Ross Murray on gardening and celebrity names

Ross Murray on gardening and celebrity names

By Ross Murray

In our vegetable garden the other day I was pulling Queen Anne’s lace. Actually there was only one stalk in the entire garden – barely enough lace to make half a hankie. In French, this plant is known as carotte sauvage, which sounds prosaic and possibly anti-imperialist until you remember that Queen Anne’s nickname actually was “Wild Carrot.”

I recognize Queen Anne’s lace when I see it (or maybe it’s yarrow…) but it occurred to me I know very little about Queen Anne, which is a lapse in my knowledge, both historical and botanical. I also wonder whether it was a big deal to have a plant named in your honour back in ye old daye. Was it the equivalent of a modern celebrity having her own line of perfume? If she were alive today, would we all be sniffing Queen Anne’s Kissing Cousins? And the fact that it’s a weed, was that someone’s idea of satire?

BeyonceThese days, celebrities do occasionally sneak into the names of newly discovered plants and animals. There is, for instance, a rare horsefly named Scaptia (Plinthina) beyonceae, named after singer Beyoncé. The horsefly is distinguished by its shiny gold butt. Write your own jokes…

But you’ll notice it’s in the Latin name, not the vernacular. (I don’t know the common name for this uncommon horsefly but I bet its friends tell it to get over itself.) As far as I know, there are very few plants with common names like Queen Anne’s lace. I can think only of Saint John’s wort. You’re a queen you get a weed, you’re a saint you get a wort. Some honour…

Given the importance these days of being green or at very least superficially seeming green, I think there’s an opportunity to be had assigning famous names to various plants. Of course, this would have to be overseen by some neutral botanical council, otherwise Canada would be overrun by Stephen Harper’s stinkweed.

But wouldn’t you love to live in a world where a creeping border plant is known as Nick Nolte’s macramé? I know I would. Nick Nolte, too, I bet.

The problem, of course, is that we’ve already named most of the plants, and while some species are still being discovered, there wouldn’t be nearly enough to meet the insatiable celebrity demand once this trend (wait for it) takes root. So we’ll simply have to change some names.
It’s done more often than we think. For example, canola used to be known as “rapeseed” until marketers realized this was the worst-named plant since the hitlerberry. Regardless, they decided to rename the plant after Canada, which is precisely the kind of corny, dopey move that makes the rest of the world make fun of us. It’s like if we thought penne pasta sounded too much like “penis pasta” so we renamed it “the canoodle.”

Last week, CBC reported that US marketers (who obviously hate Canada) have been changing the name of the Saskatoon berry to “juneberry” south of the border. The web story included a poll asking readers what they thought about changing the name: sure, whatever, or gosh heck no! After carefully analyzing the poll results, I can state conclusively that this was an embarrassing news story and that Canadians deserve to be made fun of.

Nonetheless, we do have a precedent for changing names, so let the celebrity plant frenzy commence! It is now my ambition to become a tuber. I hope some day people will begin stories with, “In our vegetable garden the other day I was pulling Ross Murray’s root…”

Categories: News, Opinion

About Author

Ross Murray

Ross Murray is an award-winning humorist and radio contributor and the author of two books ‘You’re Not Going to Eat That, Are You?’ and ‘Don’t Everyone Jump at Once’. Raised in Nova Scotia, Ross has lived in the Eastern Townships of Quebec since the early 1990’s with his wife Debbie, four children and far too many pets. After all this time, Ross feels comfortable calling himself a Townshipper; his neighbours call him something else.

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