You Say Ar-BOO-tus, I Say Ar-BYOO-tus


Latin is a bitch. It’s a dead, annoying language. Oh, sure, it’s fun to whip out at cocktail parties to impress potential romantic partners but other than that only doctors, lawyers and gardeners ever use it. And only the gardeners argue about how to pronounce it.

I’m talkin’ mean arguments, down and dirty. I’ve seen people actually come close to blows over Agastache, a plant that smells like root beer. The height of humor is two little old sun-wrinkled ladies in dirty canvas pants and floppy hats shrieking at each other in a garden center over a tiny pot of leaves and dirt. Girls, nobody gives a rip. Just call it agastache-rupestris-11825hyssop.

(For the record, it’s Ah-gah-STAH-kee. Now you can go to that cocktail party.)

When I shuttered my landscaping and personal gardening company in Denver and moved to Oregon, my challenging little world of Latin-speak turned into an insurmountable trial-by-mispronunciation. Turns out, there are regional preferences in the horticultural community, not to mention a much wider variety of species to play with in a temperate rainforest. My favorite root beer plant took a back seat to countless bamboos, ferns, and ground covers–literally thousands of ways to get yelled at in Portland Nursery by little old ladies. Thank god I was out of the business.

03_figleafHowever, a gardener doesn’t just hang up their plant goggles and move on. Flora appreciation gets in the blood. I continue to Google cutting edge garden design and fondle things in garden centers and I still ooh and aah whenever I pass by a beautiful specimen in the park. Plants, too.

That’s why my heart stopped when I first laid eyes on madrone. It’s just the purdiest tree in the whole damned world, I can’t believe it’s actually native to Oregon. Usually, I end up coveting things I’ll never get my hands on like a limited crop coffee bean or shoes the world will never see again: “Oh, do you like them? My mother’s sister’s friend’s aunt got them in Kathmandu in 1987 from a cart on the street.”madrone-arbutus-menziesii-e2bce163f2c8e4c0Madrone, or Arbutus menziesii (ar-BYOO-tus men-ZEES-zee-eye, you cocktail lovers), and I have a lot in common. In fact, we share almost every characteristic Google serves up. Here’s a photo melange of its mesmerizing bark taken at the base of Cooper Mountain Nature Park interspersed with a breakdown of our mutual fabulousness.Madrone is uniquely beautiful–Well, duh. Just sayin’.

It has a variety of seasonal looks–Yup. I’ve been known to wear kimono robes with hiking boots and pants made out of tapestries. I love Portland.It requires dry soil–I’m allergic to deep mud. Scrubbing it out of truck seats, white cotton socks, and my living room carpet has forever turned me off to hiking during the monsoon. Which makes living in the Pacific Northwest more than a little awkward.

Madrone’s reddish bark peels away to reveal new layers every summer–Sunburn induces the same condition in myself. In fact, if I’m out in the sun for more than ten minutes, I need skin grafts. Fucking northern European ancestors.
It’s leaves are darker on top and lighter on the bottom–I’m much, much lighter where the sun don’t shine. My ass could reflect starlight. When I put on shorts for the first time in spring, get out your shades.

It’s bark is lovely and smooth–I’ve been complimented on my skin just about every year of my life. My laugh lines are perfect.Madrone doesn’t transplant well and doesn’t like its roots moved–Neither do I. Moving house is the only time I ever get sick, having my safe zone destabilized makes me all stabby. Thanks for helping me lift my bed out of the truck, now just take your pizza and beer and back away slowly.

It’s older leaves turn yellow and drop in summer–Blonde hairs. Blonde hairs everywhere.

Madrone needs full sun to thrive–Me, too. Despite my habit of burning faster than a bag of microwave popcorn, I could never survive a winter in Alaska or Norway or anywhere above the Arctic Circle. Darkness holds no allure, vampires don’t seduce me.

It likes cliffs and bluffs, lending to stability there–I definitely prefer the heights. Any hike that doesn’t have a high, rocky view at some point is merely a back-up plan. And I’m a stabilizing influence in any project. I’ll make everybody laugh just when they’re at each other’s throats and I’ll proofread that final report whether you like it or not. Oxford commas, people.It is an evergreen–I’m good year round but I’m only truly chipper when it’s cold. As soon as the ol’ mercury creeps above 60 degrees, my cherub-like demeanor vanishes and I transform into a raging honey badger until it snows again. Just wake me in October.

Madrone can reach massive proportions–Damn you, carbs.

It has white flowers and tasty berries–No comment.

It sustains a wide variety of wildlife–I’m an intellectual extrovert. If you’re articulate, witty, and interesting, you’re in. Anyone with a good, weird story, hike next to me. Unless it’s about a juice cleanse or Jesus. Just, no.

That was Bird’s Nest Fungi, this is an armadillo.

February 10, 2013

62 thoughts on “You Say Ar-BOO-tus, I Say Ar-BYOO-tus

  1. Beautiful photographs and summon up my image of the pacific north west. I LOVE Latin – it is such a useful language that is the root of so many European languages. My favorite is unguentum.

    • Come on up, they’re still there. At least, I think they’re still there. I haven’t been back to Cooper Mountain in years. Too many people in that park.

      I’m constantly on the lookout for secluded, private wilderness to hike in. When I do occasionally find it, you can be sure I won’t be posting about it on the internet! Ha, ha!

  2. You’d like it here… a large madrone dominates our back yard. Now, about all those leaves it drops in summer when most trees decently wait until fall… or not at all.
    “Unless it’s about a juice cleanse or Jesus. Just, no.” Agreed! 🙂 –Curt

  3. I cannot, cannot, cannot grow anything!!! How do you do it?
    The Madrone is gorgeous–did I say that right? And I so enjoyed the visual in my head of two seventy year old granna’s duking it out in the garden center. I feel like I know you after reading this, and yes, I burn too, and I shed blond hair, too. That red bark is beautiful (on the tree, I mean), what causes it to turn that shade?

    First time at your site. It was a pleasure!!! So fun!!!

    • Thank you! Yeah, if plants aren’t your thing, I definitely advise staying away from grannies in garden centers, they take stuff personally. I believe it’s called not having a life.

      Truly, the very best way to enjoy green, growing things is taking a leisurely hike. You don’t have to water or repot anything, you can fondle leaves and bark at will, and the flowers don’t give a shit what you call them as long as it begins with “Aren’t those ones pretty?”

    • I mentioned locations above the Arctic Circle because they experience something called Polar Night where darkness occurs longer than 24 hours. I actually love winter but I wanna see it.

      But, yeah, cold hands in bed would definitely suck worse than vampires. *rimshot

      • LOL 🙂 btw I studied Latin as one of my majors at uni; never used it though it does help to unravel the meaning of unfamiliar Latinate words 🙂

  4. A Landscape Architect told me, “When people drive down the road, most of them think ‘That’s a nice shrub,’ or ‘that’s a pretty tree.’ When I drive down the road I see latin names.”

    On the other hand, I practiced pronouncing “polyisocyanurate” so I could rattle it off to a contractor without stumbling.

  5. Alas! I had a nice Madrone in the back yard but it died last year. There’s a big empty space there now, and the yard just isn’t the same. BTW, those berries reliably attracted Cedar Wax Wings every fall, I’ll miss them too.

    • Damnit, that sucks. Global warming bit the big weenie last summer. It was so dry I thought about paving the lawn. I was actually watering yews–YEWS!–just to keep them alive.

      Was the madrone wood salvageable? I hear it’s tasty for furniture projects.

  6. Beautiful tree and bark. I don’t suppose it will grow here in the Denver area? Probably too dry. I imagine even the fence posts sprout in Oregon, much as they did in north Georgia.

    • I don’t remember seeing any when I lived out there but on the upside there was lots and lots of Ponderosa pine, whose bark looks and smells amazing. Now I have to drive several hours to see any. We have our horticultural crosses to bear–Ha, ha!

  7. Your blog, your photos and your attitude to life have made my morning. Glad to have discovered your blog. Being a doctor, on principal the only Latin I use is the opposite to stat: quis quid (the closet thing the efficient Romans had to whatever).

  8. I have to disagree with you on the issue of latin. I learnt it in school and I think that it is a very important language. It’s kind of the basis of all european languages and with latin it is easier to learn and understand them. 😉

  9. Pingback: Spitting Distance from Canada 7-26-16 | All Thoughts Work™ Outdoors 5

      • Had to chime in because this is what you commented on my coffee posts about – and I just responded – but wanted to say thanks for it!
        I once had dinner with a biochemist (group of us) and he went on and on about how coffee changes complete composition when sugar and cream was added. We all had too much wine- but what I remember was that he was saying the beverage was transformed (corrupted) into something totally different – hm

        • That’s sounds intriguing, I’d love to read the research on that. For the record, I don’t think sugar is Satan, I just think it’s better consumed like our ancestors did: quite sparingly and with great joy, like handfuls of cherries in July.

  10. Wow – I’m not sure I remember reading posts like this – and think I have follows you for a while.
    You write with such humor – information – and authority – it was interesting the way you compared things – and the tree sounds awesome.
    Also – did not realize there is geographical pronunciation- but it makes sense.
    And would add one more group to the Latin users – other scientists as well as those botanists 😉

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s