Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Rhyme and Reason-February 2017

In  keeping with the spirit of St. Valentine's Day last week, this month's featured poem is one of the few romantic poems by Robert Frost.

The Rose Family

The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple's a rose,
And the pear is and so's
The plum, I suppose
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose,
You, of course, are a rose-
But were always a rose.

What Frost alludes to is the scientific classification of plants, namely Taxonomy, which classifies all plants from the most inclusive group to the least. This modern system was created in the 18th century by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist. The order used today (from most inclusive is least) is as follows: Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species. Linnaeus used binomial nomenclature (i.e. two names) to identify a specific plant, a species. So, for instance, rosa moschata is the taxonomic name species name for what is commonly known as the Musk Rose, a deciduous shrub. 
Now, in going  from the specific (species) to the more inclusive (family) in the taxonomic table you find that along with the rose, apples and pears and plums are all members of the family Rosaceae, a large Family of plants that includes the fruit trees in the poem as well as many other plants. If we were to go from the Family to the Genus of the fruits mentioned we would find that they are all separated from the rose at that level. And that the fruits are all separated from each other as well at the Genus level.
A fair question at this point would be, why the heck does this matter to me as a gardener? Well, most of the time, it doesn't make a bit of difference. However, if you had a rose that contracted rose rosette virus the recommendation for replacing that rose is not to use any plant in the Family rosaceae in that location. For instance, you wouldn't want to replace a rose rosette virus victim with Spirea, a plant also in the Rosaceae family.
While there may not be a lot of need to know the  Family of plants, there is definitely value in knowing the taxonomic species name. Whenever I give a presentation on plants I always use the species name along with the common name. After a recent garden presentation, a fellow Master Gardener asked me about the difference between snowdrops and snowflakes, two common names for winter/spring flowering bulbs. Snowdrops are of the specie Galanthus and snowflakes are Leucojum. The former grows about six inches tall and blooms in mid winter while the latter is 12-15 inchers tall and blooms in late winter, early Spring. In confusing the two, you could put a six inch  plant in an a poor location because you thought it would be a 12-15 inch. So don't think that the taxonomic name is "snooty"; it just makes sure we are all on the same page, or more specifically, the same plant.
All of this leads me to the plant I want to talk about for February: Helleborus orientalis, Lenten Roses. Lenten Roses are not in the Rosaceae family they are in the Ranunculaceae family, nevertheless I'm a huge fan of this plant. Hellebores are shade plants that grow 12-15 inches tall and bloom this time of year. The common name comes from the fact that its bloom time usually coincides with the Christian Lenten season. One of my goals as a gardener is to have something blooming in every month and Hellebores bloom when not a lot of other plants are blooming. Hellebores also are a year round plant, their only requirement is to cut off the old foliage prior to bloom. But wait there's more, Hellebores are also vole resistant, unlike Hostas. I no longer plant hostas because it pains me to find them destroyed by this little sightless rodent.  With spring planting season fast approaching this is definitely a plant to consider for your 2017-2018 shade garden.
And to close on the rose subject remember:
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet"
Juliet Capulet Act 2 Scene 2 in Wm. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.


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