THE article and letters regarding Scotland’s nominated favourite plants (your report, Letters 18-20 November) and their jumble of names needs a bit of distance.
Scientific names, book-names, and country-names each have uses. The first speaks for itself though its intelligibility is often played down. The third (all too rare in contributions) tends to allude to avoidance or to usefulness – how, when and where a plant is to be used. The second comes down to proclamation, “This is what I know”, and little else.
The plants illustrated have had few traditional uses and so have few country-names – although Scots craw-taes for English bluebell might have been cited.
The Scotsman farming column (18 November) presents a pointed example – with the topical bugbear of troublesome arable weeds (book-names only!) and what is to be done. Not mentioned is hemlock (Conium maculatum) – which abounds all through the Lothians and beyond, standing up to three-metres tall. It surrounds and invades fields. Hemlock, a book-name, defies the OED in suggesting a meaning. Yet one of its country-names is telling, Deid Men’s Oatmeal. If it is taken to be, and taken as, oatmeal, which it closely resembles, death will follow. The superabundant, tall-growing seeds are highly toxic and invasive. Salted gritting of roads extends its original seaside habitat inland – to where it is not always recognised.
I suggest your correspondents look out country-names and shelve their book-names – these dusty, rusty school medallions.
(Dr) Brian Moffat
Director, Soutra Research Project