‘Darwin’s Beard’ and Other Notable Plant Names

Folks have a penchant for bestowing colorful names on the plants around them. Sometimes these monikers travel with people and are applied to similar but distinct species in other parts of the world. This, of course, is the kind of confusion Linnaeus and his taxonomist cohorts try to avoid, but employing the vernacular can be most entertaining–and a good mnemonic device–especially when teaching children. Whimsical plant names can enliven an outdoor classroom lesson, while teachers try to get life science knowledge to stick like burrs to ponytails. Here are some of my favorites:

Purple Sneezeweed

Mother-in-law’s Cushion (a prickly cactus!)


Field Pussytoes

Hairy Beardtongue

Dutchman’s Breeches

Carion Flower

Butter ‘n Eggs



Devil’s Beggarticks

Corpse Flower (one bloomed this summer at Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory)

Some Latinate names can also elicit a juvenile giggle or two:

Graptopetalum superbum

Viburnum nudum

Puya dyckioides

Ilex vomitoria

For fun, a class might create their own memorable names for plants in a school garden. A native and invasive clematis, colorfully called Virgin’s Bower, Devil’s Darning Needles and Old Man’s Beard, has inspired us at SSG to come up with a new name for this survival-of-the-fittest specimen: Darwin’s Beard.

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