"Calla Lilies" -"Arum Lilies" - notes on word usage

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@starpower.net
Sat, 17 Jun 2006 14:58:20 PDT
I think a big part of the blame for this ambiguity lies with the medium, not
the message. 

What I mean is this: plain text does not support italics. With italics one
can easily distinguish between a vernacular name such as calla (and note the
lower case initial c) and a generic name such as Calla (which should be
italicized and with a capitalized initial C).

Those of us with an extensive familiarity with botanical names are often
tempted to coordinate vernacular names and botanical names. I say leave the
vernacular names alone. If the vernacular name for Zantedeschia in your
group is "pig lily", so be it. No one will mistake it for a pig, and those
of us with an interest in plants won't mistake it for a lily. 

I've never heard a call for changing those botanical names which commit the
same sin: should we have to change the name Liriodendron just because the
tree is magnoliaceous and not liliaceous? 

To those people who get up-tight about these "misleading" names, to those
who want to police the plant name lists and eliminate or change all names
which suggest relationship other than the currently received orthodoxy, I
say loosen up, get a life, and learn to appreciate the beauty and interest
metaphor brings to the language. 

Botany and horticulture don't "own" the meaning of the word lily. 

I made reference to the currently received orthodoxy above deliberately. The
plants we now call Zantedeschia have been placed in the genera Arum and
Calla in the past. Those who still use those names presumably don't know
that the latest and greatest is now Zantedeschia. 

Are those of you who think you are so superior because you don't call
Zantedeschia an arum or a calla ready to take the test if someone shows up
unannounced with samples of the newly reclassified themidaceous plants to
test your knowledge? I'll bet most of us would wimp out and call most of
them Brodiaea. For Mary Sue and the rest of the Californians, we'll
substitute something else - but you get the idea.

Instead of fussing about trivial vernacular names, learn to pronounce
Zantedeschia correctly: the z should have a ts sound and the ch should have
a k sound.

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where I've just come back
from classifying the local lily show and I'm happy to say no one showed up
this year with calla lilies, arum lilies, pig lilies,  Peruvian lilies,
crinum lilies, canna lilies, blood lilies, leper lilies, stink lilies,
lilies of the valley, fairy lilies, lily of the Nile, Jacobean lilies,
lilies of the field, Atamasco lilies...


Years ago a friend with a keen interest in gardening was touring my garden.
He paused at a small-flowered Clematis and stood there as if trying to
decide what it was. I asked him "Do you know what it is?" Now, when I asked
that question,  I meant it as shorthand for "Do you know what species of
Clematis that is?" But his answer demonstrated that we were not even in the
same ball park: he thought it was a fritillary. 

-----Original Message-----
From: pbs-bounces@lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:pbs-bounces@lists.ibiblio.org]
On Behalf Of James Waddick
Sent: Saturday, June 17, 2006 11:24 AM
To: Pacific Bulb Society
Subject: [pbs] "Calla Lilies" -"Arum Lilies" - notes on word usage

Dear all;
	I noticed these topics recently and was slightly put off by 
their inaccuracy and I don't think any one noted that neither Callas 
(Genus Zantedeschia) or Arum (Genus Zantedeschia) are actually 
lilies. Both of these common names refer to plants NOT in the lily 
family or closely related. The names Arum and Calla actually refer to 
genera by those name and not the Genus under discussion. The common 
names can refer to other plants, too.

	The genus Calla is a small genus of northern marshy aroids, 
while the genus Arum  is larger in number of species and 
distribution. Neither overlaps with Zantedeschia.

	Likewise 'Canna Lilies' are not true lilies, but more 
correctly called just 'Canna'.  Just as peony roses are not roses.

	If this list is to have educational value these crucial 
differences should be made clear. So this note is not a chastisement, 
but for clarity and better understanding of where these things all 
fit into a bigger picture. We have often grumbled about the peculiar 
nature of common names especially regional ones.

	Hope this helps.

			Best		Jim W.
Dr. James W. Waddick
8871 NW Brostrom Rd.
Kansas City Missouri 64152-2711
Ph.    816-746-1949
Zone 5 Record low -23F
	Summer 100F +
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