Devil’s Walking Stick. Strawberry Wahoo. Green Dragon. Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Fire-Pokers… All plants with strange names.
Sometimes my friends and family think I make these names up.
I remember coming home one day after running errands in town. I always drive really slow on the dirt road leading to Wild Ozark, and not just because the road is rough. The reason that motivates me to go slow most of all is so I can look on the sides of the road for interesting plants. Anyway, my mom was with me on one of these days and by the time I realized what I’d seen, we’d overshot the spot by a good distance. I shouted “Strawberry Wahoo!” and put the car in reverse. Poor mom probably thought I’d lost my mind.
But I backed up and found the bush. It’s actually a small tree sort of shrub. When she saw what I was talking about, she said “I think you just made that name up.”
“No, really,” I protested. “It’s really what it’s called.” My name for it combines a couple of the common names into one, but technically I think “strawberry bush” and “wahoo” work better together so we know exactly which plant I’m talking about. Euonymus atropurpurea is likely considered a more specific name, though, I admit. But I think I’d have sounded just as mad shouting that out as anything else.
Similar words were exchanged when my husband and I passed what I’d mistakenly said were “Red Hot Pokers”. Actually, that’s a different flower than the one I saw, but “Fire Pinks“, which is what these were is just as odd a name because these flowers are nowhere near pink. They’re definitely red.
Then there’s the Devil’s Walking Stick. I spotted that one one day on our way off to somewhere once, and it too brought the raised eyebrows of “I think you made that name up”. I really like the Devil’s Walking Stick a lot because it’s one of the ginseng cousins, belonging to the Aralia family along with American ginseng, American Spikenard, and Sarsaparilla too. The only thing in common with any of these, though, is the way the flowers are arranged in a loose, airy, ball on the end of each flowering stem. All of the plants of this family flower in the same arrangement. The Devil’s Walking Stick I found looks more like a small, skinny tree than a shrub. Later in the year after the stem started sagging, I was able to pull it down so I could collect the seeds.
I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to sprout and grow the seeds of either the Devil’s Walking Stick or the Strawberry Wahoo, but if I can, I’ll have these to offer at the market too. So you can have some plants with strange names too. Both of these are native to the Ozarks and interesting conversation specimens even if you don’t find the medicinal uses of them interesting. I have some American Spikenard, Jack-in-the-Pulpit and Green Dragon seeds I’m hoping will germinate in spring, too.