Wednesday, February 3, 2010

asparagus fern, part 3

In asparagus fern, part 1, I wrote: "I assume that both [ Sprenger and Meyer asparagus ferns ] are named after Dutch colonists whose countrymen brought apartheid as well as European botany to the southern hemisphere." Well, I turn out to have been dead wrong about Sprenger. Carl Ludwig Sprenger (1846-1917) was a German botanist specializing in Mediterranean plants. His career path led him to Kaiser Wilhelm II's estate on Corfu where he became supervisor of gardens and, evidently, was a civilian casualty of  The Great War.

My war on the Sprenger asparagus fern (SAF) has led me to weed out some of my own long-held misconceptions. Many years ago I started fulminating about botanical imperialism, and I still think there's something to be said about it. Indeed I will say it! Meanwhile, however, I am eating some words. I learned at the killerplant website that Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) said:  "Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them."

It was the Swede Carl Linneaus (1707-1778) who gave SAF its first European name, .Asparagus aethiopicus, which did acknowledge the plant's African origins back in the day when a whole continent was known as Ethiopia.  I have been interested in Linneaus ("The Father of Taxonomy") since high school, and used his name in a poem about Greek and Latin plant names back in the 80's: "Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Linneaus eleison."

And so all my preoccupations seem to be coming together with these postoccupations I am writing about. 

What of the Meyer asparagus fern? Was it Frederick Meyer, Albrecht Meyer, Frank Meyer, or some other Meyer (or Myer) who named it? My slow-growing plant has been given a reprieve, and I will move on to other subjects.

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License