Tag Archives: philosophy

Botanical pronunciations

I’m one of those people that tries to use the botanical names of plants.  I also know many of the common names for my plants, but many of my plants are not widely grown and therefore have not been given common names.  Anyway, I’m not writing this post to debate the merits of either common or botanical naming systems.  I’m simply going to talk about pronouncing the botanical names.  Pronouncing common names is almost always easy, since they are just a collection of English words with which most people are already familiar.

However, many botanical names you have seen but never heard.  And since they are usually Latin-based, it is often hard to know how to pronounce them.  I have been embarrassed on a couple of occasions when I pronounced something very different from someone at the greenhouse (also at the aquarium store).  In one case, I was new to the aquarium hobby and had just been reading about a bunch of different fish I might want to put in my first aquarium.  My wife and I had been referring to the ever-so-common algae-eating fish Plecostomus as “ple-coh-STOH-moos.”  The correct pronunciation is actually “pleh-CAH-steh-muss,” which flows off the tongue so much more easily.

After some of my embarrassing pronunciation encounters, I got to thinking that I wasn’t necessarily wrong.  The worker might have been sitting at home thinking how embarrassed they were that a customer had pronounced the name correctly and they had always pronounced it differently.  This definitely wasn’t the case for Plecostomus, but it might be in some other situations.  If we don’t use the names in converstation with others, how are we ever to know the correct way of saying the names?  Don’t you worry – I did some research and found some good sources for correct pronunciations of botanical names.

Many online dictionaries have a little sound graphic next to the word you just looked up that will actually have a 2 or 3 second sound bite of someone saying the word.  And nearly all of the dictionaries will have the written pronunciation.  The drawback to using online dictionaries is that many botanical names are not listed in these dictionaries.

One place that you can almost always find your plant listed is on Dave’s Garden.  Dave’s Garden includes a written pronunciation of all genera and most species names.

Here are some specific names that I found on Dave’s Garden:

  • Heuchera (HEW-ker-uh) – genus of the popular shade plants “Coral Bells”
  • Clematis (KLEM-uh-tis or kli-MAT-is) – genus of very popular flowering, climbing perennial vines hear it
  • Liriope (luh-RYE-uh-pee) – genus of common ground covers, sometimes called “Lily Turf” or “Monkey Grass” hear it
  • Rudbeckia (rud-BEK-ee-a) – genus which contains “Black-Eyed Susans” and other perennial wildflowers hear it
  • Gaillardia (gay-LAR-dee-uh) – genus of common wildflowers sometimes referred to as “Indian Blanket”
  • Echinacea (ek-in-AY-shee-a) – genus which contains the common coneflowers hear it
  • Ipomoea (ip-oh-MEE-a) – genus which contains both the popular “Morning Glories” and ornamental “Sweet Potato Vines,” as well as some other plants I enjoy growing “Cypress Vine” and “Spanish Flag”
  • Chlorophytum (kloh-roh-FY-tum) – genus which contains “Spider Plants,” “Airplant Plants”
  • Justicia (jus-TEE-see-ah) – genus which includes the “Shrimp Plants”
  • Chamaedorea (ky-mee-DOR-ee-uh) – genus of palms, some of which are kept as houseplants – including the “Neanthe Bella Palm” and “Parlor Palm”
  • Phalaenopsis (fay-lay-NOP-sis) – genus that contains the most commonly seen orchids, referred to as “Moth Orchids” hear it
  • Ctenanthe (TEE-nan-thee) – a rare genus and favorite of mine from the prayer plant family
  • Calathea (ka-LAY-thee-uh) – a common genus from the prayer plant family
  • Stromanthe (stroh-MAN-thee) – a rare genus from the prayer plant family
  • Araceae (a-RAY-see-ee) – the family commonly referred to as “Aroids”
  • Rhaphidophora (ra-fid-OH-for-a) – a genus in the Aroid family

One quick observation: I’m noticing that the “ch” combination is almost always pronounced as a “k” in plant genera.  There are exceptions to every rule, but the “k” sounds seems to be the standard.  It’s easy for me to use the “k” sound for names like Chlorophytum, but I want to use the “ch” sound for names like Heuchera.

I’ve had to make the most adjustments for Ctenanthe (I was trying to incorporate the leading “C” into the name) and Liriope (which I was pronouncing “leer-EE-ope”).  I like the true pronunciation of Liriope much better than what I was saying.

The pronunciation with the most controversy that I encountered is Rudbeckia.  There were two sound bites for this name.  One sounds like “red-BEK-ee-a” and the other sounds like “RUDE-bek-ee-a.”  I was really surprised by the “red” beginning to the one sound bite.  Additionally, I ran across a sign at a local nursery that said this name is easy to remember by memorizing the phrase “Susan has a black eye because rude Becky hit her.”  (The “Black-Eyed Susan” species is R. hirta.)  The Dave’s Garden pronunciation is a little different from all of these other options.  Good luck with that one!

Are there any plant names you’ve always wondered how to say?


Mid year report on resolutions

On the last day of 2008, I posted nine planty resolutions for 2009.  I thought I’d let you know how I’m doing.

  1. Post at the rate of 2-3 times per week. This has gone very well.  Since January 1, 2009 I have posted 54 times.  That is an average of 2.5 posts per week.  Pretty good, huh?  I managed to post at least twice each week, as I had planned.  February was the most active month, with 13 posts.  I never really ran out of material for posting, but I did have some trouble having time to write on occasion.  While on vacation to Hawaii last week, I used the post scheduler to update my blog with 2 pre-written posts.
  2. Review about 1 plant book per month. I have done pretty well with this task.  In March, I sort of cheated by only posting a quoted passage and couple of sentences about a plant book.
  3. Write a “trip report” about once per month. This is probably my favorite category of post to write.  Whenever I visit someplace that has plants, there is usually so much to write about that I have to contain myself.  This has been a very exciting category for 2009.  Although I didn’t post a trip report during the month of March, I posted twice during each of the last two months. Here’s the list:
  4. With my recent trip to Hawaii, I have a couple more trip posts planned for the next month.  I also have another couple post-inspiring trips for this summer and fall.  Stay tuned for more Trip Reports from The Variegated Thumb!

  5. Write a “project” post once per month. I should have said “about” for this goal.  Regardless, I almost met my goal for this category but fell short in the last month.  I did post three different times in this category during April, though.  I had a post planned for May on starting pineapple bromeliads from a grocery store pineapple.  But my newest pineapple has not yet sprouted roots in time to get the pictures for publishing the post.  Stay tuned for that post in June!
  6. Start a collection of Asarums. I had hoped to find some Asarum splendens plants at our local Atwoods store, but they did not have these plants this year as they have the last two years.  Alas, my Asarum collection must wait until the late Summer or early Fall when I place an order from Asiatica Nursery.  My plan is to order 5 or 6 species/varieties.  I saved this project for Fall because these plants will do well in my house over winter and that allows me to use my plant allowance elsewhere this summer.
  7. Grow some of my own food. I am in the growing process right now.  So far nothing looks like food, but the plants seem to be healthy, so hopefully I will have some produce in a month or two.  This year we planted potatoes (new for us), yellow straightneck squash (new to us), zucchini squash (new to us), tomatoes (old hat) and broccoli (new to us).  Actually we planted broccoli last year but it was eaten by caterpillars in a matter of days.  This time around it has lasted at least a month.  And our tomato planting is different this year, as we’re using a “Topsy-Turvy” to grow them.  The device was a gift from my granddad and is actually very handy, as it can be hung on our front porch in the full sun.  Our planting location last year was probably shadier than the tomato plants would prefer.
  8. Vigorously plant front “figure 8” bed. For now, I have to say that I have failed miserably to accomplish this task.  The goal was to plant a lot of ornamental sweet potato vine in the figure 8 tulip bed in our front yard as soon as the tulips had quit blooming.  The hope was that the sweet potato vine would be in the ground when we get all of our mild weather and gallons and gallons of spring rains.  Then it would spread nicely and have filled out the bed by the time the tulip stems turned brown and are removed.  I have now removed the tulip stems and still not planted the sweet potato vine.  I have to admit that if we hadn’t gone on vacation last week, this task might be complete.  Alas, Hawaii was calling out to us!
  9. Fertilize. I have had a bag of fertilizer sitting in my garage for more than a year.  It was just a matter of using it.  This Spring, as I brought all of my tender tropical plants outdoors, I added some slow-release fertilizer to the soil and watered it in.  It will be a while before I can tell if (and to what extent) the fertilizer has helped.  I did not fertilize any of our food plants, but I have fertilized nearly everything else that I am growing.  It was very quick and easy to lightly shake some of this fertilizer on the soil surface of each of my plants.
  10. Recreate the corner garden. This task has gone swimmingly!  I have posted a couple of times about new plants we have added to our corner garden, as well as several plans for future enhancements.  The corner garden is the foundation for making our backyard a comfortable paradise where we can relax at home.  Our fencing project has also helped to create a more inviting feel to our backyard.

Did you make any resolutions this year concerning your plants?  How have you kept up with them?


Book Review: Oklahoma Gardener’s Guide

I have been reading a book that my mom lent me, Oklahoma Gardener’s Guide by Steve Dobbs.  I am really getting a lot out of the book, because of its focus on gardening in my location.  I would definitely recommend the purchase (or at least a library checkout) of a gardening book that applies directly to your region.  I’m sure there is probably one for every state in the country.

The introduction to the book tells about gardening in Oklahoma, including a short discussion on plant hardiness and ecosystems made up of similar climates and geographies.  That discussion got me to thinking and researching a little bit more.  Most of this post is about that subject.

The majority of the Oklahoma Gardener’s Guide consists of plant profiles.  The profiles include information on how to grow these plants in Oklahoma, as well as different named varieties that are available and which are best choices for our location.  The profiles are divided up into several different categories:

  • Annuals
  • Bulbs
  • Ground Covers
  • Ornamental Grasses
  • Perennials
  • Roses
  • Shrubs
  • Trees
  • Vines
  • Great Plains Plants

A large appendix includes maps and information from the following topics:

  • Planning and Starting a Lawn
  • United States Ecoregions Map
  • Oklahoma Frost-Free Map
  • Oklahoma Freeze Map
  • Oklahoma Precipitation Map
  • Oklahoma Northern Counties Map
  • Perennial Ground Covers as Lawn Alternatives
  • Beneficial Insects
  • Other Plants for Oklahoma
  • Natives as Ornamentals
  • Oklahoma Public Gardens
  • Reference Publications of Interest
  • Glossary
  • Your Garden Plans

Discussion of Plant Hardiness

In addition to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones map, Steve Dobbs includes a map of Ecosystems in the continental United States.  There are six ecosystems identified in the United States: Pacific West, Mountain West, Desert Southwest, Great Plains, Continental East and Humid South.  The last four of those ecosystems intersect in the center of Oklahoma.  The center of Oklahoma is a sort of “four corners,” dividing the state into quarters.  Lucky for me, I live right in the center of the state.  This means that gardening outdoors can be a little tricky where I live.  The map below shows a much more detailed view of ecosystems in the US.

USDA Ecological Subregions map
USDA Ecological Subregions map. This is a more detailed map than the one shown in the book, but still demonstrates the diversity of Oklahoma's ecoregions.

Oklahoma is known for its extreme weather, usually in the form of severe storms and tornadoes.  But Oklahoma made national news at the end of 2007 when we were hit by a horrible ice storm that tore down many trees and left others severely damaged.  It is also not unusual to have fairly long droughts during the mid to late Summer, when much of the state is behaving more like the Desert Southwest, rather than the Humid South.  Temperatures in my home town range from 10 F to 105 F in an average year.

The USDA plant hardiness zone map was updated in 1990, dividing many of the zones in two (an “a” and a “b”).  Those zones have been consistently used by growers to indicate the cold hardiness of plants for several decades now.  However, the map indicates only the lowest temperature that could be expected during the course of the year.  Steve Dobbs writes that a single indicator is not enough information to convey whether a plant will survive in your yard or not.  Just as you need to take into account how much to water a plant and what sun exposure it needs, you also have to consider the relative humidity required by the plant and the heat that it can endure.  This is often described by saying that a plant is drought hardy, but being able to withstand a week without rain is different than withstanding a month’s worth of high temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  This happens in July and August in Oklahoma.

As it is now, plants that are hardy in my zone (zone 7) are suggested for here as well as Delaware and New York City.  Clearly these are very different climates and the same plant would require different care in these two locations, assuming the plant could live in both places.

There is some discussion about the USDA creating a heat hardiness map that would indicate the maximum temperature that can be expected in a year.  This map would show most of Oklahoma hitting a maximum temperature of 105-110 F.

The American Horticultural Society has produced a US Plant Heat-Zone Map that categorizes locations based on how many days each year the temperature reaches above a threshold value (86 F).  On that map, the majority of Oklahoma is in heat zone 8, with 90-120 days above 86 F.  By contrast, New York City is in zone 4, with 14-30 days above 86 F!  Now all we need is for growers to start labeling their plants by heat hardiness.  For instance, a marigold plant might be hardy for cold zones 4-9 and heat zones 7-8.  I just made that up as an example, so don’t get worried if you’re trying to grow Marigolds in heat zone 6.  I don’t really know where Marigolds are hardy.

Most people that have gardened for more than a year or so understand that there is more to satisfying a plant’s needs than just matching it with a cold hardiness zone.  But the more information that becomes consistently available for all of the plants that we see, the better for all.


Long term planning for a “Paradise corner”

I started daydreaming a couple of weeks ago about some things we could do to further spruce up our backyard and make it more inviting.  As it is, my wife spends almost every lunch break lounging on our hammock in the backyard, enjoying the breeze, the sun, the birds, the squirrels and the plant life.

You can see pictures of our corner garden on this post.

I came up with some ambitious plans for the future of our backyard.  There are several improvements we are planning on making in the short term (over the next 5 years), but this vision for our backyard is more along the 10 year time frame.  It might happen sooner, but it will most likely be a slow progression.

A sketch of my plans for a paradise corner
A sketch of my plans for a "paradise corner"

My sketch is a simplistic view of what I want the corner to look like.  The elements in the sketch would provide a nice place to sit and relax, but the elements that are missing from the sketch are those that will truly make it a paradise.  There will be lots of plant life surrounding all of these features.

To see what the corner garden looks like now, with the new fence erected, check out the fourth picture in this post.

The Pond

I have the sketch labeled “small pond,” but that’s not very descriptive.  I think it will be about 8-10 feet in length and about 4 feet in width at the narrowest and about 6 feet at the wider bulge.  I will probably create the usual shelf so that the center of the pond is about 2-3 feet deep, while the outer ring is only about 1-1.5 feet deep.  There will probably be some aquatic plants, including: Cannas, black-stemmed Alocasia, Lotus (water lilies) and grasses.  I’m not sure yet whether we will have any fish, but I imagine we probably will.

In the middle of the pond will be a small fountain to keep the water circulating (cutting down on mosquitos) and to generate some nice splashing water sounds.

After I told my wife about my plan, she had something to add to my vision.  She suggested that we have a small bridge that steps over the pond, linking the gazebo to the corner garden.  We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled for a small, sloped bridge (without railings).  I think it would look a little silly with railings, due to the scale of the pond.

The Half-Gazebo

I don’t think I have ever seen a half-gazebo before, so I’m not sure where I got the idea.  I was just thinking how neat it would be to have a small gazebo in that part of our yard with our hammock inside of it.  Since the gazebo will be against the fence, it makes sense for it to be cut in half.  Also, we won’t want it to cut very far into the yard.

The gazebo will be a wonderful place for us to sit and relax, looking at the flowers in our corner garden, listening to the gurgling water of our pond fountain and watching the birds and squirrels.  We will probably want to run electricity to the gazebo and put in an outlet so that we can plug in radios, or other things like that.  Also, we will need electricity for the pond fountain.

I would like to plant around the gazebo so that the structure blends into the environment.  I plan on planting a Passion Flower along the front side that will climb up the railings and posts of the gazebo.

The Corner Garden

I wrote a post earlier this week about expanding our “corner garden” along the right side.  This will help our paradise corner from being too heavy along the left fence line.

Birds eye view of the planned paradise corner
Bird's eye view of the planned "paradise corner"

Rock Walk

The ground area joining the corner garden to the pond to the gazebo will be covered in flat stones.  Since the area is narrow, well-shaded and will probably be perpetually moist, it will be easier to maintain and more ascetically pleasing if this area is rock, rather than grass.  I will try to get some moss growing between and on top of the stones.  Hopefully we can find some rock locally that matches the rock used in the pond.

The Flowering Fence Line

Currently there are small flowering bushes planted all along the fence line where I am planning to build the half-gazebo.  In the first sketch in this post, I condensed the width of fence line that lies between the corner garden and the large quince bush.  There are about 5 or 6 small quince bushes along this fence that are offsets from the large quince.  Also there is an almond bush and a spirea.  If we decide to build the gazebo flush with the fence, we will relocate the flowering bushes to wrap around the gazebo.  Otherwise, we can build the gazebo about 4 feet into our yard and leave the bushes in place.  It all depends on how much yard we are willing to sacrifice.


Short term planning for the “Corner Garden”


Our beloved “corner garden” was installed during the Summer of 2006.  One corner of our yard was particularly shady, so there wasn’t any grass growing there.  Additionally, there is an unsightly utilities pole in that corner.  We decided to create a corner garden by erecting a wood fence inside of the corner of our yard and building a tiered garden in front of the fence.  We were lucky enough to have some neighbors doing some landscaping which left over a huge pile of dirt.  They were happy for us to haul it off and we were happy to have some free dirt.  We weren’t as happy about the 50+ trips we made with the wheelbarrow to haul the dirt, though. 🙂  We also came across some free rocks from a relative who wanted them out of her garden.  Those we loaded in a truck.

Future site of the corner garden.  Rocks were just being laid out to form the shape and dirt filled in.
Future site of the corner garden. Rocks were just being laid out to form the shape and dirt filled in.

We used the rocks to create 3 tiers and hold the dirt in place.  We were very happy with the outcome of our garden.

The corner garden once it was first complete (summer 2006).
The corner garden once it was first complete (summer 2006). None of the plants pictured are still in the corner garden. If you look closely you will notice that the entire flowerbed is shaded.

We vigorously planted the corner garden the first year and it looked very nice for the first two years.  The Hostas got larger and several of the Heuchera (Coral Bells) came back.  The garden was starting to mature.


However, during December of 2007 central Oklahoma had a really bad ice storm, resulting in the loss of a lot of beautiful trees.  Several of the scraggly trees from our neighbor’s yard lost limbs that were responsible for shading the corner garden.  As a result, last summer most of the shade plants that we had established began to die under the intense full sun.  Several plants were removed and relocated before it was too late.  But the plants left a void.

The current state of the corner garden
The current state of the corner garden. It looks pretty good, but most everything green only lasts for a couple of months during the early Spring. Soon it will all die back, leaving very little to look at during the Summer.

Right now the garden looks nice because it is filled with the colors of Spring bulbs.  But soon those will turn brown and die back until next Spring.  And there will be very little green left in our garden for the remainder of the Summer.

It’s really sad, because the corner garden is a foundation of our backyard and one of our inspirations for continual improvement.  This year it needs some attention.


We are going to invest some of our gardening budget this year on reviving the corner garden with colorful perennials that are meant for a full-sun garden.  The goal is to have the corner garden looking great all year long.  At its current state, the corner garden only looks up to par during the Spring.

I have already ordered some Rudbeckias, which will provide color during the Summer.  We planted some creeping Phlox a couple of years ago, but it hasn’t rebloomed until this year.  We’re excited about that coming back.

I have also been thumbing through the plant catalogs and decided that the late Summer and Fall color will be attained by a collection of Asters.  Bluestone Perennials has an “Aster Collection,” which includes 5 plants of different colors.  I can’t remember the exact names of the plants, but there was a purple, a blue, a red and a white.  The value of the collection is that you get several different colors for a reduced price.  Lots of color and reduced cost sounds good to me!

Bluestone Perennials also has a bush to add vivid Fall color – Euonymus alatus compactus.  This shrub is commonly called “Burning Bush” because of it’s bright red foliage in the Fall.  It also produces small red berries that remain after the leaves have fallen at the end of the Fall.

Euonymus alatus compactus - available from Bluestone Perennials
Dwarf Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus compactus), available from Bluestone Perennials.

And finally, we will need some evergreen plants mixed into our corner garden.  Sometimes I don’t really consider green to be a color when it comes to plants, but compared to brown, dormant plants – green will do nicely.

I haven’t figured out what type of evergreen plants to put in our garden.  I really like the junipers that we have planted around our garden waterfall.  Maybe I’ll plant something like that, but I don’t think the same type would fit with the feel of the corner garden.  I’ve got some time to think about that, though.


While the year-round color is a goal we expect to cover this year, we have another short-term goal that will probably be done in the next two years.  Last Spring we transplanted a Redbud tree along the fence line, about 10 feet away from our corner garden.  We have been talking about expanding the corner garden along the back fence line (to the right with respect to the corner) to enclose the Redbud tree.

Here’s a little sketch of the existing corner garden and original fence backing (in bold) and the planned extension (fainter line).

Sketch of my plan for expanding the corner garden
Sketch of my plan for expanding the corner garden

The existing corner garden has 3 tiers, but the extension will only be for the lowest tier level.  It will allow us to plant some more things, including some larger items, like the small “Burning Bush” shrub shown above.

What do you think of our planned expansion?