Monday 20 November 2017

Plant Names: Don't name names

Don't be quick to judge a plant by its label, says Marie Staunton

Marie Summer 6 july 8th American skunk cabbage mt. usher Pix Ronan Lang/Feature File
Marie Summer 6 july 8th American skunk cabbage mt. usher Pix Ronan Lang/Feature File
Marie Summer 6 july 8th Stinking Hellebore mt. usher Pix Ronan Lang/Feature File

Marie Staunton

Plant names can be very off-putting, especially the common ones. Take, for example, the gorgeous Lysichiton americanus, known commonly as the American skunk cabbage. You wouldn't be running out to buy it with a name like that, but you would be missing out, because it is a fabulous yellow-flowered lily.

It is mostly found in boggy sites and along riverbanks, and that's where it is happiest. If you have an area in the garden that tends to hold water, then this plant could be for you. It has a 'skunky' odour, which some people might find offensive. But I wasn't the least bit offended by the smell – and I was sitting in the middle of the flowers.

One of my favourite little plants is Arisarum proboscideum, commonly known as the mouse plant. If my mother is reading this, she is probably standing on a chair at the moment. The flower peeks out from under the leaf and it has a little wispy tail. Thankfully, for those who fear mice, that's where the resemblance ends.

It's a great little plant to get children interested in gardening. We introduced it into our garden a few years ago and we have only just started to notice the flowers. I forget half the things we have planted, so they are like little surprises when they do appear – though I jumped when I saw that one a couple of weeks ago.

This is a plant for shade and the flowers are quite an attractive aubergine colour. It will colonise given time, so if there's a bit of divil-ment in you at all, plant this little oddity.

I like hellebores, they come in all shapes and sizes and they are a very versatile plant in any garden. The stinking hellebore, which is a very unfair common name to give any plant, is probably one of my favourites. The Latin name Helleborus foetidus is much nicer. It has gorgeous, pale lime-green flowers and it's an evergreen plant.

This particular hellebore likes sun, but it will tolerate a little bit of shade and will grow to around one metre, so it's not the shrinking-violet type.

You can collect the seeds when it's ripe, sow them into small pots and, when they get to a decent size, transplant them out into the garden. They don't require a glasshouse, just protection from the elements for germination, so a little cold frame will do the job.

Last but not least is the Lobster claw plant. It sounds a bit fierce, but it is a lovely climbing evergreen plant with lots of vivid red flowers. There is a white one as well, resembling the shape of a lobster claw. The Latin name is Clianthus puniceus.

It thrives in full sun, showing off its flowers in early summer, so it's best to plant it in a south-facing position, or indeed on a west-facing wall or fence.

I hope I have managed to extol the virtues of these plants, with their unfortunate common names. The Latin names sound close enough to how they're spelled, so don't be afraid to have a go and ask for these plants.

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