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What's that plant?

Pincushions, straws, ice, rock-foil, pigsqueak. Odd array of words and yet a thread holds them together like puppets on a string. They all are common names of flowers.

Pincushion describes a purple, pink, sometimes cream flower with petals that seem to hold up a cushion stuck with pins. Strawflowers on the other hand, feel more like rough or smooth pieces of paper stuck into a ball of plasticine and, just like paper, they don't like getting wet. They clam up when it rains!

When you hunt around for names for a new flower, sometimes what it looks like is what sticks. Some reflect their medicinal values, while others describe what it can do, like soapwort.... when you rub soapwort leaves and roots with water, they suds up, just like soap!

The pincushion flower has the genus of Scabiosa. In olden days, this plant was used to treat itching, which is what scabies means in Latin.

Ever seen an iceplant? It's weird looking. You'd swear it had just stepped out of a freezer. Its stems are like a succulent, a type of cactus, but instead of prickly spikes, it has drops of "frozen" ice that shimmer in bright light. You take care of it like a cactus and it rewards you with clear, sharp, pure petals in pastel colours.

How about Bergenia cordifolia? Now there's a gem for any garden. In fall, the leaves turn a bronze-red with tints of yellow to match the golden leaves of the maples. In spring, they are the first leaves to keep growing where they left off in the fall. They go from red to orange to yellow and then green, sort of like slow motion rewind movies. Its flowers are cones of deep pink to white clusters that don't smell but that look real cool high above the rosettes of leaves on the ground.

Bergenia was named for a botany professor by the name of Karl August von Bergen who lived between 1704 and 1768. Although the plant had been known since the 17th century (1600's), it was only in the end of the 18th century that Bergenia was named. You can imagine how well this plant grew to being very popular.

First off, it's not afraid of snow, wind, heat or dryness. Neither is it stopped by frequent divisions and, it has survived for centuries. The Pilgrims called it "pigsqueak", because when you divide the plants to make smaller ones, the big fleshy roots, which are juice-filled, sound like little piglets squeaking for their mother. Today it is known as Bergenia cordifolia, the heart-leafed plant. Other names are Rockfoil and Saxifrage, meaning the "breaker of rocks", due to its preference for a rocky environment.

You might consider that the humble pansy has the worst or the best deal out of all the others. It is perennial, annual and biennial. The shy viola is either biennial or perennial.

An annual is a plant that grows, blooms and sets seed in one growing season, then dies. A biennial, has leaves only the first year, goes dormant (to sleep) during the winter and then blooms and sets seed during the second season of warm weather. Then it dies and never comes back.

Perennials are more variable in regards to life expectancy. Some, like peonies, have been known to live over 200 years! They start small and then grow, grow and grow some more throughout the years. They usually bloom the second or third year from seed. Violas carry names like crowfoot, bog, sweet, and Canadian. Sweet violas are woodland plants that love the cool, damp areas of their world. They scatter their seeds in the wind and start new plants somewhere else in the woods. Pansies are called "happy faces."

Just think, every year between fifty and one hundred new varieties of flowers get named. Many of them carry names of well-known people like "Princess Diana", a deep-throated pink rose, or a title that describes them so well, like "Golden Tiara" that has a yellow band around the leaf of a hosta. Monkey flowers are an all-time favourite. They have polka dots all over their cheery faces, just like pansies offer a smile to everyone who passes by.

So what's in a name? Beats me!

Claire is the author of a few children's fantasy book, has a number of other books of the fictional inspirational type pending publication and is currently working on a teen slanted fiction novel She is a free-lance writer for newspaper and magazines.
COPYRIGHT 2008 This material is for informational use. Views are not those of the editorial committee. Reference to commercial products is made with no discrimination intended or endorsement by The Prairie Garden.
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Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Berube, Claire
Publication:Prairie Garden
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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