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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Jul 24

Pet Peeve

Posted on July 24, 2015 at 9:35 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Without sounding like a plant snob, my pet peeve is seeing in print, or hearing people use, common names for plants when there are several plants from different families with the same common name.

Recently, I was investigating plants that repel mosquitoes. My daughter Lynette is coming to visit in a few weeks. Knowing she is a magnet for mosquitoes, I thought it prudent to check the plant inventory here in Lassen to see what might help dispel those pesky bloodsuckers. Bats demonstrating their acrobatic feats in the night skies are a sure indicator the mosquito population must have multiplied with all the recent rains we've had here.

My plant research found that most of the water-conserving plants and herbs grown here also repel mosquitoes, including lavender, catnip, garlic, basil, and peppermint. These are all common names that are familiar to me. As I continued down the list, names cropped up such as floss flower, cadaga tree, and vanilla leaf that sent me Googling to learn what plants the article was suggesting.

The search proved easy for floss flower, which is Ageratum, and cadaga tree, obscurely identified as Eucalyptus torelliana. On the other hand, identifying vanilla leaf sent my blood pressure rising. Did the article mean vanilla leaf as in Achlys triphylla? Or vanilla leaf as in Carphephorus? Or perhaps the article was referring to vanilla leaf as in Trilisa, or the member of the orchid family, Vanilla planifolia? Some of these plants are edible, while others are very toxic. Should I deduce the article's intent based on the number of hits that come up on Google? Unfortunately, there is no way to know the intent unless, in desperation, the author of the article is contacted. I am not that desperate, just frustrated!

Mock orange AKA Philadelphus
 Mock orange a.k.a. Philadelphus
During the days we owned the nursery, there were other plants that fell into the vanilla leaf dilemma. "Mock orange" always threw me for a loop when customers specifically asked for that plant. Were they talking about Philadelphus, Choisya ternata, or Pittosporum tobira? Now that I think back on it, I should have moved those three families next to each other in hopes the customer would recognize the leaf and flower of the plant they desired. If nothing else, the fragrance of all those "mock oranges" would have knocked their socks off!

What's in a name? Apparently a lot of information that can determine growing zones, hydrozones, exposures, soil types, etc. Thank goodness for images on the web! The answers are much easier to find these days!


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