A Lighthearted Look at Botanical Terminology
I Gnu A Guru Who...
Milton Wildfong, Mission, B.C., Canada
Just managed to turn things topsy turvy here for a while. Once affairs were back on an even keel it was agreed we were all wiser from "The Happening." But what a strange experience! Unbelievable, one might say -
'Twas a quiet sunny afternoon with the rhododendrons at their peak of bloom. People moved about, some took photographs, others tested blossoms for possible fragrance. Customers selected plants and departed with their purchases. There was the sound of general chitter-chatter one associates with such goings on. Until HE arrived! Then things changed. And after he was gone, everyone concurred that whoever he was, and wherever he came from, when it came to rhododendrons he really knew his onions.
The Little Guru, that's what we all came to call him, but in this narrative, for reasons of brevity and specificity, let us designate him simply as TLG. Months have gone by since TLG was here but scarcely a day passes without some aspect of his peculiar visit coming to mind.
What happened? I'll tell you what happened. Things went flat at the sell out table. Silence descended on the place. There were people around but everyone had disappeared. Distinctly unusual. It called for investigation and a hasty reconnoiter disclosed a surprising sight. Peering down at the gardens below I spied a little man marching resolutely about, trailed by absolutely everyone. A Pied Piper? With curiosity, but also gnashing my teeth with annoyance, I hurried down to check things out.
Gingerly, I approached the group who were now clustered rather closely around TLG. To my astonishment strange words and phrases filled the air, some of them pretty fancy. People seemed to be talking in tongues, except that everyone understood each other. I seemed to fall under a spell and then the flow of words had clear meanings also to me.
My arrival placed me at the outer fringe of the gathering where I came up behind a decidedly ovate lady. She turned to me, her eyes nitens . "Isn't he wonderful," she breathed, then turned away again before I could respond. I thought the lady most jucundum and pressed forward the better to see and hear more.
(At this point gentle reader, if you are finding any of the words designated thusly to be obscure or unfamiliar, glossaries are appended to this account. They provide the magic key for a fuller appreciation of the golden delights herein
An extra measure of pleasure may be attained when reading this article if the Old English mode of pronunciation of certain words is employed. This refers to the "g" not being read silently, but pronounced emphatically in words such as "gnu", "gnarled", "gnaw", etc.)
TLG now spoke. "What is more gnoble than the gnarled patriarchs of the genus Rhododendron ? Through thousands of millennia they have developed their beauty and strength. They have acquired the genius of survival through all the vicissitudes of time," he murmured. Everyone stood silent, in awe.
I scrutinized TLG, noting that he looked a bit gnarled himself. Not that he was canescens by any means. Nor did he seem pretentious in any way. He was not argipeplum ; just nattily though casually attired and wearing white espadrilles. I could detect immediately that he was both peregrinum and insigne . His merry eyes were scintillans and as they darted about I could see he didn't miss a trick. Probably oreotrephes and oresbium I thought. His head was almost esetulosum though ciliate and his manners positively facetum . His face was a bit coriaceous and was rugulose rather than rugose . He was semibarbatum .
At this moment my perceptions were distracted by a youngish fellow who clomped up beside me and trod on a suffruticose , plant without noticing it. "Pachypodum klunkhead," I muttered to myself, just loud enough for him to hear. I eyed him chlorops . He reacted by flashing me a doubly serrate smile and wrinkling his acicular nose at me. Nastily, I noted that his nose was also acuminate . Closer inspection showed his upper lip to chin were hispid and his ferruginous hair with a strip missing the centre length of his head provided only schizopeplum for his noggin. Why didn't he get detonsum and really do a job of it I wondered. As far as I was concerned he was not phaeodropum !
He fished a glischrum candy out of his jeans and proferred it but I declined and uppily turned away. What a sport thought I. Oh well, it takes all kinds - My thoughts were abruptly terminated. "What's going on here anyways?" The paradoxum voice was querulous and discordant; loud enough so no one could escape the verbal abrasion. People spun around to look with a collective gaze that was distinctly penetrating. Abashed, the klunker shifted position uneasily, retreating a step, while the group after their sharp inspections turned back to TLG. To myself, I wondered, is this boorishness aperantum ? It certainly was not apodectum .
There was stillness. Finally TLG spoke; gently, softly, his voice mellifluous. "Let there not be gnat-catchers among us," he said. That certainly settled that!
We moved along to the rhododendron species bathyphyllum F 25739. As you may know, bathyphyllum is a very calophytum . TLG stopped here and turning to us invited everyone to partake of the sensual delight from the aroma of the foliage, especially the new growths of this wonderful plant. "Essence as of the Garden of Allah itself," quoth he as everyone in turn inhaled and exclaimed with amazement and appreciation.
"Precisely as honey fresh from the comb," pronounced someone else who keeps bees. One little lady, clutching her side tightly, stepped forward and after inhaling seemed almost to swoon. TLG was at her elbow in a flash, manifesting solicitude. "Are you quite alright?" he inquired gently. "What seems to be the difficulty?"
Well now it's a matter of some delicacy," she replied modestly but with sufficient strength so no one could possibly miss a word. "Perhaps I had better be chamaezelum ." She eyed the ground which was quite tapetiforme , then continued, "In fact I may be better subprocumbent chameunum ." She clasped her side even more tightly, now with both hands, and in a most inopinum way announced "It's me right side what bothers me."
TLG clucked sympathetically and soothingly murmured "It will be just fine."
"Do you really think so?" the little lady chirped. "Why that's a bit of all right."
Before our very eyes the little lady began changing. She became more charitopes . Her complexion which had been zaleucum , even ravum , was now roseotinctum and becoming normally carneum . Her hands fell away from her side and a few moments later she removed her molle vellereum sweater.
To myself I thought and whispered, "She will never be pulchrum - a little too cuneate for that; but she has a peramoenum way about her."
A little boy oulotrichum moved next to TLG, his well-behaved hirtipes pooch beside him. The lad seemed puderosum and a little ambiguum , but his shoe lace was impeditum . TLG tied it up for him, patted his little head, and the whole thing was handled in a most keleticum and laudandum manner, and what did the little fellow say? "Concinnum," naturally.
The TLG led us here and he led us there, he would select a rhododendron and upend a leaf for all to see and appreciate the indumentum . He brought his forefinger close to, but did not touch, the beautiful peeling bark of a tubbed cubittii . From an inconspicuous spot he plucked a leaf with heavy tomentum , then he lightly brushed it with his thumb to show how easily the beauty could be marred by careless or inconsiderate touching. And although we encountered fragrance in some blooms and tested assorted aromatic leaves, everyone agreed that the bathyphyllum was clearly in a class all by itself.
No one departed our group. Even klunky followed along quietly and attentively. I noticed that being trichostomum some of his viscosum candy juice had leaked down on his chin and things were agglutinatum . (I suppose you can tell I was still annoyed with him.) Anyway, we all hung in there and wherever TLG marched we followed. It was as if we were all mesmerized or something. Perhaps there were astral waves and stuff like that, it seemed as though TLG was telling us so much, although he actually spoke very little.
"I myself am alpicola ," said TLG. "Many times I am supranubium for I am temenium ." He raised his finger to his jacket lapel where a xanthocodon of pure gold was pinned. "It was a chrysodoron ," he murmured as he tapped it gently and we all heard tinkly tintinabulation. Later, there were those who even insisted they felt vibes!
New arrivals now joined us and I observed one couple as their expressions changed from diffident curiosity to positive animation as they settled in with us. The lady was very callimorphum , not as elliptic as some of us. Her throat was catacosmum , hormophorum , highly idoneum and doubtless eritimum . Her hair was caloxanthum and her eyes coelicum caeruleum . Her eyebrows were nicely arched nakotiltum . Without question the lady was peramabile and doubtless pothinum by many. She had a basilicum bearing but her manner was most agastum .
The gentleman was speciosum although his head was glabrous and this latter factor tended to emphasize he was encumbered auritum of a mucrunatum nature. However, they were lobulate . The suit in which he was vestitum was of praestans rhabdotum material. He was cloiophorum and tie. Later, when I was close beside him I noticed that the tie was slightly spilotum , maculiferum some of which were viridescens ; rather paradoxum but scarcely worthy of mention for as a couple they made an siderium impression and were most diaprepes . It seemed quite obvious to me they were from the city and not hylaeum or countryside.
TLG had brought his flock (namely us) alongside 'Naomi Nautilus', gloriously laden with bloom. Symbolically embracing the plant he murmured some sweet nothings to it and explained to us all, in a beautiful way, about it being hermaphrodite but not polygamous . You could tell this had a profound effect on everyone.
On hearing a rather anguished sigh from beside me I turned to find "You Know Who" standing there, only now he was rather entwined and ìntricatum with a young lady and it was she who had exhaled. Feeling still a mite tetchy toward him, I was more inclined to inspect her and immediately found difficulty in deciding whether she was more spathulate than urceolate . No question but what she was dentate . Her hair seemed to be both depressed and adpressed . Her nose was telopeum and obtusum . I thought her chin crinigerum but I may be wrong about that for some times such things can be decipiens . Later I was to concede to myself that actually she was quite agapetum and my assessments were just overly exasperatum ! Rude! (It is my nature to look at matters veruculosum and all. It does not burden me too much to admit that I myself am saddled triplonaevium and my very own cheek is marked monosematum .)
By now much time had passed. Much more had transpired than you could ever guess from this brief account. Proceeding at a fairly brisk pace, TLG now led us upward to the area where it all began. A cab arrived at that very moment. With first a quick glance at his timepiece and then a cheery wave of his hand, The Little Guru hopped inside the vehicle and away he sped. He left us all just standing there, skittery-skookles.
After a time chatter began to build up and presently it seemed everybody was talking at once. It was clearly evident that we all had been exhilarated by his coming and we were desolated by his going. Who was he? Where did he come from? Would he ever return? It was unanimous this was sperabile . Of course there was no way of telling, but when "You Know Who" remarked, "He left in a taxi and not a Rolls-Royce," somehow, this seemed encouraging.
People were reluctant to leave even though it was getting late. Hand in hand, Jeremiah and Petula were the last to go. Yes, by now I knew their names, and I felt a little glow because she had not been praesteritum . And yes, this time I accepted a viscid offering. Gnawing on same, I hurried indoors to try and get it all together.
Acicular — needle shaped
Acuminte — tapering at end; long, pointed
Adpressed — lying close and flat against
Ciliate — fringed with hairs
Coriaceous — leathery texture
Cuneate — wedge shaped
Dentate — toothed with teeth directed outward
Depressed — flattened from above
Divaricte — spreading far apart Doubly Serrate — large teeth and small teeth alternating
Elliptic — widest at or about the middle, narrowing equally at both ends
Ferruginous — rust colored
Glabrous — smooth; hairless
Hermaphrodite — bisexual, both male and female organs in the same flower
Hispid — beset with rigid hairs or bristles
Indumentum — felt-like hairy covering, underside of leaf
Lobulate — having small lobes
Ovate — broadest below the middle, like a hen's egg
Polygamous — bearing bisexual and unisexual flowers on the same plant
Rugose — wrinkled
Rugulose — slightly wrinkled
Spathulate — spoon shaped
Sport — mutation; to mutate
Subprocumbent — somewhat less than prostrate
Suffruticose — diminutively shrubby, having a woody stem or base
Tomentum — dense covering of matted hairs
Urceolate — urn shaped
Viscid — sticky
Species Rhododendrons and Their Definitions
agapetum — delightful
agastum — charming
agglutinatum — referring to hairs stuck together
alpicola — a dweller in high mountains
ambiguum — doubtful
aperantum — limitless
apodectum — acceptable
argipeplum — white-robed
auritum — with long ears
basilicum — royal
bathyphyllum — thickly leafy with density of foliage. F 25739 is code number assigned by plant hunter George Forrest on his 1924 - 25 expedition
caeruleum — blue
callimorphum — lovely shaped
calophytum — beautiful plant
caloxanthum — of a beautiful yellow
canescens — hoary
carneum — flesh colored
catacosmum — adorned
chamaezelum — seeking the ground
chamaeunum — lying on the ground
charitopes — graceful of aspect
chlorops — with green eye
chrysodoron — golden gift
cloiophorum — wearing a collar
coelicum — heavenly
concinnum — neat
crinigerum — bearing hairs
cubittii — named for a collector in North Burma
decipiens — deceptive
detonsum — shorn
diaprepes — distinguished
eritimum — highly prized
estulosum — hairless
exasperatum — rough
facetum — elegant
glischrum — sticky
hirtipes — shaggy-footed
hormophorum — bearing a necklace
hylaeum — belonging to forests
idoneum — suitable
impeditum — tangled
inopìnum — unexpected
insigne — remarkable
intricatum — entangled
jucundum — pleasant
keleticum — charming
laudandum — praiseworthy
maculiferum — bearing spots
molle — soft
monosematum — with one blotch
mucronatum — pointed
nakotiltum — having the wool plucked off
nitens — shining
obtusum — blunt
oreotrephes — mountain bred
oresbium — mountain dwelling
oulatrichum — with curly hairs
pachypodum — thick footed
paradoxum — unexpected
peramabile — very lovely
peramoenum — very pleasing
peregrinum — foreign
phaeodropum — of bright appearance
pothinum — much desired
praestans — excellent
praeteritum — passed over
preptum — distinguished
puderosum — very bashful
pulchrum — beautiful
ravum — gray
rhabdotum — striped
roseotinctum — tinged with rose
rude — rough
schizopeplum — split covering
scintillans — sparkling
semibarbatum — partially bearded
sidereum — excellent
speciosum — good-looking
sperabile — to be hoped for
spilotum — stained
supranubium — above the clouds
tapetiforme — carpet-like
telopeum — conspicuous
temenium — from a sacred place in E. Tibet
trichostomum — hairy mouthed
triplonaevium — with triple moles
vellereum — fleecy
verruculosum — with small warts
vestitum — clothed
viridescens — becoming green
viscosum — sticky
xanthocodon — yellow bell
zaleucum — very white
Milton Wildfong, longtime member of the Vancouver Chapter, grows a wide variety of rare trees, shrubs and rhododendrons at Silver Creek Gardens near Mission, British Columbia. Mr. Wildfong is an active hybridizer and a regular contributor to the ARS Seed Exchange.