Friday, November 05, 2010

Plant names and house leeks

click photo to enlarge
English plant names seem so much more evocative than their Latin counterparts, and I much prefer to use them. Consequently our garden has Snapdragons (not Antirrhinums), Forget-me-nots (not Myosotis) and Black-eyed Susans (not Rudbeckia hirta). However, if my classical languages were better then I might appreciate that Antirrhinum means "like a nose" in Greek (referring to the flower shape), that Myosotis is Greek for "mouse's ear" (after the leaf shape) and that "hirta" is Latin for hairy. Rudbeckia, incidentally, derives from the name of the Swedish botanist, Olaus Rudbeck. All of which goes to show that an understanding of languages can enrich one's life in more than the obvious ways.

I was thinking about this when I was processing this photograph of House Leeks. That is the rather uninspiring English name for what is a very attractive and hardy succulent. This one was growing by the edge of the footpath having escaped from a neighbour's house, and I snapped it with my compact camera as I passed. I liked the tightly packed rosettes and the green/blue colour with dark red highlights. My Latin is less than rudimentary but I've picked up enough during my life to know that the Latin name of this plant - Sempervivum - must mean something to do with forever (semper) and life (vivum). In fact, it means "always living", a good name for this hardy plant. I also discovered that one of the English names for it (though not one I've heard used) is "Live Forever." Moreover, in some parts of the world it is called "Hen and Chicks", presumably after its habit of producing small offspring around the larger plant - as in my photograph.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.9mm (28mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2
Shutter Speed: 1/60
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On