What do you call it again?

Name the flowers shown above….

The one on the right you’ll most probably have called a bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta).  On the left? Campanula rotundifolia – the common harebell. Or… if you live in Scotland, ‘bluebell’ or ‘Scottish bluebell’. In New Zealand Wahlenbergia Saxicola is also commonly called ‘bluebell’, as is Phacelia whitlavia in the USA.

There are many plants around the world that are called by different ‘common’ names, or unrelated plants called by the same name, as in the case of bluebells. This is just one of the reasons why the binomial naming system for plants was established in the 18th Century by attention-to-detail zealot Carl Linnaeus, and continues to be used to this day. The binomial system is a topic for another day (some of you will be pleased to hear). For now, we thought it would be fun to list some of the wonderful and sometimes weird names that humans around the world have given to plants:

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) – also known as Brown Betty, gloriosa daisy, golden Jerusalem, English bull’s eye, poor-land daisy, yellow daisy, and yellow ox-eye daisy. Not to be confused with Thunbergia alata, which is also known as Black-eyed Susan.

Sneezewort (Achillea Ptarmica) – because the strong-scented flowers can make people sneeze (it was used in the past to make sneezing powder). Also known as ball of snow or bastard pellitory.

Sticky Willy (Galium aparine).  Yep, this one never fails to get a snigger on the farm.  Also known as cleavers or goosegrass.

Fox and Cubs (Pilosella aurantiaca). Be careful not to mistake these for dandelions and remove them as they bear very pretty deep orange flowers in June and July.  The name comes from the open orange flower (fox) beside orange buds (cubs).

Flaming Katy (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana) – also known as Widow’s Thrill.

Hooker’s Lips is the common name for Psychotria elata – Google it for images and you’ll see why!

Pussy Toes (Antennaria dioica) – also known as cat’s foot or cat’s ear. The positioning of the small flower heads into a cluster of fluffy pink or white flowers (like the pads on a small cat foot) inspired this common name.

Cuckoo Flower (Cardmine pratensis). So named as it comes into flower around the time of the first cuckoo call in spring.  Vying for the top prize for confusion, Cardmine pratensis is also commonly known as lady’s smock, mayflower, milkmaids, bread & milk, cuckoo buds, cuckoo spit, meadow bittercress, spinks, spring cress, cuckoo bread, and mayflower.

These are just a small selection, and we know there are lots more bizarre names out there for flowering plants. If you have a favourite, do post it below – the stranger the better!

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