Should you see a copy of the guide to the 20th Annual Friends School Plant Sale laying around at a cafe or restaurant, seize it at once. This prosaic-looking publication is more than merely a vast catalog of intriguing fruits and herbs — it’s a treasury of quirky, eloquent, and sometimes highly entertaining botanical writing.
The book is written to promote and pre-sell the Plant Sale, which takes place Mother’s Day Weekend (May 8-10) at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand.
It features book reviews, gardening tips, and profiles of local plant people, but it’s the hundreds of individual plant listings that take up the bulk of the space, ranging from exotic food plants such as coffee, tobacco, blueberries, and bananas to native floral species and all manner of greenery in between.
Amid the expected cosmos and black-eyed Susans are a rich grab-bag of strange and poetically named breeds of living things: everything from Queen Anne’s pocket melons, to the Fragrant Snowball, to Giant Fleeceflowers, to Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, to the enigmatic Ratstripper, to the Ice Dance sedge.
Here are 10 that particularly stood out:
10. The Bela Lugosi daylily
Classic horror film actor Bela Lugosi may be dead, but he’s not forgotten; the fact that the original Dracula lives on in plant form is oddly comforting.
9. Johnny jump ups: Hobbit Frodo Baggins, Hobbit Pippin Took, and Hobbit Sam Gamgee
Seriously: Planting a Hobbit Pippin Took Johnny jump up in your garden is just goddamned delightful. It’s so charming that it’s outright grotesque.
8. Japanese blood grass / Love Lies Bleeding / Bloody Butcher tomato / Bloodroot
On the flip side of the cute/horrible coin, how about all these bloody plants? The Bloody Butcher may pack the most initial shock effect, but, honestly, is there any plant name more poetically depressing than Love Lies Bleeding? It’s Madame Bovary with chlorophyll!
7. Hope for Humanity roses
One of the only rose varieties that will make you seriously consider the fate of the world as you care for them. Puts extra pressure on the casual gardener. “You killed… what now? The ‘Hope for Humanity’?!”
6. Paul Robeson heirloom tomato
Singer/actor/writer/athlete/lawyer Paul Robeson is legendary as a founding pillar of the American civil rights movement. His sympathy with socialism and the Soviet Union also helped get a Russian heirloom tomato named after him.
5. Minnetonka rhododendron
Lookit all those syllables! One can only hope that it is someday bred with the as-of-yet non-existent Minnehaha radicchio, thereby creating the Minnetonka-Minnehaha rhododendron-radicchio.
4. Ghost thistle
Not only does this plant have a spooky name, it’s the national emblem of Scotland. According to a legend reprinted in the Friends School Plant Sale catalogue: “a Scottish army camp was alerted to a sneak attack of invading Norsemen when a barefoot Viking stepped on a thistle and gave a hearty Viking holler.”
3. Pesto Perpetuo basil
Few things are more enchanting than the idea of a single simple garden plant barfing up an infinite supply of fresh, healthy pesto.
2. Dark Angel Dracula dahlia
What is it about plants and vampires, anyway? Also: Wasn’t simply naming a dahlia “Dracula” crazy enough? Is it absolutely necessary to tack “Dark Angel” on there? Fantastic!
1. Egpytian walking onion
A Seussian name if there ever was one. These onions “walk” by the use of bulbils (marble-sized bulbs) that grow at the top of their leaves. Once a given bulbil grows heavy enough to bend the leaf to the ground, it can take root. Not only do these plants actually exist, they’re for sale locally for $2 a pot.