Tuesday, July 03, 2012

What's in a name?

click photo to enlarge
Names are rather like hairstyles: many people want to change the one they have. Parents who give their children more than one forename offer their offspring a choice, the opportunity to choose one of the alternatives if the given one isn't liked. But if you've been saddled with just one forename you tend to be stuck with it and can only shorten it or go to the trouble of making a legal change. The Linnean system of naming plants and animals seems to avoid these problems (not that plants and animals have strong opinions on their names). A country-specific name - in my case English - is accompanied by a Latin name that prevails everywhere regardless of the language(s) spoken in the country. I've written elsewhere about my preference for English names over Latin because of the history and beauty that they often display. However, it isn't always so.

In my garden there are a couple of plants with unfortunate names. The small, attractive blue, pink and purple flower with green spotted leaves that is called lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) seems lamentably named. Lungs, though vital, have never had the appealing associations of, say, the heart. So, we like the name heart's ease (Viola tricolor), for the small pansy-like flower, but lungs, well they conjure up images of dissection, disease and offal. The name arose for the way the spotted leaves recall diseased lungs. One might wish that a different association had been spotted!

Then there's the spurge (Euphorbia sp.). The very name sounds like an uncontrolled exhalation of something unpleasant. And in a way it is, the plant long being used as a purgative. The Latin name comes from the Greek physician, Euphorbus, who noted the plant as a laxative. It also has the unfortunate similarity - just one letter too many - to the word euphoria, a word that means well-being or feeling good. Not a quality that immediately comes to mind when you look at the plant or when the irritant sap gets on your skin. All that being said, I find myself photographing this plant quite a bit. I like the way some of the varieties grow, particularly how the rosettes of leaves present themselves with a slight twist. Today's plant was growing, not in my garden, but in a churchyard. I photographed it with my pocket camera and thought I'd try a black and white version to accentuate the shapes.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 12.8mm (60mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On