November 21, 2018

Caroline’s Garden Diaries 9.4.13 : Common names

I’ve been reading up about Arum maculatum, which you might know better as Lords-and-Ladies or Cuckoo pint, a native plant with arrow-shaped leaves of bright green, and a bizarre flower looking like a hood concealing a sinister black poker within. Apparently it has more common names than any other British plant, and they mostly refer to this extraordinary structure that obviously has people nudging and winking: if I tell you that one name is “Willy Lily” you’ll guess that Cuckoo pint has nothing to do with birds liking milk and nor does Wake Robin refer to birds having breakfast; there’s also Stallions and Mares, Bulls and Cows, and Kitty-Come-Down-the-Lane-Jump-Up-and-Kiss-Me (not sure I believe that one).

Its botanic name is more demure, referring only to the leaves that often have purple spots, so Arum maculatum means a spotted species of Arum; somehow the very common name of a certain sponge pudding with currants comes to mind………

I’m reading about Arums because in a brief moment of spring weather last week, I was tackling the main flower bed in my garden where I saw a very healthy group of Lords-and-Ladies and remembered that last year I’d vowed to get rid of them. For years they’ve been growing only in a small corner of waste ground where I tolerated them as rather elegant and interesting plants, but suddenly they’ve become an awful nuisance, popping up all over the place and they have to go. Yet at the same time I’ve been avidly spreading round Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’ which is very similar except it has marbled leaves and comes from Italy. Made me wonder whether we just prefer other people’s weeds to our own, or are Italian Lords-and-Ladies actually quite aristocratic?


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