What’s in a name?

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer

Why would a person name their plants? After all, they already have botanic names and common names, as well. Sometimes it is simply for additional differentiation. Let’s take the two clivia miniata (kafir lilies) in our house. One is orange, one is yellow; one is a new acquisition, the other we have had for seven years.

Shortly after we were married in 2004, Beth and I began a tradition of touring a variety of nurseries, greenhouses and garden centers each May to select plants for our gardens, and to just look around.

Kafir Lily

Kafir Lily

We encountered a large kafir lily at Harvey’s in Adel with a huge mass of salmon-colored flowers, borne on a large stalk. I knew by its parallel leaves that it was a lily, but that was all the further my knowledge went. Beth read the plant tag, but that didn’t help, either.

We happened to see Mary Harvey, the owner’s wife and asked her all about it. She was full of good instructions and advice, we purchased the plant, brought it home and have enjoyed it ever since. Thus, its name is Mary. If we can’t think of its common or botanic name, or which kafir we are talking about, all one of us needs to say is “Mary is going to bloom. Mary is looking shabby. Mary needs water.” No confusion about that.

Mary has been in the same pot all these years, and she is horribly root bound. I called the Horticulture Line at Iowa State University about this a few years ago. I asked what to do and I was advised to “do nothing.” Of course she will get fertilized with houseplant spikes each six weeks between now and late summer.

Around Valentine’s Day, I check for new flower stalks. And I am not disappointed this year. So far there are three new stalks growing forth; perhaps I’ll get lucky and there will be more to come. Another sign that spring is on its way. It should bloom around March 1–a little later this year, probably because I’ve avoided large fluctuations in the temperature in the sun room. The flower stalks rise in the middle of the plant, and I just feel for them.

One good clivia miniata deserves another. In the WHITE FLOWER FARM catalog issued in the fall of 2009, Beth saw a yellow lily. It was nearing Christmas time when she mentioned it, and her timing couldn’t have been better. I secretly ordered it, and it arrived at work. Of course, once the box arrived there was no hiding the evidence, so I just called it an early Christmas gift. Beth was very pleased, and instantly named her Charlotte, after her daughter. Since it was winter time, we kept it in the shipping container until spring, when Beth purchased a large ceramic pot, and we “potted her up.”

Charlotte is not root bound, she is still small, and may be 2 or 3 years away from blooming. But Beth proudly announced the other day that she has new leaves. Not as cool as flower stalks of course, but you have to crawl before you can walk. New leaves arise in the middle, and since they were smaller and thinner, the newness felt obvious.

The daffodils and hyacinths I discussed in my previous entry have done their duty, and it is time to replace them with fresh pots from the sun room. These blossoms are now dried and shriveled, and feel dead. You can keep growing these bulbs in their pots right up through spring and into early summer, until their leaves die. However, experience has shown me that these bulbs are not worth saving.

I’ll compost the bulbs, and begin placing their soil in five gallon buckets to recycle for outdoor pot use in the spring. I have saved and replanted these forced bulbs which will bloom in the following spring. However, their growth and flowers are not nearly as spectacular as the first year, as being confined in their pots has limited their ability to store food and to make large bulbs.

Don’t bother with the tulips and paperwhites. When the tulips are spent, you will note that they are a mere shadow of the bulbs you started with. And the paperwhites won’t stand a frost. Purchase what you want next fall–let the ones that go outdoors go outdoors, and the ones for forcing place into pots .

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One response to “What’s in a name?

  1. Pingback: A March lull | Blind Living

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