“What IS that flower? Is that Small-flowered Lupine or Bicolor?”
“Why do you need to know? What possible difference does it make?”
“It makes a difference to ME.”
“Why? So you can show off your rad amateur naturalist skills?”
“No! I don’t need to tell anyone else. I just want to get it RIGHT.”
I have this same conversation with myself, on nearly a daily basis, during wildflower season. Wildflower season in the San Juans lasts about 9 months, so that’s a lot of conversations.
Point is, whether it SHOULD matter or not, to me–it does. Supposedly, I go for walks as exercise. Power walks. But gods help my fitness regimen should I venture out with a camera.
It starts as appreciation. “Oh wow, look at those wild roses go.”
“Let’s just take a closer look. Mmm, sweet!”
“Okay, walking fast again. But–oh my, have you ever seen such a THICK clump of Hooker’s Onion?”
By now my “walk” is a goner. “Ooh, wonder what the world looks like from the perspective of one of those Harvest Brodaeia?”
“PRICKLY PEAR’S IN BLOOM! ALERT THE MEDIA!”
For that matter, why should the flowers have all the attention? Aren’t the new leaves of this Salal just as eye-catching as its blooms?
And the new fronds of the Grand Fir? Good enough to eat!
Even Madrona bark looks floral in the sun.
But the worst are those darn ID’s. “What IS this one? Gotta remember to look it up when I get home!”
Recently, however, my annoying need to NAME plants received a vote of confidence from a well-respected source: botanist and author Robin Wall Kimmerer. I started reading her book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. Dr. Kimmerer is a Bryologist–a moss expert–and a member of the Potawatomi Nation. And right off the bat, she has this to say about the importance of names:
…Often, when I encounter a new moss species and have yet to associate it with its official name, I give it a name which makes sense to me: green velvet, curly top, or red stem. The word is immaterial. What seems to me to be important is recognizing them, acknowledging their individuality. In indigenous way of knowing, all beings are recognized as non-human persons, and all have their own names. It is a sign of respect to call a being by its name, and a sign of disrespect to ignore it. (p. 12)
Yes! Right?! Yes. That part that I highlighted in red…THAT is what drives me to name flowers, to get their names “right.” I want to recognize them, call them out, respect them. Would it matter if I got those names “wrong”? Of course not. I might as well call them Fred or Cindy. But taking the time to look up those names, talk about them with other flower nerds, think about where those names came from and whether they fit or not…THAT matters. To me, and, I like to think, to the flowers.
As for mosses, and Robin Kimmerer’s book…more on that, next post.
Are you a wildflower nerd like me? Care to weigh in on what drives you to NAME?