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