Saturday, August 10, 2013

Can Liver Have Warts?

I found a nice patch of Liverwort on yesterday's walk to Gilson Creek.  I thought I'd look up the plant online to see if its place in the plant kingdom has changed since my high school days.  It has!  But, that's too complex a subject for this brief post.
There are many kinds of plants that have "wort" in their names: liverwort, mugwort, and birthwort, to name a few.  What amused me greatly was that looking up "wort" via a well-known browser resulted in thousands of hits for "wart."  I actually had to type in "wort, plant" in order to find what I wanted.  In botanical nomenclature, the word "wort" is usually a suffix but actually derives from a Middle English word meaning "plant."  Most people pronounce the two words identically and may not know the difference in spelling.  As I adventured through my dictionary, I was reminded that many people refer to the state of "Warshington" and do their laundry in a "warshing" machine.    And I did discover that the liverworts are still a bit of a mystery to botanists.  At least there is not universal agreement about where they belong on the "family tree" of evolution.
On my guided nature hikes, I try to defuse an overwrought concern about getting the names of plants and animals correct.  The names change for many different reasons.  Sparrow Hawk changed to Kestrel by a vote of ornithologists.  Indian Rhubarb was changed to Umbrella Plant and Digger Pine was changed to Gray Pine, among many other examples.  These last changes have to do with avoiding common names that may have embedded racism.  Then there are cases like Bindweed, also known as Orchard Morning Glory.  This difference has to do mainly with whether people like or dislike it.
Plants like Dandelions and Daisies that are not native to the USA may be labelled "alien" in some field guides and "non-native" in others.  If a non-native plant is perceived to be a trouble-maker, it is not only a weed, but an invasive weed.
So, the next time you come across a Henbit Dead Nettle or a Western Bloodsucking Conenose, have fun with the names.  Do a little research and see if Google knows any more about it than you do.  Just don't stress.  I never did find out whether liver can have warts.  I know it can have flukes and has over 500 known functions.
By the way, a great way to learn more about plants is to visit an herbarium.  Consider entering the wildflower photography contest sponsored by the Friends of the Chico State Herbarium.  Here's a link to the info:

1 comment: