The world of horticulture is replete with names honoring celebrities, botanists and just-plain folks.

Some dude named Shakespeare might have said it best (as was his wont): “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Even if it’s named after Freddie Mercury?

Plants, it turns out, have been ripe fodder for “people names,” which end up being used much more often than the tortuous Latin nomenclature that plants also bear.

It’s a relatively recent phenomenon that has sprouted mightily in the past few decades. The plant that probably bears the most such names, the rose, didn’t get its first “people name” until 1901 with “Dorothy Perkins,” granddaughter of a businessman named Charles Perkins of Jackson & Perkins fame.

Many handles that became attached to plants are obscure to most of us — Frances Williams hosta, Sir Modred daylily — but others honor widely known people past, present and future — real and fictional.

An extreme example: A Chicago-area woman, Lindalee Stuckey, built her garden around plants bearing “Star Trek” names: Captain Kirk and Enterprise hostas, lilies called Spock’s Ears, Borg Technology, Neutral Zone and Romulan Defector.

Most eponyms, though, are less chimerical and more, well, grounded in friendship, tribute or history, sometimes ancient history.

So we end up with nom de plants such as the Sir Paul McCartney rose (no word on its susceptibility to beetles), a Robert Frost hosta (for the road less traveled), a Michelle Obama orchid and no fewer than 19 fern species labeled Lady Gaga (Gaga monstraparva, anyone?).

Julia Child got to choose the rose named after her; not surprisingly, it’s the color of butter. Even less surprising, the Cher bearded iris and Freddie Mercury rose — his fans raised thousands of dollars to have it named for him posthumously — are dramatic and striking.

There are clematis designated for both Princess Diana and Prince Charles, and roses bearing the monikers Romeo and Juliet.

Which, of course, brings us back to the very play in which the female heroine utters that timeless query about names and roses.

 

Bill Ward is a Twin Cities freelance writer who writes about wine at decant-this.com. E-mail him at bwdecant@gmail.com.