Archive for the ‘Language and plants’ Category

Fried eggs and fairy wands

June 18, 2018

Also blazing stars, gayfeathers, and wandflowers. All plants, colorfully named. Providing a little exercise in taxonomic names vs. common names.

The fried eggs come from Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, who posted this on her Facebook page yesterday:

(#1) EDZ: “Portrait mode makes fried egg flowers even more absurd” (by erasing the flower stem, so that the flower appears to be floating in the air)

The fairy wands I came across at Palo Alto’s Gamble Gardens this morning:

(#2) Angel’s (fishing) rods, wand flowers, or fairy wands


Purple Pride

June 11, 2018

For Pride month, purple plants on my patio: the calla lily known locally as Cairo Callen (named for The Purple Rose of Cairo and singer/activist Michael Callen); and a silver lamium (now named the Silver Fox) in bloom:


White stars on a field of green

June 7, 2018

Notable feature of the grounds on the condo complex at the northwest corner of Ramona St. and Homer Ave. (half a block from my house), a carpet of Myoporum parvifolium, with its fleshy leaves and small 5-petaled flowers, as in this photo from the net:


A few years ago, the original water-greedy plantings around the complex were ripped out and replaced by low-water alternatives, including this handsome ground cover, which has been spreading nicely to fill the area.

To come: on this plant; its cousin M. insulare; the common name boobialla for these plants; and other plants in their family, especially in the genus Verbascum, the mulleins.


Panic in Quercy Park

June 2, 2018

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


A plant too invasive even for me

May 31, 2018

Ann Burlingham asked on Facebook for an identification of a plant in her Pittsburgh garden, which turned out to be Houttuynia cordata, chameleon plant:


A stunningly invasive plant, which spreads by what I’ve called dragon-toothing: any tiny bit of the plant will root and turn into a new plant. In Columbus OH, I engaged in what I thought of as “gardening with invasive plants”, but there were a few plants that were too invasive even for me, and this was one.



May 29, 2018

Alchemilla mollis. A satisfying plant we grew in Columbus OH. Handsome ground cover. Photographer’s joy. Etymologist’s delight.


It’s alive!

May 29, 2018

(Flânerie, strolling from one thing to another in Victor Frankenstein’s neighborhood — and, as it turns out, in mine too.)

At the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford, the exhibition “Betray the Secret: Humanity in the Age of “Frankenstein””, 4/4/18 – 8/5/18, which I viewed yesterday, as a Memorial Day treat. The image for the show:

(#1) Beth Van Hoesen, Stanford (Arnautoff Class),  1945 (graphite and ink on paper)

Just one part of a larger Frankenstein celebration at Stanford.  A mid-sized show, easily graspable within an hour or so — the Cantor is very good at this — and, thanks to its dependence on existing collections at Stanford, offering many works and artists you wouldn’t have predicted and might never have heard of (I’ll write about one of these artists below). In any case, thought-provoking, in line with the Cantor’s mission as a “teaching museum”.



May 25, 2018

Brief visit to Palo Alto’s Gamble Garden this morning, to take in the riot of summer flowers in bloom (7-foot tall white foxgloves! sweet peas climbing on everything, with intensely colored blossoms you can see from across the garden! giant bronze fennel plants, with feathery, scented leaves! and more!). On entering the garden Juan and I came across Plant 1, which I recognized as being a fancy (but unfamiliar to me) relative of the weed Queen Anne’s lace. A bit later, in the South African garden section, a huge thick-stemmed plant  — Plant 2 — caught our attention, and Juan took it to be a monster relative of the artichoke (elsewhere in the garden, artichoke plants were yielding up their edible flower buds in profusion), but I guessed that the similarities were inconsequential and that Plant 2 wasn’t related to the artichoke plant (a huge cultivated thistle) at all.

Homology — similarity due to common descent — for Plant 1 and Queen Anne’s lace; but analogy — similarity resulting from convergent evolution, or just accident — for Plant 2 and thistles, including the artichokes.

Crucial leading ideas in evolutionary biology, and also in historical-comparative linguistics (though I’m not going to pursue the linguistic side of things in this posting).


bunny ears

May 21, 2018

It started with a candid photo of people at a social gathering, with one person making a V hand gesture behind the head of the person next to them, much as in this photo of pro tennis players:

(#1) Swiss jock jokery:  Stan Wawrinka doing the ‘bunny ears’ gesture behind Roger Federer

Bunny-earing someone is a prank (NOAD on the noun prank: ‘a practical joke or mischievous act’), pranks being a very culture-specific form of play + humor that deserve analytic attention that I’m not able to provide, but will just take as a cultural given here.

To come: a bit of the history of bunny-earing; senses of the expression bunny ears (illustrating (mostly metaphorical) sense developments in many directions); and uses of the V hand gesture (illustrating symbolic functions of many different kinds; the gesture itself is “just stuff”, without intrinsic meaning, which can be exploited for many different symbolic purposes). The act, the meanings of the linguistic expression for the act, the cultural significances (or “social meanings”) of the act.


The 6-fold way

May 19, 2018

A fabulous design from Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky yesterday:

(#1) “6-fold” (or: “The 6-fold Way”)

To come. On 6-fold symmetry: snowflakes (natural and in paper), many monocot flowers, Kekulé’s carbon ring for benzene, the major colors of the color wheel (reproduced in the rainbow flag for Gay Pride).

Then on number, color, and gender parallelisms, which will give us 6 as purple and queer. And how the opposition of the secondary hues green with purple in #1 parallels the opposition of the primary hues blue with red (and, in the background of #1, the opposition of the primary hues red with yellow).

And on the name 6-fold way, adapted from the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism and Murray Gell-Mann’s adaptation of the idea (under the name The Eightfold Way) to a theory organizing subatomic particles.