Plant taxonomy is a curious subject, something I explored in my previous article.
At Candide, we take our botanical names very seriously, as accurate nomenclature forms the backbone of our plant, pest, and disease records. But even in the gardeners’ world, it can all get a bit cheeky thanks to some unusually-named species. Let’s take a look at my top five picks that could well be growing in a garden near you...
5) Nipplewort (Lapsana communis: Asteraceae)
Forest & Kim Starr (CC BY 3.0)
At number 5 is one of a large number of British natives that has yellow, dandelion-like flowers. It can be distinguished from the rest by the lack of pappus (the feathery parachute on dandelion seeds).
The common name dates as far back as the 16th Century, thought to be based on its use to soothe the cracked/inflamed breasts of nursing mothers. Other sources report that young leaves formed a part of salad, boiled and eaten by the ‘‘peasantry’’ in England, or even used medicinally in villages. Who knew a plant could be so useful!
4) Sticky Willy (Galium aparine: Rubiaceae)
Andreas Rockstein (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Many bedstraws (Galium spp.) are invasive weeds widely distributed in woodland, hedgerows, meadows and wasteland. Whorls of linear leaves produced on weak scrambling stems make my number 4 an easy species to identify. Gardeners will know this plant as it spreads on the fur of animals and clothing of passers-by, via its strongly recurved bristles.
The seeds of this plant also contain minute hooked hairs, and can be produced in large quantities (300–400 seeds per plant). Viable seeds can persist in the soil for around six years, allowing it to quickly establish in gardens if not controlled. It’s no wonder why people don’t like “Sticky Willy”!
3) Clitoria ternatea (Asian Pigeonwings: Fabaceae)
Dinesh Valke (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Species in this genus are mainly found in forest margins, thickets, and scrub in tropical regions. It may come as no surprise that the genus Clitoria refers to the similarity of the flowers to human female genitalia, so much so that many local common names of the species are also derived from the shape of its deep blue flowers.
Fruits are linear pods that shatter violently upon maturity, giving “birth” to 8–10 dark and shiny seeds. Recent interest has focussed on potential applications in both modern medicine and agriculture, as well as a source of natural food colorants and antioxidants.
2) Amorphophallus titanum (Titan Arum: Araceae)
Chris Malcolm (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The huge and dramatic stature of Amorphophallus makes it to number 2 on my list. Grown for their magnificent, deeply lobed leaves, these plants are not for the faint-hearted. When the vegetative stage has gathered enough energy (around eight–ten years), a towering spathe is produced in summer with one of the most foul smells botany has to offer.
The name is derived from a combination of Ancient Greek amorphos ("without form, misshapen"), phallos ("phallus"), and titan ("giant") – at over 2 m long, these spathes are real record breakers!
1) Hairy Balls (Gomphocarpus physocarpus: Apocynaceae)
John Tann (CC BY 2.0)
This deciduous subshrub, often grown as an annual, is widespread in South Africa. What puts this in at number 1 is its large, inflated, bristly seed pods, often conveniently in pairs.
Though the species forms an important food plant for the larvae of the Monarch butterflies, its exuded milky sap is poisonous to humans if ingested – small children and livestock in particular should be cautious around these plants! In some communities, this plant is infamously called Bishop’s Balls – but I can’t think why...
It’s easy to have fun with your garden by selecting plants guaranteed to get your guests laughing. To help you identify even more plants within the app, we’ve just launched our new plant identification model.
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