Category Archives: botany

The grainy apple, laden with meaning

In my first post, I noted that the words granite and corn share the Latin root granum, granite for its granular texture and corn for its original meaning as the local grain crop, whatever it might be. I recently learned that pomegranate also shares this root, and the pomegranate itself has a fascinating history to boot. The pomegranate… Read More »

How is a delphinium like a dolphin?

Sometimes it seems like everything is named for a resemblance to something else. This is a story of the similarity-based links among two flowers, three birds, and a cetacean. Oh, yes: and an amphibian. I recently read a short story in which a New England matron establishes a garden club in her town because she’s the local expert… Read More »

Midnight moths, pollen, and scientists

It’s easy to talk about science or its history in the abstract, especially when you’re thinking about long stretches of time, and to lose sight of what it means to actually do science. So I thought I’d share a video that shows scientists out doing field work. In “Sundrops and Hawk Moths,” episode 4 of the series Plants… Read More »

The noble genus Vitis

The wine harvest is nearing its end, so this seems like a good time to look at the different species of grapes that are used for wine. When I first began to take a serious interest in wine, the differences between varieties and species were very fuzzy to me. I’m still sorting out the varieties, most of which… Read More »

Wolf feet and golden leeks

Sometimes it’s fun just to see what you can figure out about something by knowing the Latin or Greek roots of its name. This is also a great way to spot connections between very different things. I was delighted, for example, to find out that the name of the rhododendron has a charming etymology. The rhodo part comes… Read More »

Two Scotsmen and a tree

The story of Scottish botanists Archibald Menzies, David Douglas, and the tree that bears both their names is a good example of the challenges of establishing either a binomial name or a common name for newly observed species. (Incidentally, the name Menzies is pronounced “MING-iss.”) The tree is the Douglas fir, common in the forests of western North… Read More »