It might be a fun thing to make animal name tags for your plants.  There are any number so named by our ancestors as they saw the resemblance in some way. Also, the Latin scientific names are quite often descriptive in several ways.

          Have you ever had a FOXTAIL FERN (Asparagus densiformis meyeri)? It is not as common as Asparagus sprengeri, neither of which is really a fern but are related to LILIES. The long fox tail is about 15 inches long, two inches wide shaped of course like a fox tail. They are not winter hardy here but make nice north window plants where the temps are above 55 degrees F.  If the soil dries out completely the foliage will droop. Plant a new plant deep in your pot as the thick roots will spread not only out but up.  With  a tail 15 inches long, extending from all sides, the plant gets to be very large.  They can be divided in early spring.  Spider mites like these plants but do not use a spray other than water or you may lose your plant.

          There is a FOXTAIL LILY, also called DESERT CANDLE. You can find them in bulb catalogs but it certainly doesn’t look like a bulb but a heavy, fibrous, star shaped root that can be broken very easily.  The directions that come along say to plant immediately.  They are hardy, but tend to come up too early so needs a mulch to keep the ground cold as long as possible.  They need to be planted in a very good drainage such as sand under and around. The flower stalk may get as tall as 6 feet (BIG FOX ) with the blooms going all around the stalk. They are gorgeous but the fox tail part is a little far fetched.  They die down not too long after blooming so mark their spot to keep from breaking that root.

          There is a KANGAROO PAW (Anigozanthos sp), a KANGAROO VINE, and a KANGAROO THORN. I have never had the thorn (shrub) or the vine but the paws are fun, coming in red or yellow.  The blooms are hairy and finger like while the leaves are long and thin.  It turned out to be rather fussy as it doesn’t like full sun, doesn’t like water over a pH of 6.9, or an alkaline fertilizer, but needs a weak solution of an acid one.  Spider mites enjoy having it around but mine got too big so I let it freeze.  Every fall I have this sad decision to make-how many plants can I crowd inside and which ones are going to be left out in the cold?

          All of us have met up with CATTAILS, out in the ditches and shallow ponds. The brown tails were soaked in oil and used for torches in pioneer days.  When the tails are young, I have been told they can be eaten.  The CATTAILS that are hanging plants are not quite as common. There are two, one with very short fuzzy bright red tails about six inches long (Acalpha hispaniolae) that will bloom all summer if kept damp and in partial sun.  Acalpha hispida, also know as CHENILLE PLANT, has tails that may reach as much as 20 inches long resembling bottle brushes, as well as cat tails.  Both plants like high humidity and constantly moist soil.  After a year or so they become rather scraggly but can be restarted from tip cuttings in spring or cutting the entire plant down almost to the pot. COPPER LEAF, also known as JACOBS COAT, BEEFSTEAK PLANT, or FIRE DRAGON, is also an Acalpha. If you look closely you can find tiny tails scattered along the stem.

          TOAD LILIES (Tricyrtis formosana) are a late fall bloomer for the shade.  They will bloom early fall if you can keep the rabbits away.  I don’t always remember to put the chicken wire around until I see the damage. They will bloom on later growth but the plants are much shorter. Non-damaged plants get 2 to 3 feet tall with 18 inch width. The blooms are only 2 to 3 inches wide and it is impossible to describe the shape as they go in so many directions. They are natives of the damp forest of Taiwan (see the scientific name).  They have a spur here and there with many spots or stripes in various colors of which purple and white are the most common.  I have never noticed that they look or behave like a toad.

          Just outside the backdoor, under a REDBUD tree is a TURTLEHEAD (Chelone obliqua), a native of the damp woods and swamps of southern United States .  This rainy spring was made for it, as it grew twice as wide and much higher than it usually does. The leaves are a dark green with teeth that doesn’t bite. The TURTLE’S HEAD is a deep pink with a flat, wide surface.  The stamens stick out like the tongue so if you know its name you can see the resemblance (not that I have ever seen a pink turtle). This is the first year it has reached 3 feet tall. It is listed as a zone 6-9 but mine has been here for 5 or 6 years without any attention except to not let it dry out.

          Out by the dog pen in light shade is the GOATSBEARD (Aruncus dioicus) who also likes wet summers.  The plant gets about 4 feet high of broad, fern like foliage with a featherly plume of tiny white blossoms (the beard) rising another 2 feet above. In a cool, wet spring the beards are quite dramatic and will last for 1-2 weeks. Some of my books say to plant it next to a pond or stream.  Also, think of how pretty that white beard will look in a vase with a few red flowers!!!

          This is just part of my zoo. I also have SPIDER PLANTS, OXEYE DAISIES, DOG FENNEL, WORM WOOD, SNAKE ROOT, BEARS BRITCHES, ZEBRA GRASS, and FOXGLOVE. Our ancestors must have had a good time naming their plants. However, we must be careful in using these common names with people from other parts of our great country and from other countries, or they will be confused as to what plant we are talking about. This is also true when ordering plants. A scientific name in these situations is always best.

Copyright 2008