Coming to Terms with Your Plants!

Amicia zygomeris is an uncommon and rather unusual looking plant. The leaves are of a peculiar shape, not unlike those of the tulip tree where what would normally be a pointed end of the leaf is blunt and double-lobed with an almost cut-off appearance leading to the common name of yolk-leaved Amicia and it is this foliage which is most attractive in the plant. On closer approach one sees the purple-veined stipules – which I would have called bracts but now know better – and later in the season yellow pea-like flowers emerge. All in all it is an odd thing, somewhat peculiar and out of the ordinary. Even the name is peculiar. Although “Amicia” is used as a girl’s name and generally explained as “One most loved” this plant is named in honour of John Baptiste Amici, an Italian scientist of the 19th century while the specific name derives from the botanical term “zygomorphic”,  as all parts of the plant display bilateral symmetry.

amicia-zygomeris-1
Amicia zygomeris – a strange plant with an equally strange name

A Botanist’s Vocabulary by Susan K. Pell and Bobbi Angell lists and illustrates 1,300 botanical terms and, while I would not suggest a cover to cover reading, even a quick browse will throw up some nuggets of interest.

botanists-vocabulary

As we enter autumn and winter those who delight in the winter colour of their beech hedges should realise that it is because the foliage is “marcesent” – the withered leaves remain attached. Those stickyback seedheads we threw at our friends woolly jumpers as children displayed “epizoochory”, seed dispersal via transportation on the outside of vertebrate animals (mostly mammals). How exactly they also managed to get into our minds and have us throw the seedpods at each other is still beyond me but I certainly recall the fun we had. These seeds could also have been described as “sticktights” – which makes sense!

Some plant parts grow upwards and others downwards: those stems that sprout from the roots of a perennial plant, such as a tree, that has been cut down are called “ratoons” while some bulbs have the ability to reposition themselves at a depth in the soil which is most beneficial to them sending a shoot down from the bulb to develop a new bulb where required and these are called “sinkers” or “droppers”.

During last summer I visited a population of our native Bee Orchid where “sexual deception” was the order of the day – parts of the flower of these orchids mimic a female insect, in this case a bee, tricking the male insect into attempting to mate with it – “pseudocopulation” – which leads to pollination. Clever! Clever as it might be the “perfect” flower is described as one that has functioning female and male reproductive parts!

ophrys-apifera-bee-orchid-33
Ophrys apifera, the Bee Orchid, which uses “sexual deception” for pollination

It is that type of book, in essence a list, a dictionary which one might dip into occasionally as needs be and also come across an interesting term to brighten your day.

Susan K. Pell is the Science and Public Programs Manager at the United States Botanic Garden and, formerly, Director of Science at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Bobbi Angell works at the New York Botanical Garden as an illustrator for botanists there.

[A Botanist’s Vocabulary, Susan K. Pell and Bobbi Angell, Timber Press, Portland Oregon, 2016, Hardback, 226 pages, £17.99, ISBN: 978-1-60469-563-2]

Paddy Tobin

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2 thoughts on “Coming to Terms with Your Plants!

  1. I think one should take one of those terms a week and then build up to a most impressive vocabulary! To think we were quite happy once with ‘stickybacks’! To advance is to change and to become perfect is to have learned 100 terms from this rather alarming book!

    Like

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