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Plants with animal names

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Ogden Nash’s book “The Animal Garden,” published in 1965, is a chuckle to read. The rhyming verse and amusing illustrations tell an upbeat story about a family living in a home where no pets are allowed because the parents suffer from allergies. Roy and Joy try to convince their parents to let them have a pet, but their pleas fall upon deaf ears.

Then, to their surprise and delight, one moonlit night, strange little Abidan taps on their bedroom window. He gives them special seeds and slips of plants and shows them how to plant an extraordinary garden. Every plant and seed was named after an animal!

Now, Roy and Joy had often dozed, through their weekly class in botany; I’m afraid they were wrongly inclined to think that botany meant monotony. But the sight botanic they now beheld would have awakened a sleeping possum! For every plant had an animal name and a living animal blossom! – “The Animal Garden” by Ogden Nash

Theme gardens are very popular with children and adults alike. This type of garden is centered around a specific concept or idea. The plants, garden design and elements of garden décor all focus on and support a particular topic. Theme gardens can be fanciful or practical. There’s no limit to the subjects you can explore.

Gardens Named After Animals

Children love animals, so growing a garden where all the plants are named after animals is a natural way to introduce them to gardening and cultural ecology. Every plant has an interesting past; exploring the origins of plant names, personal characteristics and cultural requirements, uses and history makes them seem like good friends and helps us grow as gardeners.

Okay, we know fancy topiary aren’t necessarily created with plants named after animals, but how can you not appreciate these works of art from the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio? Photos by Courtney Llewellyn

Classifying Plants

Prehistoric cultures classified plants by place, body parts, odors, shapes, colors, animals, insects and growing conditions. In modern botanical classification, plant names are derived chiefly from Latin and Greek origins, and plants are grouped by sexual reproductive characteristics.

Many common and botanical plant names have been passed along to us with animal names within them. Lamb’s ears, horehound and lion’s ear all bear a resemblance to the animals for which they were named and insects contributed to the identity of butterfly weed, bee balm and spider lily.

Right Plant, Right Place

To ensure success when planning and planting your garden, getting the right plant in the right place is essential. While all the plants in this themed garden have animal names, please keep their diverse growing needs in mind.

Some plants are shade-loving; others are like “Cats Pajamas,” a catmint that likes a dry, sunny spot. Bloom time will also vary according to the species, season and time of day. 

This topiary tiger is the cat’s pajamas.

Learn the Growing Conditions

It all begins with understanding the growing conditions of your garden site. Select your plants and group them in the garden according to their cultural and water needs. A plant’s native habitat offers valuable clues on how to grow it. Knowing the botanical classification or Latin name of a plant will help you correctly identify the plant and its origins. From that information, you can determine some of its growth characteristics. Knowing the lifecycle of a plant will help you plan for its future and manage your garden as a whole. Is it annual, biannual or perennial?

Annual flowers such as snapdragons, “Honey Bear” sunflowers and nasturtium “Whirlybird” are easy to grow from seed directly sown in the garden. You can purchase perennial plants at a local nursery. Many of the plants listed in this article will attract birds, butterflies and native pollinators to your yard. Trees and shrubs will add depth to the garden and provide homes and shelter for wildlife.

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is a small native tree that blooms in spring and is very popular with wildlife, birds and butterflies in particular. It is a favorite of the little blue azure butterfly for laying its eggs. Pussy willows, despite their unruly growth habit, make a nice specimen plant in an out-of-the-way spot in the yard. There are plenty of willows to pick from with pretty stems and interesting catkins that can be forced in the spring and then dried for later use in craft projects.

Editor Courtney ready to journey upon her topiary camel.

Container Gardening with Animal Plant Names

Don’t think you have enough space for a garden? You can always find room for a container garden, using miniature plants with animal names, such as Cosmos “Little Lady Birds,” cardinal climber vine and zinnia “Polar Bear.” Animal-shaped containers are also fun to plant and AAS Winner Marigold “Big Duck Gold” is an easy-to-grow plant from seed and looks great in containers.

Use these plants as garden accents. Plant catnip in a pot shaped like a cat or Bunny Tails, an annual grass, in a container shaped like a rabbit.

Wildflowers & Weeds with Animal Names

Cultivated plants are not the only plants with animal names. Wildflowers and weeds with animal names can extend the fun beyond the garden’s boundaries. Goatsbeard (Tragopogon pretenses) is a biennial member of the Asteraceae family and native to Europe, Central Asia and Turkey. The genus name Tragopogon originates from two Greek words: Tragos means “goat” and pogon means “Beard,” which describes the fuzzy seed head produced by the plant after flowering. Another common name for this plant is “Jack Go To Bed At Noon” because of its faithful habit of closing its flowers at about noon. During the 18th century, farmers in France and England based their lunch break on the movement of this flower.

Plants & People

Plants have supported human life from its beginning. The origins and meaning of plant names is a fascinating subject. The many variations of their descriptive labels teach us there are many different ways of relating, knowing and understanding plants and cultural ecology.

These are just a few suggestions of plants with animal names to get you started. Develop your own list and garden plan based on your available site. Check out gardening resources, plants, books and tools offered by National Garden Bureau members.

The bison is blooming!

A Short List of Plants with Animal Names

Sun Loving Plants

Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa

Bunny Tails, Lagurus ovals

Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis

Catmint, Nepeta

Cranesbill, Geranium

Dragon’s blood, Sedum

Harebell, Campanula roundifolia

Hens and Chicks, Sempervivum

Lamb’s ear, Stachys lanta

Leopard’s bane, Doronicum orientale

Turtlehead, Chelone glabra

Zebra grass, Miscanthus sinensis

Shade Tolerant Plants

Bee balm, Monarda didyma

Elephant ears, Colocasia esculent

Goat’s beard, Aruncus diocius

Monkey-flower, Mimulus rigens

Spiderwort, Tradescantia

Wildflowers & Weeds

Catchfly, Silene armeria

Cattails, Typha latifolia

Fleabane, Erigeron

Horsetail, Equisetum arvense

Horsemint, Monarda punctata

Yellow Goatsbeard, Tragopogon pretensis

Squirrel cup, Hepatica

Tickseed, Coreopsis lanceolata

Toadflax, Linaria vulgaris

Trout lily, Erythronium americanum

Viper’s bugloss, Erythronium americanum

Wake Robin, Trillium

Trees & Shrubs

Butterfly bush, Buddleia

Dinosaur tree, Ginkgo

Dogwood, Cornus florida

Pussy willow, Salix discolor

by Susan M Betz, author of Neighboring with Nature: Native Herbs for Purpose & Pleasure and Herbal Houseplants

This post about plant animal names is provided as an educational/inspirational service of the National Garden Bureau and our members.

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