Gardening Horticultural nomenclature

Oh la la! Plants With Suggestive Names

Botanists are always not as stodgy as you may think. Source:

One usually thinks of botanists as a sober lot, given to spending hours counting leaf hairs under a microscope. So, it may come as a surprise that some of them seem to have a sense of humor, and a rather ribald one at that. And they even manage to pass their humor on to future generations by naming plants suggestively … and once a plant is named, that will be its name pretty much forever, even if it’s connotations might upset some people’s sensitivities.

Hidden Meanings

In dissecting botanical humor, it helps to know a bit of Latin and Greek. If so, some plant names come across as quite funny.

Onopordum acanthium: this is the famous Scotch thistle. And the botanical name seems quite harmless, until you study it, because Onopordum comes from the Greek for … donkey fart. Apparently, donkeys like to eat it and the end result is both sonorous and malodorous.

Ferula assa-foetida: remaining in the donkey domain, this plant’s epithet certainly sounds like it means stinky ass. That could refer to a donkey, don’t you think? (Or something else!) However, “assa” is actually the name of a gum the plant gives off. And yes, it is foul-smelling, a fact also revealed by the common name: devil’s dung.

Amorphophallus titanum has the world’s largest single inflorescence… and a rather phallic bloom. Source:

Amorphophallus titanum: it doesn’t take a university degree to get this one! The name means, of course, giant misshapen penis and it was at first known as the penis plant or the corpse flower (for its bad smell). Sir Richard Attenborough felt the botanical name far too offensive to use on television and coined the less evocative term “titan arum” to describe the plant.

20180725C Dreamer,
Common stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus). Source: Dreamer,

Phallus impudicus: since we’re talking about phalluses, the common stinkhorn deserves a mention. True enough, it’s not a plant, but rather a mushroom and so I really shouldn’t include it, but … it’s such of great name!

Pinus rigida: this is the botanical name of the pitch pine. It’s not the only plant surnamed rigida or erecta, meaning not what you think, but a plant with an upright growth habit, but the proximity of the word Pinus makes it that much more suggestive!

Orchis: Most people have heard at some point that orchids derive their name from testicles. Orchis mascula, the first orchid studied, way back in the time of the Greeks, bears a pair of rounded, underground tubers that scientists seemed to find quite suggestive. No need to dig far here: Orchis simply means testicle in Greek. So each time you say orchid, you’re really saying, “balls!”

20180723O bifora-testiculata
It’s pretty obvious where Bifora testiculata gets its botanical name! Source:

Bifora testiculata: with an epithet like that, this weedy annual is bound to have something ballsy about it… and that would be the inflated seed capsules, always borne two by two. Its English common name is the mundane European bishop, but the French are more frank about the whole business and call it “plante à testicules.”

20180725D Mammillaria heyderi,
Mammillaria heyderi. Source:

Mammillaria: the name, of course, refers to the form of the rounded, bulging tubercles that cover the cactus thus named, very much like … uh, breasts. Women’s breasts, to be more specific. There are many species, sometimes known, fairly politely, as nipple cacti.

20180725E Myrtillocactus geometrizans Fukurokuryuzinboku
The boob cactus: Myrtillocactus geometrizans ‘Fukurokuryuzinboku’. Source:

But the names boob cactus and titty cactus are usually reserved for Myrtillocactus geometrizans ‘Fukurokuryuzinboku’, a nearly spineless cactus whose tubercles look even more like breasts.

20180725F Andreas Kay,
Nipple fruit (Solanum mammosum). Andreas Kay,

Solanum mammosum: Mammillaria was not the only plant to titillate botanists with its female attributes. The appropriately named nipple fruit or titty fruit (Solanum mamosum) also has quite a rack.

Crassula vaginatus: there are actually many plant species bearing epithets like vaginale, vaginatum and vaginatus, all names referring to a vaginalike sheath. Most botanists were men, so we shouldn’t be surprised they’d think of “that.”

Vanilla: none too well known is the fact the word Vanilla, the orchid that gives us the spice of the same name, is derived from the Spanish vainilla for little vagina. Who knew?

20180725G Clitoria ternatea The Photographer, Wikimedia Commons.jpg
Clitoria ternatea. Source: The Photographer, Wikimedia Commons

Clitoria ternatea: this member of the pea family has a rather distinctive flower shape. You’d wonder how that name got through the censors back in the 18thcentury, but it did. In fact, Carl Linnaeus himself, the father of taxonomy, dirty old man that he was, chose the name. If you look at the flower, it’s pretty obvious why!

Coprosma: You really have to know your Greek to understand that Coprosma means “smells like shit” (I kid you not!) due to the odor of the crushed leaves of some species. One species of Coprosma, C. repens, is currently making the rounds under the more subdued name of mirror plant.

Surprising Names

There’s nothing scatological or lewd about the following five botanical names, but they are certainly surprising!

Hebejeebie trifida: What a fun name!

Ilex vomitoria: This plant, the Yaupon holly, is poisonous, thus provoking the suggested vomiting. The rather disgusting name hasn’t prevented it from becoming a fairly popular garden plant in the mild climates where it can be grown.

Lobelia siphilitica: The great blue lobelia came by its unfortunate name not because it caused syphilis, but rather because it was once used to treat it.

Narcissus: Did you know that Narcissus means narcotic, due to the plant’s narcotic effects?

Spigelia genuflexa: This Brazilian plant gets its unusual name from the fact that it bends down and plants its own seeds as if it were genuflecting! How cool is that?

Sometimes, It’s All in the Pronuncation

The following names are perfectly legitimate, totally serious botanical names given, I’m sure, with no secondary intention whatsoever. However, with a bit of willful mispronunciation, you just can’t help but laugh!

  • Narcissus assoanus
  • Penstemon whippleanus
  • Rubus cockburnianus
  • Senecio herrianus
  • And just about any Latin name that ends in –anus (and there are many of them!)
  • Silybum mariana
  • Erica canaliculata (one of the best ones: try pronouncing it until you get it!)

Common Names

There are lots of very suggestive common names, but unlike botanical names, they only work in English.

Black man’s willie (Rhodochiton atrosangineus). Source:
  • Avocado (Persea americana) comes from a Latin American native name for testicles
  • Black man’s willie (Rhodochiton atrosangineus)

    20180725N Lodoicea-maldivica
    Butt nut (Lodoicea maldivica). Source:
  • Butt nut (Lodoicea maldivica)
  • Cockhold herb (Bidens connata)
  • Cuckoo pint (Aruma maculatum) (pint is an old English word for penis)

    20180725I Gomphrocarpus physocarpus
    Family jewels (Gomphrocarpus physocarpus). Source:
  • Family jewels, aka hairy balls and monkey balls (Gomphrocarpus physocarpus)
  • Horny wonder, aka condom plant (Ceropegia ampliata)
  • Hot lips or hooker’s lips (Psychotria elata) (labios de mujer et labios de puta in Spanish)
  • Horse’s balls (Tabernaemontana donnell-smithii) (huevos de caballo, cojones de burro and cojón de mico in Spanish)

    Penis cactus (Trichocereus bridgesii monstruosa). Source:
  • Knobweed (Hyptis capitata)
  • Lady of the night (Brassovola nodosa)
  • Naked ladies (Amaryllis belladonna)
  • Naked lady in a bath (Dicentra spectabilis, now Lamprocapnos spectabilis)
  • Nipplewort (lapsana communis)
  • Penis cactus (Trichocereus bridgesii monstruosa)

20180725J Passiflora quadrangularis ‘Erotica’

Penis passion fruit (Passiflora quadrangularis ‘Erotica’).

  • Penis passion fruit (Passiflora quadrangularis ‘Erotica’)
  • Shagbark (Carya ovata)
  • Shaggy soldier (Galinsoga quadriradiata)
  • Sticky willie (Galium aparine)
  • Stiffcock (Diospyros crassenevis)
  • Stinking willie (Trillium erectum)

Cultivar Names

There are tons of suggestive cultivar names. If you create a new hybrid, you get to name it and some people have dirtier minds than others:

‘Red Peter’ hot pepper (Capsicum annuum ‘Red Peter’). Source.
  • Actea ‘Black Negligee’
  • Capsicum annuum ‘Red Peter’
  • Hosta ‘Hanky Panky’
  • Hosta ‘Outhouse Delight’
  • Hosta ‘Striptease’
  • Iris ‘Erotic Touch’
  • Ranunculus ficaria ‘Brazzen Hussy’
  • Rosa ‘Golden Showers’
  • Rosa ‘Sexy Rexy’
  • Saintpaulia ‘Afterglo’

Add Your Own!

The above lists are far from exhaustive! If you have any fun—and suggestive!—plant names to offer, add them in Leave a Comment below.20180725A


10 comments on “Oh la la! Plants With Suggestive Names

  1. I’ve been learning a bit about orchids lately. Mind if I share some of the names I’ve come across? Egg-in-a-nest (Paphiopedilum bellatulum), Crimson cattleya (Cattleya labiata), Adam and Eve (Aplectrum hyemale), Dancing ladies (Oncidium altissimum) or Tolumnia variegata), Hairy shadow witch (Ponthieva racemosa), Ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes) or more specifically Creamy lady’s tresses (Spiranthes Porrifolia), and lastly the man orchid (Orchis anthropophora), the naked man orchid (Orchis italica) and lady orchid (Orchis purpurea)

  2. Wow! This can be one particular of the most useful blogs We have ever arrive across on this subject.

  3. johnsonxed

    Thanks for your suggestion, I appreciate this blog. do you like my blog too Greek Girl Names.

  4. Alstonia Scholaris is called Orgasmi-pagoodipuu (orgasm-pagodatree) in Estonian for some reason.

  5. This was too funny! Great research and accompanying pictures, got quite the chuckle.

  6. What a great way to start the day! You must have had loads of fun researching this! I’m still chuckling over the first one – Donkey Fart!! Red Peter Pepper just makes me blush!

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!

%d bloggers like this: