Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Hard to identify"

I read something yesterday in the new issue of the ONPS newsletter that surprised me a little.

I was familiar with the term birders use - "LBJ," which stands for "Little brown job," meaning one of the small brownish birds (often sparrows but also some of the warblers) that are hard to tell apart, especially if they are flitting around in a tree where you don't get a full view of them. (Some people use the acronym "LBB" for "little brown bird")

Well, there's a comparable one for plants. Members of the Asteraceae (the daisy family), which used to be known as the Compositae*

(*Plant taxonomy is kind of weird. There were a lot of "old" family names that didn't fit the official pattern, so Compositae and Umbelliferae and Labiatae and Cruciferae are now Asteraceae and Apiaceae and Menthaceae and Brassicaceae but a lot of us know the old names....I think the new names came into common use about the time I was in college, though it might have been earlier and my botany profs were just all old-school)

Anyway, a lot of the composites (the old general name for things in the Asteraceae) are hard to tell apart, especially the fall-flowering yellow ones. I have to think hard about the names of even some of the common ones and I kind of groan if I run across a goldenrod other than a few of the ones with really distinctive leaves because the flowers are all so similar, and identifying them usually means going into the lab and working with a dissecting microscope on the flowers and using a key.

So, there is a 'grouping name' for the yellow-flowered Asteraceae like Little Brown Jobs.

(I tend to just refer to them as "it's another yellow Asteraceae").

But apparently the "official" acronym is DYC. Which is short for "Damned yellow composite."

The thing that surprised me is that phrase is attributed to Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of President Johnson. (I'm not surprised about the wildflower thing; there is a whole wildflower center in Austin dedicated to her and she was known for that sort of thing. I'm surprised about the "Damned")

Would she have said that?

Scanning my memory banks, I realize I don't know that much about her. I do know that President Johnson could be a rather....earthy.....talker (there is an infamous tape of a phone call he had with his tailor, describing in detail to the man how NOT to make his pants fit too tightly and why). But I dunno, I pictured Lady Bird as being more, well, ladylike. And also it was the 1960s, I don't know how common openly saying something like "damned" was - there are certain words that have only become common/accepted on network tv since the late 1980s.

And I admit, I think my mental picture of a "mid 20th century former First Lady" is strongly influenced by the story about Bess Truman, where a group of women came to her and said "Can't you encourage your husband, on his garden tours, to call it 'fertilizer' instead of 'manure,' because 'manure' is such a coarse word," and Bess' response was "It took me 20 years to encourage him to call it 'manure.'"

I'm also cognizant of the differences in attitudes of my students - some coming from very conservatively-religious backgrounds, some coming from different cultures than my own - so I'd never say "damned" about something in front of the class. I *might* say "darned yellow composite" though, as I noted, I'd probably be more prone to sort of sigh and go "it's a yellow Asteraceae."

I'm good at plant identification but some groups are difficult - yellow Asteraceae are kind of a pain if you don't work with them on a regular basis, and some grasses can be hard if they don't have flowering/fruiting heads on them. And anything in rosette form is gonna be tough.

ETA: I guess I should be glad the acronym isn't FYC. (Like Fine Young Cannibals, which I was once told was actually supposed to stand for something ELSE but that which the FCC wouldn't allow....)

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