Pussytoes, Dutchman’s Breeches, Dryad’s Saddle: Memorable Names

Perhaps because I am an ameuteur naturalist writing primarily for other scientific laypersons, I use the common American names in my observations, not the more precise Latin names..

Many of the common names are based on appearance, what someone was reminded of when encountering this part of American nature at some point in the past. Recently I spent some time enjoying the spring appearance of two flowers and a mushroom that have interesting common names.

One is Pussytoes, a small flower that blooms at this time of the year in the open areas of Eliza Howell.

The flower is named “Pussytoes” because the flower looks like the foot of a kitten or a cat. (However, when the stamens are evident – next picture – the flower looks more like a pin cushion. But there is a different flower that is named Pincushion.)

I am always excited to find Dutchman’s Breeches, in part because it is an uncommon flower In Eliza Howell. This picture is of the only one that I have located so far this spring.

The name comes from the fact that the flower shape reminded someone of the breeches (pants ending just below the knees) worn in the 18 century, by men in Holland

I have written about Dryad’s Saddle previously, a favorite mushroom (or shelf fungus) that appears on dead trees, stumps, and logs every spring. They have just this week begun to appear.

The “saddle” part of the name comes from the shape of the mushroom. And presumably the Dryads of Greek mythology were small enough to be able ride on this size saddle.

The mushroom has another common name — “Pheasant Back” — based on the resemblance of the mushroom’s markings to pheasant feathers.

Another example of a flower named by its look is Trout Lily, also blooming at this time in the park. In this case, it is the leaves rather than the bloom, that led to the name. The leaf markings suggested the blotches on a Brook Trout (Brown Trout).

Despite the lack of precisen and despite the questionable comparisons, I expect I will continue to use the recognized common names in these postings. They are more interesting, they sometimes have historical interest, and they are easier to remember than the scientific names.

“Dicentra cucullaria” doesn’t seem to communicate in the same way that “Dutchman’s Breeches” does.

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