The Dirt

Common Name Conundrums

Leucanthemum X superbum ‘Becky’
Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais
hinoki cypress
Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais
Leucanthemum X superbum ‘Becky’
Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais
hinoki cypress
Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

Fine Gardening‘s copy editor, Suzanne Noel, and I often get mired in minutia (“Suzanne, should that be minutiae?” Long conversation ensues…). These matters often send me on short journeys of research that enlighten and fascinate me. The latest conundrum involved whether or not to capitalize some common plant names.

For instance, we thought that the word “hinoki” (in Hinoki cypress, the common name of Chamaecyparis obtusa) should be capitalized, assuming that Hinoki is a city or mountain in Japan.  But the other day, we suddenly said, “Wait a minute—is that right?” Turns out that hinoki is simply a common name, sort of like maple or oak, so we don’t need to give it a big H, after all. (By the way, hinoki is the wood of choice for traditional Japanese soaking tubs. Who knew?)

Today’s mystery was even more fascinating. Should we capitalize the S in Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum X superbum cvs.)? I started trolling the Net and discovered, in an excerpt of a book by horticultural genius Luther Burbank, that Burbank developed the Shasta daisy around the turn of the 19th century. More searching revealed that Luther Burbank lived in Santa Rosa, California and named his new daisy after Mount Shasta in Siskiyou County, California. Soooo, we now know to capitalize the “Shasta” in Shasta daisy!

I’m on a roll now. Anybody have any other itty-bitty horticultural mysteries I can solve?!

(P.S. Per Suzanne: “It’s ‘minutiae.'”)

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Comments

  1. SteveA 07/08/2009

    Who is Susan? How did she get the black eye?

  2. MichelleGervais 07/08/2009

    Almost!! Fascinating, though. Still working on it...
    http://lakecounty.typepad.com/life_in_lake_county/2007/03/a_tale_of_two_s.html

  3. RJWeber 07/09/2009

    And I thought that only me and my office manager, Julie, had scintillating conversations like that! I know there are so many questions like this that we have, but I'm at a loss to come up with any of them at this late (early) hour. So when I think of a tough one I'll see if you can answer it! Thanks for the challenge!

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