Die-hard gardeners know of hundreds, perhaps (in some cases) even thousands of plants. But what about non-gardeners? They know of certain plants, too, even if they've never grown any of them -- just not in such impressive numbers.
But have you ever mused about exactly how it is non-gardeners come by their awareness of plant names? Of course, experiences will vary from person to person. Nonetheless, certain plant names come to be known by the overwhelming majority of English speakers, even if they've hardly ever given the plants in question a second thought. My question is: why do these particular plants make it into our cultural consciousness, and not others?
You might think, at first, that there's a simple answer: namely, that it's the commonly grown plants that everyone knows of. I would dispute that assertion, somewhat. I see just about as much euonymus around in people's yards as I do holly. But how many non-gardeners could tell you what euonymus is?
No, I think it has something to do with language, too. "Holly" rolls off the tongue, while euonymus is destined to remain anonymous with a name like that. However, let's not jump to a hasty conclusion here. For I would also question any assertion that "euonymus" fails to come up in everyday conversation simply because it's a scientific name. "Hydrangea" (picture) is a scientific name, too, but most people know what hydrangeas are.
You might interject here that people learn the names of many plants through growing up with them as children and having adults identify them by name. But note that such identifications can be very unreliable. Because masses of it grew in the landscape of my childhood home, I became aware of Japanese knotweed long before I knew its correct name. The adult who initially "identified" it for me told me it was sumac, which does not even superficially resemble Japanese knotweed!
The average kid, no doubt, learns many plant names through references in pop culture, ranging from fairy tales to cartoons to songs. I have a clear picture in my head even now -- decades later -- of cartoons I saw as a child in which somebody was "pushing up daisies," i.e., had died and was buried.
In my article on the 10 best landscaping plants you may not know of, I mention some plants that have been immortalized in song. But the article is mainly about great plants that -- for whatever reason -- never have become household names.
Read article: 10 Best Plants You May Not Know About
Put in your 2 cents: What Are Your Favorite Plants?
On Another Note: What common weeds do you consider beneficial?
Photo ©2008 David Beaulieu (licensed to About, Inc.)