Guest Rants, It's the Plants, Darling

1,001 Whatsitsname Plants

Here is a guest post from Raffi, who runs the Gardenology plant encyclopedia.

Puya_alpestris-IMG_2962
Puya alpestris

I love going to botanical gardens at home and in my travels,
always hoping to discover new plant gems that I might potentially add to my
garden.  No garden center can match the diversity of plants that most
botanical gardens have, nor can they usually have full grown specimens available
to show what the plant would look like in your garden.  So when I see a
new plant that knocks my socks off, and leaves me wondering why they're not
grown all over the place, it kills me when the plant is not labelled, and I
have no idea what it's called!

Dombeya_wallichii-IMG_6331
Dombeya wallichii

Not surprisingly, some of the most impressive plants I've
ever discovered I first saw in botanic gardens. Most of these plants I
have rarely or in some cases never seen anywhere else.  When I first
discovered the incredible shade of blue flowers on the Puya alpestris, or the
seemingly 20 foot tall tree covered in big puffs of Dombeya wallichii, my first
question was of course, what is this plant!?!?  Unfortunately, too often
in botanic gardens, the answer is not to be found.  You look around for a
label, and frustratingly find labels for some of the surrounding plants, but
not the one you're dying to learn more about.

Botanical gardens are great places to learn about plants and
discover new ones.  I just wish they'd make sure that every single plant
was very clearly labeled, so that we'd never be left wondering just what the
name of the plant is that we are looking at in amazement…

Posted by on September 11, 2010 at 5:00 am, in the category Guest Rants, It's the Plants, Darling.
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24 Responses to “1,001 Whatsitsname Plants”

  1. Tara Dillrd says:

    Unfortunately descriptive plant signs at botanical gardens are expensive & commonly stolen.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  2. In Puercorico, USA, that does not happen, the ‘botanical’ garden in Rio Piedras does not know what you write about, nor the gardens or nurseries around.

    That is why my collection
    of one hundred species is
    from friends, family and my strolls around this concrete/asphalt isle.

  3. I agree about the plant labels. I see something spectacular that might work in my garden and I need to know the name!

    The North Carolina State University arboretum in Raleigh has some amazing plant sales/ plant giveaways (ever see thousands of plants snatched up in less than 10 minutes? You don’t want to arrive late or you won’t get anything!) where they often have plants that are not yet available to the public.

    Unfortunately I don’t live in North Carolina anymore. After NCSU’s sales all other plant sales pale. Maybe I should rent an SUV next spring…

  4. zone 8 says:

    This sure seems like a rerun from some where oh yea now I remember I believe the rant was about IGC’s and big box stores not labeling their plants correctly we have now moved on to botanical gardens.

    How about some nice recipes from the veggie growers or what experiences both good and bad happened in the garden’s over the summer anybody read a good book?

  5. Harry says:

    zone 8, a botanic garden is a scientific institution, and the selection usually dwarfs that of an IGC or big box store, which no doubt has no botanists working there. And by dwarfs the selection of plants, we’re talking about thousands or even tens of thousands vs a hundred or two hundred plants. It’s one thing if a geranium isn’t labeled – but the plants above? You’ve got to know… and at a botanic garden, you probably have more expectation of a correct label.

  6. Matt says:

    Botanical gardens truly are beautiful. I agree that they should use more plant labels. Personally I use plant labels in my own garden, in an attempt to make a domestic botanical garden. People should visit their scientific gardens more often. Not only are they good sources for ideas, but they express a whole portion of history and collective knowledge that most people are unaware of.

  7. Labeling is helpful and it can be overdone. I love Christopher Lloyd’s list of reasons for objecting to them, “they look like tombstones,” patrons were always walking through plantings so they could see the label better, they often get stolen…I would prefer it if the botanic gardens made a pictoral guide that you could either borrow or buy that had not only the name and USDA zone, but also listed the plants origins and growing conditions. If a botanic garden had a pamphlet along these lines, and it was well done, I would definitely buy it.

  8. Laurie Brown says:

    YES!

    Labels may mar the beauty of the garden a bit, but to my mind they are a necessary evil. I’ve spent lots of time wandering around gardens, asking people who work there “What is that plant over there?” to be met with blank stares, and that time could be spent looking at even more plants instead. At the very least, a garden should have a map -that is kept up to date!- where it can be seen without asking permission.

    Labels do, sadly, get stolen. One year kids pulled up just about every label in the rose garden at Manito park in Spokane. The curator got to play ‘match the label to the plant’ as they bloomed, but I don’t think he ever did figure some of them out- too many pink roses look alike.

  9. anne says:

    I love Susan in the Pink Hat’s idea, and think it would work very well, and could be easily updated as needed. A donation box could be put next to wherever you picked up the pamphlet/map, to help defray printing costs. Many of these plants we may never have access to or see again because they are rare, but it is fun to see and learn about them.

  10. Deirdre says:

    I used to work at a twenty two acre botanical garden. That’s a lot of labels, especially if you want every occurance of the same plant labeled because if you don’t go down every path the might miss the one label (we had more than one of everything). In addition to being expensive, that would be cluttered, and unsightly. That would have to be one really detailed map.

  11. How about a compromise? In one area, have labels on special plants, but then have a map section that has a picture of the dominant or more common plants in and out of bloom with information that is actually useful, like suggested companion plants, botanical history, etc.?

  12. Amy Stewart says:

    yeah, I’d vote for an up-to-date map, plan, touchscreen, or even iPhone app or cell phone thingy. (For instance, a sign that says “Punch this number on your cell phone for a description of the plants in this bed.”) I agree–botanical gardens are living museums, not just pretty scenery, and we want to know what’s what!

  13. zone 8 says:

    Harry,

    Quote
    “we’re talking about thousands or even tens of thousands vs a hundred or two hundred plants.”

    It’s going to take an army to go out there and label that many plants like the one mentioned above by Deirdre, 22 acres is a pretty big area to cover.

    Can you imagine the size of what the pamphlet or map would have to be to cover that many plants?

  14. Donna says:

    Pretty place to visit whether the plants are labeled or not. Many depend on donation, so it is lot to expect to have all the plants identified. The docents do a pretty good job of identification when I have visited. Many thanks to these tireless FREE workers.

  15. Pam J. says:

    Off topic so I apologize but this DOES involve a Botanic Garden. I have a friend who volunteers at the US Botanic Garden, in Washington, DC, next door to the US Capitol building. She enjoys her time there with one big exception: when the Tea Party people come to town to demonstrate. Her objection? They are always bursting into the Garden, walking up to her at the visitors’ information desk, and asking where the rest rooms are. When she tells them they are in the rear of the building (it’s NOT a big building) many of them grumble and tell her that is would be a lot more convenient for the public if the rest rooms were closer to the front door. And many, many of them complain because there is no food service in the Botanic Gardens. These are Tea Party people, you know, the ones who bitch about how much money the government spends?

  16. Thanks GR for posting my guest rant :-)

    The comments have been quite educational. It never even occurred to me that signs are stolen, purposely dislodged, or expensive. I used to think there’s got to be an easy solution for this, but these new factors to take into account make it a lot more challenging!

  17. Matt says:

    Lol @ Pam’s comment.

    What about a sign board that shows labeled pictures of the plants in the beds. It would be harder to steal than an individual plant stake. I think it would be more expensive though.

  18. Lisa says:

    Too bad giving a garden tour isn’t a paying gig, it would solve the whole map debate, and I would happily be in the front of the line, applying for the job and learning as many plants as possible, wouldn’t that be a blast? Sometimes I can’t tell what a plant is, but if I at least know the family (euphorbias always pop out at me, they’re so distinctive), I can usually find out after googling for awhile. Nice rant, I think it’s only natural to want to know what a mystery plant is, and we see plants in a lot more details than our non gardening friends.

  19. Gloria says:

    An online source of the plants is quite possible and available at some gardens.

    Usually the horticulturist responsible for a given area will know the names of the plants there. A name and number to contact usually may be obtained.

  20. carpetbag_garden says:

    Here’s an idea for an uber plant nerd with too much time:

    Come up with a code number system for plants (like they use for produce at the grocery store). Label plants with the code number. Connect it with a phone app or special hand-held device.

    That way people would be less likely to steal the label. Only those with the app or device would be so tempted.

  21. Eliz says:

    Anything can be stolen–it’s not an adequate excuse for their not to be appropriate information available in what is a scientific and educational institution. I do admit the lack of resources.
    The app idea sounds great–could be paid for with a grant and updated as needed. There is funding available for this type of stuff–more than people realize. Our local garden is in the middle of a big labeling project.

  22. Rachel says:

    I work in a botanic garden with 5000 cultivars of roses, 10,000 camellias and countless other species. Unfortunately most botanic gardens are suffering as much as or more than the public during these economic times (endowments that supported staff plummeted with the stock market). Often the choice is between paying for someone to care for the plants or to keep track of them. Most horticulturists in botanic gardens in my area are responsible for anywhere between 5 and 40 acres alone, due to layoffs.

    My garden is fortunate enough to have a curator with a data base of our plants, who labels as much as he can. however it is an impossible job for one person. You would be surprised how many labels disappear due to squirrels alone!
    we need money to pay for replacing signs, and for touchscreens with database access and GPS. Plant curation takes a lot of botanical knowledge time and money.
    Please consider this and donate and visit botanical gardens so that we can continue to maintain these pockets of beautiful green space throughout the world. Volunteer to help with labeling!

  23. John says:

    Long ago I worked for a zoo – You would be amazed at what people will steal! Somewhere out there is a living room wall with an entire gorilla troup’s family tree mapped out and carved into wood.

    Not that long ago I also worked for fancy shmantzy plant nursery – not only will people steal plants, cuttings, seeds, etc; but they will switch the tags around, sometimes for fun, sometimes hoping to get an expensive plant for a cheaper price.

    Never underestimate what people will do.

    The next time you visit your local botanic garden, before you leave – go up to the front office and sign up as a volunteer, and don’t offer to pull weeds or lead tours, offer to help with the signage.

    Never underestimate what you can do.

  24. Hoover says:

    I would agree, but nowadays its so easy to take a digital photograph, post it on line and and get someone to ID it for you. Tags have become not-so-important to me.

    I love old neighborhoods with mature plantings, they are like a botanical garden to me. In the neighborhod are all sorts of ordinary shrubs that have been in the ground so long undisturbed they’ve become quite grand trees. There are wonderful plants all around, it just takes some looking.

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