Panic in Quercy Park

On the oak-leaved hydrangeas, Hydrangea quercifolia, which have burst into bloom all over my neighborhood: big shrubs with big oak-like leaves (the oaks providing the querc– in my title’s quercy) and creamy white flowers in big panicles (the panic of my title and of panic grass). With a note on H. quercifolia‘s close relative, H. paniculata. A digression on South American creatures irrelevantly named querque /’kerke/ in Spanish. Then, inevitably, on panicles and panic grasses (genus Panicum). Don’t panic.

(#1) H. quercifolia in a woodland setting

First, the title. “Panic in Quercy Park”. A quirky take-off on Panic in Needle Park. From Wikipedia:

The Panic in Needle Parkis a 1971 American romantic drama film directed by Jerry Schatzberg and starring Al Pacino, in his second film appearance. The screenplay was written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, adapted from the 1966 novel by James Mills.

The film portrays life among a group of heroin addicts who hang out in “Needle Park” (then-nickname for Sherman Square on Manhattan’s Upper West Side near 72nd Street and Broadway). The film is a love story between Bobby (Pacino), a young addict and small-time hustler, and Helen (Kitty Winn), a restless woman who finds Bobby charismatic. She becomes an addict, and life goes downhill for them both as their addictions worsen, eventually leading to a series of betrayals.

Oak-leaved hydrangeas. From Wikipedia:

Hydrangea quercifolia, commonly known by its translation oakleaf hydrangea or oak-leaved hydrangea [Latin quercus ‘oak’, as in Albuquerque — the C in quercus is pronounced /k/ in English, the C in quercifolia is pronounced /s/ in English, the QU in Spanish spells Spanish /k/], is a species of flowering plant native to the Southeastern United States, in woodland habitats from North Carolina west to Tennessee, and south to Florida and Louisiana. A deciduous shrub with white showy flower heads, it is a commonly grown garden plant.

Hydrangea quercifolia flowers are borne in erect panicles 6–12 in (15.2–30.5 cm) tall and 3–5 in (7.6–12.7 cm) wide at branch tips. Flowers age in colour from creamy white, aging to pink and by autumn and winter are a dry, papery rusty-brown.

Unlike bigleaf [or snowball] hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), flower color does not vary with soil pH. [On H. macrophylla, see my 9/7/15 posting “Shooting stars, hydrangeas, and lemongrass”. My own patio H. macrophylla plant is now 3 ft. tall and contemplating breaking out in dark pink blossoms.]

Oakleaf hydrangea and the popular peegee hydrangea (H. paniculata) are the only hydrangeas with cone-shaped flower clusters; all the others have their flowers in ball-shaped or flat-topped clusters, called umbels.

H. paniculata. From Wikipedia:

(#2) H. paniculata ‘Vanilla Fraise’

Hydrangea paniculata, the panicled hydrangea [or peegee hydrangea, P.G. for paniculata Grandiflora’], is a species of flowering plant [deciduous shrub or small tree] in the family Hydrangeaceae native to southern and eastern China, Korea, Japan and Russia (Sakhalin). It was first formally described by Philipp Franz von Siebold in 1829.

… The leaves are broadly oval, toothed and 7–15 cm (3–6 in) long. In late summer it bears large conical panicles of creamy white fertile flowers, together with pinkish white sterile florets. Florets may open pale green, grading to white with age, thus creating a pleasing “two-tone” effect.

The falcon and the lizard. From Latin quercus, you might have expected Spanish querque /’kerke/, and that’s what you get in the place name. In a nutshell:

Albuquerque < the Duke of Alburquerque < the Spanish town Alburquerque < Latin albus quercus ‘white oak’, referring to the cork oaks grown around the Spanish city

(Meanwhile, Spanish got its current ‘oak (tree)’ word, roble, from another source, robre < Latin rōbur ‘species of oak’.)

A word querque does occur in the Spanish-speaking world, at least twice, but with nothing to do with oak trees and not from Latin.

From Wikipedia:

(#3) Sp. querque < caracara, a South American Indian name, onomatopoetic

The southern crested caracara (Caracara plancus), also known as the southern caracara or carancho [and querque in Spanish], is a bird of prey in the family Falconidae. As presently defined, the southern crested caracara is restricted to central and southern South America.

From Wikipedia:

(#4) querque ‘lizard’ in the Mapuche language of Chile and Argentina

Phymaturus is a genus of iguanian lizards of the family Liolaemidae … Phymaturus is the mid-sized genus of its family, with 47 species altogether known as of 2017; new species are still being discovered however.
Species of the genus Phymaturus are found in the Andes region south to Patagonia and inhabit a variety of habitats. Their habits are mostly conserved from the ancestral iguanians, in that Phymaturus are generally inhabitants of rocky ground, feed on plants, and give birth to fully developed young.

I sense a likely predator-prey relationship here, down at the southern tip of South America.

Panicles. Word attraction note: panicle has been one of my favorite words, ever since I got into plants seriously. Then, from NOAD:

noun panicleBotany a loose branching cluster of flowers, as in oats. ORIGIN late 16th century: from Latin panicula, diminutive of panus ‘ear of millet’ (panic‘any of a number of cereal and fodder grasses related to millet’).

Some panicles (as in the hydrangeas above) are showy cones of flowers, so definitely phallic, but in the plant world that scarcely counts as notable. Other showy panicles among common plants: Buddleia, butterfly bushes; Syringa, lilacs; Phlox paniculata, garden phlox; and catalpa trees.

The term panicle, however, comes from another set of plants — a collection of grasses, many of them in the genus Panicum. From Wikipedia:

(#5) P. sonorum, an endangered species of Panicum

Panicum (panicgrass) is a large genus of about 450 species of grasses native throughout the tropical regions of the world, with a few species extending into the northern temperate zone. They are often large, annual or perennial grasses, growing to 1–3 m tall.

The flowers are produced in a well-developed panicle often up to 60 cm in length with numerous seeds, which are 1–6 mm long and 1–2 mm broad. The fruits are developed from a two-flowered spikelet.

… Well-known Panicum species include proso millet and switchgrass.

About the species in #5, from the Native Seeds site, “A Short History of Panic Grass” by Barney T. Burns:

panicum sonorumwas domesticated in either Arizona or Sonora sometime during the prehistoric period. Evidence of panic grass being grown by the Hohokam Indians has been found in several archaeological excavations in Arizona.

Panic grass plants produce large quantities of very small seeds that occur at the end of panicles, small branches that flare out irregularly from the tops of each of the plant’s stocks.

Ornamental panic grasses from many species abound and are available from many suppliers; others grow wild on prairies.


One Response to “Panic in Quercy Park”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Despite the fact that it violates the standards of English pronunciation (and your parenthetical about the pronunciation of quercifolia, I want to pronounce the Quercy in your title as quirky.

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