More than just a pretty flower: getting to know the name behind the species!

Ever wonder where those names that end in “ii” come from?  What do they mean?  Some of the answers are easy to find on the internet, others pretty much impossible. However, inquiring minds want to know, and if you have the curiosity and the time, there’s a lot of information “out there”!!!  Interestingly, much of this plant exploration took place in the so called “Age of Enlightenment” during the 18th Century.   So, here are six well known names to start with.

Drumondii: -Thomas Drummond ca. 1790-1835

                                                                                    Phlox drummondii

Many plants (including Phlox drummondii) were named for Thomas Drummond, Scottish Naturalist.  In 1830 he made a trip to America to collect specimens from the western and southern United States. In March, 1833, he arrived at Velasco, Texas to begin his collecting work in that area. He spent twenty-one months working the area between Galveston Island and the Edwards Plateau, especially along the Brazos, Colorado, and Guadalupe rivers. His collections were the first made in Texas that were extensively distributed among the museums and scientific institutions of the world. He collected 750 species of plants and 150 specimens of birds. Drummond had hoped to make a complete botanical survey of Texas, but he died in Havana, Cuba, in 1835, while making a collecting tour of that island.

Wrightii: -Charles Wright 1811-1885

                                                                                   Datura wrightii

Charles Wright, American-born world-wide botanical collector collected extensively in Texas (1837-1852), Cuba, and his native Connecticut.  Plants named for him include Datura wrightii, the genus Carlow wrightii (wrightworts) and Geissorhiza wrightii (Baker). George Engelmann named a small cactus after him, Wright’s fishhook (Sclerocactus uncinatus var. wrightii.) He is also commemorated in the name of the grey flycatcher (Empidonax wrightii ) found near El Paso. Tropidophis wrightii (Wright’s dwarf boa) was also named after him


Anthonyanus: -Dr Harold Anthony (Can’t find image of Dr. Anthony!)


                                                       Selenicereus Anthonyanus,
Rick Rack Cactus, Devils Backbone Cactus, Fishbone Cactus – is named for Dr. Harold E. Anthony, who first flowered this species in June 1950. The former generic name Cryptocereus (literally, “hidden cereus” recalls the fact that the species remained long unknown in a region that had been thoroughly investigated.  Mr. Thomas McDougall found this species in 1946. He thought he had found a close relative of Epiphyllum anguliger.  When it flowered in the greenhouses of Dr. Harold E. Anthony in Jersey in 1950 it was obvious that this was a great novelty. The species is rarely collected and most plants in cultivation descend from this first collection.

Greggii: -Josiah Gregg 1806-1850

                                                                                                   Salvia Greggii

Josiah Gregg was a merchant, explorer, naturalist, and author of Commerce of the Prairies about the American Southwest and Northern Mexico regions. He collected many previously undescribed plants on his merchant trips and during the Mexican-American War after which he went to California. He reportedly died of a fall from his mount due to starvation near Clear Lake, California, on 25 February 1850 after a cross-country expedition which fixed the location of Humboldt Bay.

Fortunei: -Robert Fortune 1812-1880

Osmanthus fortunei

Born in Scotland, he took a 2-year trip to China about 1845 and wrote a travelogue which captures the imagination of Victorian Society; he was approached by the Dutch East India Company to return to China on a “secret” mission.  He came back with more plants, and more importantly …………. TEA!!

Four of the best-known plants that were named for him are:
Euonymous fortunei – Winter Creeper
Trachycarpus fortunei – Windmill Palm
Osmanthus fortunei – Tea Olive
Hosta fortunei

Thunbergii: -Carl Peter Thunberg 1743-1828

                                                                               Spirea thunbergii
Carl Peter Thunberg, also known as Karl Peter von Thunberg, Carl Pehr Thunberg, or Carl Pet Thunberg, was a Swedish naturalist and an apostle of Carl Linnaeus.  He has been called “the father of South African botany”, “Pioneer of Occidental Medicine in Japan” and the”Japanese Linnaeus.”

At 18 Thunberg entered Uppsala University i Sweden where he was taught by the famous Carl Linnaeus.  He was skilled in botany and medicine, and joined the Dutch East India Co. as a surgeon in order to travel to South Africa.  He is credited with naming some 254 species of plants and animals, including:
Allium thunbergii, Amarantus thunbergii, Berberis thunbergii Geranium thunbergii, Pinus thunbergii, and Spirea thunbergii!!




Three more Euphorbias!

My last post was about the Poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, probably one of the most popular and well known Euphorbia in the world, especially at Christmas!  Such an interesting plant family, Euphorbia is a very large and diverse genus of flowering and non-flowering  plants and commonly called Spurge.

Three more Euphorbias that I am currently growing are Pencil Cactus, Crown of Thorns, and African Milk Tree – none of which resemble the Poinsettia in appearance, but all of which have the irritating milky sap (irritating not in the sense of annoying, of course, but as a potential irritant to the skin!!)

Euphorbia tirucalli – Pencil Cactus:

Greenhouse.Euphorbia Tirucalli  Like many succulents, tirucalli is easy to propagate by cuttings.  Sometimes I leave the cuttings out in the air to callous over the cuts, sometimes I stick them in with the sap dripping.  It doesn’t seem to make much difference!  Pencil Cactus can grow into large bushes and trees in it’s native habitat of semi-arid tropical climates, but is easy to control in less hospitable climates by taking cuttings.  Chop off it’s head, stick in potting soil, and share with your friends!!  I have never seen flowers on this plant, only teeny-tiny leaves.

Euphorbia milii – Crown of Thorns, Corona de Cristo


Again, easy (but not fast!) to grow from cuttings.  These come in several colors, and have vicious thorns.  It is easy to see where it’s common name “Crown of Thorns” came from.  Care (and gloves) is required when handling this plant.

Euphorbia trigona – African Milk Tree


This plant will grow to a decent sized spiny shrub or tree, with it’s origin in Central Africa.  It is easily grown from stem cuttings – most sources recommend letting the cut edge callousing over prior to planting to prevent rot.  Interesting to see the color change in the second picture.  The bottom of the plant is scarred from excess sun I think, so now I’ll be keeping it in afternoon shade once it goes back outside for spring and summer.

The best thing about these plants is that they are “pass alongs”; E. Tirucalli came from a friend at church who knew I was looking for some starts for a friend; E.millii came from the Rector at my church; E.trigona came from a dear friend.


Poinsettias for Christmas.

Before coming to the United States, I was not familiar with the tradition of Poinsettias at Christmas.  I was used to plants such holly, ivy, cyclamen, Christmas cactus and amaryllis.   Research sources such as Wiki, cactus/succulent websites and Brookwood Community where they grow thousands each year, has helped explain!!

Euphorbia pulcherrima is a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a height of 0.6–4 metres (2–13 ft). The plant bears dark green dentate leaves that measure 7–16 centimetres (2.8–6.3 in) in length. The colored bracts—which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white, or marbled—are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors, but are actually leaves. The colors of the bracts are created through photoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. At the same time, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color. The flowers of the poinsettia are unassuming and do not attract pollinators. They are grouped within small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch, and are called cyathia.

The poinsettia is native to Mexico. It is found in the wild in deciduous tropical forests at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to and. It is also found in the interior in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas. The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic medication. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is called Cuitlaxochitl, meaning “flower that grows in residues or soil” Today it is known in Mexico and Guatemala as Flor de Noche Buena, meaning Christmas Eve Flower. In Spain it is known as Flor de Pascua, meaning Easter flower. In Chile and Peru, the plant became known as Crown of the Andes.  In Hungary, it is called Santa Claus’ Flower, and is widely used as a Christmas decoration.

The plant’s association with Christmas began in 16th-century Mexico, where legend tells of a girl, commonly called Pepita or Maria, who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday and was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus. In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day. The poinsettia has been cultivated in Egypt since the 1860s, when it was brought from Mexico during the Egyptian campaign. It is called bent el consul, “the consul’s daughter”, referring to the U.S. ambassador Joel Poinsett. There are over 100 cultivated varieties of poinsettia.

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In areas outside its natural environment, it is commonly grown as an indoor plant where it prefers good morning sun, then shade in the hotter part of the day. Contrary to popular belief, flowering poinsettias can be kept outside, even during winter, as long as they are kept frost-free. It is widely grown and very popular in subtropical climates such as Australia, Rwanda and Malta.  The plant requires a daily period of uninterrupted long, dark nights followed by bright sunny days for around two months in autumn in order to encourage it to develop colored bracts.  Any incidental light during these nights (from a nearby television set, from under a door frame, even from passing cars or street lights) hampers bract production. Commercial production of poinsettia has been done by placing them inside a greenhouse and covering the latter completely to imitate the natural biological situation.  To produce extra axillary buds that are necessary for plants containing multiple flowers, a phytoplasma infection—whose symptoms include the proliferation of axillary buds—is used. The discovery of the role phytoplasmas play in the growth of axillary buds is credited to Ing-Ming Lee of the USDA Agricultural Research Service.
Poinsettia tree growing in Guatemala

In the United States and perhaps elsewhere, there is a common misconception that the poinsettia is highly toxic. This misconception was spread by a 1919 urban legend of a two-year-old child dying after consuming a poinsettia leaf.While the sap and latex of many plants of the spurge genus are indeed toxic, the poinsettia’s toxicity is relatively mild. Its latex can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. It is also mildly irritating to the skin or stomach and may sometimes cause diarrhea and vomiting if eaten.  Sap introduced into the human eye may cause temporary blindness.


When is a Shrub not a Shrub? When it is a, well, ………… Shrub!

The kind of shrub I’m talking about is not found growing in the garden, although some of its ingredients might be!   The name “shrub” is derived from a variant of the Arabic “Mashrub” (to drink).   The early English version of the shrub arose from the medicinal cordials of the 15th century, and the drink from Iran (then Persia) called Sekaniabin.  The drink gained popularity among smugglers in the 1680s who were trying to avoid paying import taxes for goods obtained from mainland Europe.  Very often they would sink barrels of spirits off-shore to be retrieved later, and the addition of fruit flavors aided in masking the taste of alcohol spoiled sea water.   All along the south and south-west coasts of England there were smugglers’ hideouts; many public houses and inns attest to this with names such as The Smugglers Inn, The Smugglers Arms, etc.  There are also many networks of tunnels from the beaches to the towns that were used as defenses and smugglers alike!

The shrub is related to punch, however punches were usually served immediately after mixing the ingredients, whereas shrubs tended to have a higher concentration of flavor and sugar and could be stored for later use.  The shrub itself was a common ingredient in punches, either on its own or as a simple mix with brandy or rum.  Served during the Christmas season mixed with raisins, honey, lemon, sherry, and other spirits.  The shrub was very popular in most inns and public houses in the 17th and 18th centuries, and although it fell out of fashion by the late 1800s, it is now coming back into favor!!

Fruit preserves made with vinegar were themselves called shrubs.  By the 19th century, typical American recipes for shrubs used vinegar poured over fruit—traditionally berries—which was left to infuse anywhere from overnight up to several days; afterwards, the fruit would be strained out and the remaining liquid would be mixed with a sweetener such as sugar or honey and then reduced to make a syrup. The sweet-and-sour syrup could be mixed with either water or soda water and served as a soft drink, or it could be used as a mixer in alcoholic cocktails. Shrubs eventually fell out of popularity with the advent of home refrigeration.  The serving of vinegar-based shrub drinks became popular again in 2011 and 2012 in American restaurants and bars as well as London. The acidity of the shrub makes it well suited as an apéritif or used as an alternative to bitters in cocktails. Unlike cocktails acidulated with citrus, vinegar-based drinks will remain clear when shaken.

This would be a wonderful way to use up excess fruit from your orchards or farmers’ markets, and even fruit that is past its prime can be used.  Many people suggest that berries make the best shrubs, but lemons, peaches, pears, and figs can also be used.  Fruit thawed from frozen can also be used.  There are loads of recipes on, and I have just ordered a recipe book so I can make some Fig Shrub with these:


How to make a Fruit Shrub Syrup

2 cups fruit, cleaned, peeled, seeded, and chopped if necessary
2 cups vinegar (any kind will do as long as it is at least 5% acidic – experiment for taste!)
1 ½ – 2 cups sugar

*Sterilize quart sized canning jar and lid.
*Add fruit to hot jar.
*Add vinegar, after first heating it to “almost” boiling, or at least 190 deg. F.  leaving 1//4” headspace in jar.  Wipe the rim with a clean, damp cloth, and cap tightly.
*Let cool completely, then store in a cool, dark place at least 24 hours, up to 4 weeks until the desired flavor is reached.
*Strain the fruit from the vinegar through a damp cheesecloth or coffee filter.  Do this at least once, and repeat until the vinegar shows no cloudiness.  Discard the fruit or save it for another purpose.
*Place the fruit-infused vinegar and sugar in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Pour into a clean, sterilized container (original mason jar or other bottled.)
*Store the shrub syrup in the refrigerator.  Tightly sealed, it can last for up to 6 months.  Taste before using to make sure the flavor is still good.  Discard immediately if it is moldy or fermenting.

To serve:  mix 1 tablespoon shrub syrup into a glass of still or sparkling water.  Taste and add more syrup if desired.  Shrub syrups may also be used as cocktail mixers, in salad dressings, and more.


This above recipe was developed by Emily Ho based on historical recipes and the “Flavored Vinegars” chapter of So Easy to Preserve (Cooperative Extension, The University of Georgia, 2006.)

Sources of other information from Wikipedia, snippets from websites, and remembering what I knew as a child!!!

“The Gardens at Texas A&M”

On June 15th, 2018, The Gardens at Texas A&M celebrated the completion of its first phase: the Leach Teaching Gardens.  These seven acres will serve as an outdoor classroom where faculty and staff can teach students and the public about food production, landscape beauty, and the natural environment.  “The Gardens” as a whole is meant to be a peaceful sanctuary on campus, a place where everyone at Texas A&M and in our community can relax, enjoy nature, and learn.

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Future phases will create a Children’s Garden, Great Lawn, Rose Garden, and showcase gardens typical of the various ethnic groups who settled in the Brazos Valley.  The area runs along White Creek, and the public can now enjoy this quiet and peaceful place to observe birds, butterflies and other wildlife.   This is a Texas Garden Clubs Contributing Project, and members of A&M Garden Club are planning a children’s educational program on November 3rd using a National Garden Clubs “Plant America” grant awarded for this purpose!




Milkweeds for Monarchs

A&M Garden Club has been supporting and promoting the National Garden Clubs’ initiative/project to plant butterfly gardens, register butterfly gardens (under the Million Pollinator Project), and help schools and individuals to established Monarch Way Stations.

We held a Milkweed event last week at Lick Creek Park in College Station, TX, which was a great success.   There were people lining up around the building to get in!!!  Several varieties were offered, including:

Asclepias curassivica (“tropical milkweed”),                         A. asperula, (“Antelope Horns”)
                                      See the source image

                            A. viridis, (“Green Antelope Horns” or “Spider milkweed”)

See the source image

A. tuberosa, (“Butterfly weed”)                                             A. incarnata, (“swamp milkweed”)
See the source imageSee the source image

and Gomphocarpus (Asclepias) physocarpus (Balloon Milkweed) – see Featured image at top of this post, plant growing in the wild three thousand miles from land on one of the Azores islands in the middle of the Atlantic!!!  It is shown in the middle of the photo – look for the “balloons”!!  I took this photo four years ago, and it took me almost that long to find where I had filed it!!!!

All of the above have slightly different cultural requirements.  The original plan was to purchase plants from a wholesaler and sell them as a fundraiser, but the availability of mature plants was very limited, and those that were available were priced out of our budget.  Hence the starting of many, many seeds!  They are not all “native” to Texas; however, they have widely and successfully naturalized!  Do your research before you buy!!   Which is your favorite?

This seeding project started about 3 years ago, with several members taking some home to start.  The Chairman of the “Butterfly Committee” did a wonderful job of coordinating, sowing and nurturing all these hundreds of plants;   students from one of the Entomology classes at TAMU helped repot, and hours of love and care went into these tiny plants.  We had some two-year old plants, but most were one year seedlings.  One of them even had a tiny baby caterpillar on it;  photos of the “event” were taken before the doors were opened!

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Sweet & Savory Dandelion Rosemary Shortbread

Have you ever been disappointed not to find dandelions growing in your lawn?  Once you have tried this shortbread recipe, you will be when you can’t find any!  Don’t be tempted to use the “Texas Dandelion” the recipe is much more delicious with Taraxacum officinale, the real thing!  This is not a recipe original to me – there are many versions on the internet.
2 cups brown or white rice flour
1 cup organic, unsalted butter
1/2 cup honey
1 cup Swiss Cheese (if you use sharper, hard cheese, go easy on the salt)
1/4 cup dandelion petals & greens, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
Black pepper to taste
Sea salt to sprinkle on top (see note above about cheese)

In a large bowl beat butter with sugar and honey until light and fluffy.  Add in dandelion petals and chopped leaves.  Be sure to remove the green sepals – mix in until just combined.
Stir the rice flower into the butter mix in 2 additions.  After the first, stir in the cheese, rosemary and black pepper.  Then add the remainder of flour to make a smooth dough.
Roll the dough in waxed paper to form a firm cylinder.  Cover and refrigerate until firm – about 1 hour.

While chilling, preheat oven to 325F.

Slice the cylinder of dough into 1 inch thick rounds using a sharp knife and place on baking sheet a good 2 inches apart.  Sprinkle with a little sea salt, if using.
Bake for 20 minutes, rotating pan after 10, until just golden.  Beware of burning during the last few minutes.
Cool completely on baking sheet – they will be very delicate until they are cool and you don’t want them to break up!

Note: if you cut the rounds thinner, it is even more important to watch that they don’t burn.  Enjoy!!!