Anonymous, Eponymous, Eunonymous

Soggy hosta? Check.

Close-up of browning and dying hosta leaf.

Brown-tipped irises? Check.

Close-up of brown-tipped iris leaves.

Done-like-dinner hydrangea leaves? Check.

Dead hydrangea leaves on ground, in early morning light.

Yes, this garden is ready for the autumn clean-up.

Wait a minute. What’s this? Something green and growing?

Ripping up and picking up the season-end detritus in my front flower bed, I am astounded to discover that some things Just Won’t Quit, apparently having failed to get the memo about the impending frost.  

Having made the most of every tendril-hold all summer, dragging itself up and over everything that stands still, a plant that might be “climbing nightshade” works on a head start for next spring, bolstering its underground rhizomes, I guess, since flowering again is out of the question this late in the year.

OK, to be fair, it might not be climbing nightshade. Plant identification, especially in Ontario, is not my strong suit. Googling “climbing weeds Ontario” turns up an authoritative-looking site with a dismayingly long list of options, including no fewer than nine varieties of spurge, of which I have never heard of even one. I note with some unease that many climbing weeds have ominous names—henbit, catnip, dogbane, chokecherry—and that’s not even taking into account the ones that raise nasty rashes (poison ivy, poison sumac, and my favourite, stinging nettle).

But my real irritation is reserved for the not-a-conifer-but-evergreen-nonetheless eunonymous planted all along the front porch. No, make that “euonymus,” and what kind of name is that, with all those vowels in a row? How does it irritate me? Let me count the ways.

With slightly fleshy leaves, it never goes truly dormant, the way any self-respecting non-coniferous bush should in this climate. That failure to dormate decently means that it requires pruning whenever it’s not actually covered in snow. As the landscape artiste who planted this row of eunonymous—no, dagnab it, make that euonymus—told me, it is its own worst enemy, sending out long shoots in all directions which, if left unpruned (the shoots, not the directions), cause the plant to become spindly, unattractive, and structurally unsound. Great growth strategy, guys! And finally, with nasty hard and irregular branches, it bites not just the hand that tries to prune it, but any legs that venture into range, too.

With all this going against it, you might think it has something pretty spectacular going for it: Something, say, to warrant its place in my garden or, indeed, in any garden. I hate to say you’d be wrong, so I’ll just say that any spectacle has thus far escaped my notice. Checking with Wiki, I find this pithy summary.

“The flowers occur in small groups, inconspicuous and of green or yellow shades. The seeds are eaten by frugivorous birds, which digest the fleshy seed coat and disperse the seeds in their droppings. Many species are used for medicinal use, and parts of the plants can be poisonous to human.”

Certainly any flowers on my plants have, thus far, been so inconspicuous as to escape my notice. As for acting as a food source, I have, thus far, failed to see any birds munching on its seeds. It is just possible that the frugivorous squirrels got there first.

Finally—well, not finally, exactly, but more along the lines of three strikes and you’re out—I see that parts of the euonymus can be poisonous to humans. You know, like that human just trying to save it from itself.

“Which parts?” I wonder.

“How poisonous?” I wonder.

But if nothing else, this frugivorous plant will help me remember the meaning of “eponymous,” to wit, named after a particular person. There’s a reason it’s just “euonymus” as opposed, say, to “Gambel oak” or “Bob White crabapple.”

No, it’s hard to see that anyone would want their name associated with the euonymus. Much better, I’m sure, to remain anonymous.

 

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6 Comments

    1. Tom Watson

      Isabel
      I love your photography!

      You have just added a word to my vocabulary. Never, ever heard the word “frugivorous” before. It’s good for a fella to learn something new every day.

      Tom

      1. Isabel Gibson

        Tom: Many thanks! I had to look it up, too, when I saw it in the Wiki article. And now, courtesy of my brother, you also have its companion – frugovorophilic. Try to use it in a sentence at least once this week!

    2. Isabel Gibson

      Ralph – Yes, of course, that’s what I meant to say . . . As applied to squirrels, I think I had it more in mind as a stand-in for another f word.

  1. Alison Uhrbach

    Wow! I learned all kinds of things – first of all I had to look up what a Euonymus even looks like – I’m pretty sure we don’t grow them in Western Canada. Then I learned both what frugivorous and frugovorophilic mean! And I had a good chuckle about squirrels bringing to mind a different “f” word. Thanks!

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Alison – Yeah, I’m pretty sure the eunonymous or euonymus doesn’t thrive in Alberta’s weather. I sorta wish it didn’t thrive here either! I did try to take a photo of it, but one of its many charms is that it doesn’t photograph well. I’m sure it wasn’t me!

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