Pistil-Packin’ Mamas

A meditation on women’s botanical names

By Ross Howell Jr.

On a recent trip to Blowing Rock, my wife, Mary Leigh, and I breakfasted at a favorite spot, Sunny Rock, where we were served by a woman named Heather. That evening we dined at Bistro Roca, another favorite, where we were served by a woman named Ivy.

I couldn’t remember coming across a woman with a plant name in quite a while and certainly not two in the same day. That got me to thinking about women’s botanical names I’d come across over the years. I mentioned this to Mary Leigh as we got in the car after dinner.

“Um,” Mary Leigh said, scrolling through business emails on her phone, “There was a girl at my elementary school named Poppy.”

“That’s a good one,” I said.

“Honey, I need to answer some of these,” Mary Leigh said. Hers is the practical mind in the family, so she wisely ignores my flights of fancy.

Alone with my thoughts, I recollected my great-aunt Flora, and her daughter, Myrtle, who died young. There was a cousin Violet — on my grandfather’s side, I believe. Oh, and another cousin, Iris.

Let’s see. In high school, there was a very pretty girl named Camellia. One of my cousins dated a woman named Rose.

Back in Greensboro, I brought the subject up with my barber, Danny Vannoy, who’s within a day or two of being exactly my age. The pity for barbers is they can’t really ignore you.

“Let’s see, I dated a Holly and a Ginger,” Danny said, trimming a sideburn.

“And I knew a Hazel,” he continued.

“Those are good ones,” I said. “I remember a girl at church named Fern.”

“A waitress I know has a girlfriend named Sage,” Danny said.

“There was a skinny girl in elementary school we called Sticks,” I said.

Danny and I were looking at each other in his big barber’s mirror. He rubbed his chin.

“I don’t think you can count that one,” Danny said.

“I guess not,” I said. I puzzled for a moment.

“How about Peaches?” I asked. “You know, like in Peaches and Herb. The song ‘Reunited?’”

“Sure, that one counts,” Danny said.

“There was a girl named Laurel I met at college,” I continued.

“That’s a good one, too,” Danny said.

“In one of my writing classes there was a woman named Indigo,” I said.

“Isn’t that a color?” Danny asked.

“Uh-huh,” I said. “But the dye comes from a plant.”

Danny nodded agreement in the mirror.

“Seems like you don’t hear the botanical names like back in the day,” I said.

Danny unclipped the paper collar and lifted the barber’s apron from my lap.

“I guess not,” he said.

“Funny, I never met a Daisy,” Danny mused.

“Me, neither,” I said. “Or a Lily. Seems like at our age, a fellow’d met a Daisy or Lily, doesn’t it?”

We pondered this as I unfolded my wallet and handed Danny his payment.

“Or a Petunia,” I continued.

“Well, I don’t know about a Petunia,” Danny said.  OH

Have plant names among family, friends, or acquaintances? Favorite plants? Email Ross Howell Jr. at ross.howell1@gmail.com. (Please don’t miss the number 1 in the email address. There’s a Ross Howell working on a graduate degree, and he doesn’t need extra interruptions!)

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