Gamble Garden).

Cockscombs. From NOAD2:

noun cockscomb: 1 the crest or comb of a domestic cock. 2 a tropical plant with a crest or plume of tiny yellow, orange, or red flowers, widely cultivated as a garden annual or a houseplant. [Celosia cristata, family Amaranthaceae.] 3 an orchid related to the coralroots but with more colorful flowers, native to southern North America. Also called coralroot. [Genus Hexalectris, family Orchidaceae.]

To which can be added a number of other plants sometimes called cockscombs, in particular two plants in the broomrape family Orobanchaceae, in the genera Rhinanthus (yellow rattle) and Pedicularis (lousewort).

Now in that order:

(#3) Cockscomb flowers

Celosia cristata … is commonly known as cockscomb, since the flower looks like the head on a rooster (cock). The plants are hardy and resistant to most diseases, and grow equally well indoors or out, though the perfect place is one with no shade and a well drained soil, as the plant is susceptible to fungal diseases. The plant is used frequently as an ornamental plant indoors. Their leaves and flowers can be used as vegetables. They are often grown as foods in India, Western Africa, and South America.

They are annual plants of tropical origin and are herbaceous meaning they lack a woody stem. They grow well in both humid and arid conditions, and their flowers can last for up to 8 weeks.

… The flower can be broken into three parts: their spikes, plumes and crests vary from one another but have standard commonalities—they are usually brightly colored, usually red, yellow, pink, or orange, though other colors can be present. (Wikipedia link)

(#4) Spiked crested coralroot

Hexalectris spicata (spiked crested coralroot) is a terrestrial, myco-heterotrophic orchid lacking chlorophyll and subsisting entirely on nutrients obtained from mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. It is native to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Coahuila. It is closely related to H. arizonica and the two are sometimes considered varieties of the same species. Hexalectris spicata is endemic to the southern half of the United States from Arizona east to Florida and north to Maryland and the Ohio Valley. (Wikipedia link)

(#5) Yellow rattle

Rhinanthus minor, the yellow rattle, little yellow rattle or cockscomb, is a flowering plant in the genus Rhinanthus in the family Orobanchaceae, native to Europe, northern North America, and Western Asia.

It is a hemi-parasitic herbaceous annual plant that gains some of its nutrients from the roots of neighbouring plants. (Wikipedia link)

(#6) Bracted lousewort (P. bracteosa)

Pedicularis is a genus of perennial green root parasite plants currently placed in the broomrape family Orobanchaceae (the genus previously having been placed in Scrophulariaceae sensu lato).

The common name lousewort, applied to several species, derives from an old belief that these plants, when ingested, were responsible for lice infestations in livestock. The genus name Pedicularis is from the Latin pediculus meaning louse. (Wikipedia link)

Extremely brief note on the family Orobanchaceae, to which these last two cockscombs belong, from Wikipedia:

Orobanchaceae, the broomrapes, is a family [#69 on this blog] of parasitic plants of the order Lamiales, with about 90 genera and more than 2000 species.

Cockspurs. From Merriam-Webster Online on cockspur:

a:  cockspur thorn: a hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli) having long straight thorns

b:  a small West Indian tree (Pisonia aculeata)

c:  any of several spiny trees of the genus Acacia

d:  a bur grass (Cenchrus echinatus)

e:  an annual European weed (Centaurea melitensis) naturalized in North and South America

f:  orchard grass: a widely grown tall stout hay and pasture grass (Dactylis glomerata) of Eurasia that grows in tufts and has loose open panicles — called also cocksfoot

In order, but with Centaurea held off till last:

(#7) Cockspur hawthorn thorns

(#8) Cockspur hawthorn flowers

(#9) Cockspur hawthorn berries

Crataegus crus-galli is a species of hawthorn known by the common names cockspur hawthorn and cockspur thorn. It is native to eastern North America from Ontario to Texas to Florida, and it is widely used in horticulture. This is a small tree growing up to about 10 meters tall and 8 meters wide, rounded in form when young and spreading and flattening as it matures. The leaves are 5 to 6 centimeters long, glossy dark green in color and turning gold to red in the fall. The flowers are white and have a scent generally considered unpleasant [like rotting flesh]. The fruits are small pomes that vary in colour, usually a shade of red. Most wild varieties of the tree are heavily armed in sharp thorns several centimeters long. This species is a popular ornamental tree, especially var. inermis, which lacks thorns.  (Wikipedia link)

(#9) Devil’s-claw spines

Pisonia is a genus of flowering plants in the four o’clock flower family, Nyctaginaceae. It was named for Dutch physician and naturalist Willem Piso (1611–1678). Certain species in this genus are known as catchbirdtrees, birdcatcher trees or birdlime trees because their sticky seeds reportedly trap small birds. These sticky seeds are postulated to be an adaptation of some island species to ensure the dispersal of seeds between islands by attaching them to birds. These island species include P. brunoniana of Australasia and Polynesia and P. umbellifera, which is widespread in the tropical Indo-Pacific region. (Wikipedia link)

From the Flora of North America site on Pisonia aculeata:

Family Nyctaginaceae. Devil’s-claw, cockspur, pullback-and-hold, pullback. Vines or shrubs, to 3 m; vines subscandent, woody; branches spreading at right angles, armed with stout, recurved spines 6-20 mm. Pisonia aculeata is nearly pantropical, found throughout the New World tropics and is considered introduced in Africa, Asia, and the Phillipines, but in the [site’s area] it reaches only to the lower Rio Grande valley and southern Florida.

On the family (#70 on this blog), from Wikipedia:

Nyctaginaceae, the four o’clock family, is a family of around 33 genera and 290 species of flowering plants, widely distributed in tropical and subtropical regions, with a few representatives in temperate regions. The family has a unique fruit type, called an “anthocarp”, and many genera have extremely large (>100 µm) pollen grains.

(#10) Umbrella thorn acacia

(#11) African acacia leaves and thorns

Vachellia tortilis, widely known as Acacia tortilis but attributed by APG III to the Vachellia genus, is the umbrella thorn acacia, also known as umbrella thorn and Israeli babool [and cockspur, because of its thorns], a medium to large canopied tree native primarily to the savanna and Sahel of Africa (especially Sudan), but also occurring in the Middle East.

[Economic importance:] Timber from the tree is used for furniture, wagon wheels, fence posts, cages, and pens. Vachellia wood was also used exclusively by the Israelites in the Old Testament in the building of the tabernacle and the tabernacle furniture, including the Ark of the Covenant. The pods and foliage, which grow prolifically on the tree, are used as fodder for desert grazing animals. The bark is often used as a string medium in Tanganyika, and is a source for tannin. Gum from the tree is edible and can be used as Gum Arabic. Parts of the tree including roots, shoots, and pods are also often used by natives for a vast number of purposes including decorations, weapons, tools, and medicines.

The umbrella thorn is also an important species for rehabilitation of degraded arid land; it tolerates drought, wind, salinity and a wide range of soil types, and has the additional benefit of fixing nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – in the soil via its interaction with symbiotic root bacteria. (Wikipedia link)

On acacias / wattles in Australia (rather than Africa and the Middle East), see my 1/27/16 posting.

(#12) Spiny sandbur

Cenchrus echinatus is a species of grass known by the common names southern sandbur, spiny sandbur, southern sandspur, and in Australia, Mossman River grass. It is native to North and South America.

It is a clump-forming annual grass growing up to 80 cm tall. The leaves occur with or without hairs and measure up to 12 mm wide. The ligule is a fringe of hairs. The grass has barbed burrs up 4–10 mm long. (Wikipedia link)

(#13) Orchard grass, with spiky seed heads

Dactylis glomerata, also known as cock’s-foot, orchard grass, or cat grass (due to its popularity for use with domestic cats) is a common species of grass in the genus Dactylis. It is a cool-season perennial … bunchgrass native throughout most of Europe, temperate Asia, and northern Africa.

Cock’s-foot grows in dense perennial tussocks to 20–140 centimetres tall, with grey-green leaves 20–50 cm long and up to 1.5 cm broad, and a distinctive tufted triangular flowerhead 10–15 cm long, which may be either green or red- to purple-tinged (usually green in shade, redder in full sun), turning pale grey-brown at seed maturity. The spikelets are 5–9 mm long, typically containing two to five flowers. (Wikipedia link)

(#14) Maltese star-thistle

Centaurea melitensis (called Maltese star-thistle in Europe, tocalote or tocolote in western North America) is an annual plant of the Asteraceae, 1 to 11 decimetres (4 to 43 in) high, with resin-dotted leaves and spine-tipped phyllaries. This plant is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe and Africa. It was introduced to North America in the 18th century; the first documented occurrence in California is in the adobe of a building constructed in San Fernando in 1797. It is also naturalized on a number of Pacific islands. (Wikipedia link)

On the genus, from Wikipedia:

Centaurea … is a genus of between 350 and 600 species of herbaceous thistle-like flowering plants in the family Asteraceae. Members of the genus are found only north of the equator, mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere; the Middle East and surrounding regions are particularly species-rich. Common names for this genus are centaury, centory, starthistles, knapweeds, centaureas and the more ambiguous “bluets”; a vernacular name used for these plants in parts of England is “loggerheads” (common knapweed). The Plectocephalus group – possibly a distinct genus – is known as basketflowers. “Cornflowers” is used for a few species, but that term more often specifically means C. cyanus (sometimes also called “basket flower” [and commonly known as “backelor’s buttons”]).

The genus Centaurea took me back to the 19th-century Alpen-Flora handbook that I’ve cited here a number of times, from the Maltese star-thistle (sometimes called cockspur) to knapweeds (in Centaurea) and other composites that could easily have been called cockscombs, because of their showy crested flowers. Plate 13 from the book:


1 Centaurea nervosa
2 Carduus personata
3 Carduus defloratus
4 Carlina acaulis


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