Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Catch a few "z's"?

No, I do not mean a nap (although I do love to take a nap in the PM most days), I am referring to plants whose generic or specific names begin with "z": why are they so charming? Above is the most remarkable of Ziziphora growing at Mike Kintgen's house. He keeps promising a propagule (hint, hint)...but really, anything with a "z" seems to be zippy and jazzy: Zauschneria, Zinnia, like these Zinnia grandiflora above at Kendrick Lake... or below, the yellow umbel is Zizia aptera, a little known native perennial from the Midwest that makes a wonderful picture with blue veronicas.It's possible, however, that my current favorite "z" plant is a bellflower from the Caucasus: Symphyandra zangezura has not one, but TWO "z's" in its epithet! The flower is a wonderfully strange purple-lavender color, and picturesquely shaped...and the foliage is very distinct and unusual. Best of all, unlike all its congeners, this symphyandra is reliably perennial--even long lived. And it blooms during the dog days of summer! Excuse me a minute: I must catch a few more "z's".....


  1. Human life strives ceaselessly to perfect itself, to gain ascendancy. But what of the lower forms of life? Is it not possible that they, too, are conducting experiments and are at this moment on the threshold of deadly success? - "ZZZZZ" is an episode of the original The Outer Limits television show. It first aired on January 27, 1964, during the first season.

    The Zs have it

    There is indeed a special zaniness that zealous gardeners have for ‘Z’s. They abound in the botanical literature. Most would recognize Azolla, Dizygotheca, Glycyrrhiza, Luzula, Schizachrium, Spiranthes romanzoffiana, Zannichellia, Zuckia, Zauschneria, Zea, Zelkova, Zephyranthes, Zigadenus, and Zoysia. And, I’ll bet, that most know all about these double ‘Z’s: Zingiber zerumbet, Ziziphus jujube and Zamioculcus zamiifolia.

    In my book, ‘X’s are exceedingly more alluring as they are exposed in exacting specific epithets: texana & texensis, mexicana, neomexicana, saxatilis & saximontana, simplex, flexuosa, etc. Doubling the fun are Dos XX beer, Oxybaphus exaltatus, Carex buxbaumii, C. exsiccate, C.and xerantica, leaving the less familiar Tres XXX beer and Salix exigua ssp. exigua and Oxytropis deflexa ssp. deflexa to make me anxious.

    You can get X, Y & Z within one genus fairly easily if you include Salvia azurea, S. reflexa & S. sylvestris; within one species as in Lathyrus brachycalyx v. zionis and Oryzopsis exigua; and in one genus name if you allow for the lexicon’s lesson about how ‘X’ can be pronounced as ‘Z’. Thus, Xanthoxylum becomes Zanthoxylum.

    And speaking of ‘X’ words:

    We are told that the derivation of the term Xeriscape is from ‘xer’, a Greek term meaning ‘dry’ and ‘scape’, from German ‘schap’ or ship, as in landschap or landscape. We are admonished continuously that the term is not and should not be pronounced ‘Zeroscape’.

    There are plenty of words in the language that, like Xeriscape, begin with the prefix ‘xer’ (e.g., xerophyte, xerography, xerothermic, etc.) and all are attached to the suffix with the vowel ‘o’. Thus, Xeriscape should have been spelled Xeroscape.

    Now then, since the letter ‘X’ can be pronounced with an ‘echt’ sound or with a ‘Z’ sound (e.g., Xavier), Xeroscape could sound very much like Zeroscape.

    Don’t even get me started on umlauts.

  2. What an utterly delightful post response! I think you could expand it into a terrific book ("Garden Alphabetarium" or suchlike). Wish you would!

    Do go on about umlauts: before you do, I should tell you my surname has an umlaut (believe it or not) in the original Greek.

    The popcorn was delicious and disappeared within a day! Thanks for coming over.

  3. Forgot to mention about the 'X's. They read the same frontwards, backwards, upside down and rotated 90 degrees. Rotated 45 degrees they are positive. That can be said of only one other letter.

  4. Obviously, you refer to the "o"? Long live the radially symmetrical! Never realized the alphabet was so zygomorphic (another "z').


Featured Post

A garden near lake Tekapo

The crevice garden of Michael Midgley Just a few years old, this crevice garden was designed and built by Michael Midgley, a delightful ...

Blog Archive