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GardenSMART :: The Stories Behind the Names

The Stories Behind the Names

By Susan Martin for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

Have you ever wondered how new plants are named? Who gets to name plants like 'Cat's Meow' or King Tut® anyway? We'll let you in on a little behind-the-scenes action here at Proven Winners and tell you how a few of our favorites got their names.

We have a team of incredibly creative people here at Proven Winners headquarters and our perennial and shrub partners to thank for cranking their imaginations into high gear to dream up perfect names for our new varieties.

Kerry Meyer has been the namer-in-chief for the annual line of Proven Winners since 2002. Doesn't that sound like a fun job? (Horticulture is fun!) Her creative wheels start spinning as soon as she sees a new plant for the first time. A plant's flowers, shape, color or an outstanding characteristic offer clues to what it should be named.

Kerry finds inspiration all around her, from the local paint store to her cross-country travels. She keeps a database of over 3,000 plant name ideas that she and her team have brainstormed over the years. Sometimes it can be hard to think of something original, but eventually Kerry says she has an "ah-ha!" moment when she finds the perfect name for a new plant. That is a very good day!

The teams at Walters Gardens (Proven Winners® Perennials) and Spring Meadow Nursery (Proven Winners® ColorChoice® Shrubs) get to know their new introductions very well through the multi-year trialing and production process. Sometimes a name sticks from the very beginning. Other times, their preferred name for a new plant has already been used and they have to start all over again. Naming plants can be a very competitive business!

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Can You Guess the Meaning Behind These Names?

Baby Tut®, Prince Tut™ and King Tut® (Cyperus)

You'll find the clue behind these Egyptian-themed names in the botanical name Cyperus, which means "papyrus." As early as 3,000 BC in ancient Egypt, papyrus was the most popular writing material in the world. The modern word "paper" comes from the ancient word papyrus. Egypt's most famous king was King Tutankhamen, or King Tut. Ironically, King Tut papyrus has also become one of Proven Winners most iconic plants! We have our friends at Four Star Greenhouse to thank for these creative names.

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Rockin'® Salvias

Sometimes the meaning behind a plant name isn't so obvious. Take Rockin'® Deep Purple salvia, for instance. When we were brainstorming names for this new series, legendary rock artist Prince had just passed away and as huge fans, he was on all of our minds. This salvia's flowers were strung on the stems like music notes and its garden performance in our trials had truly rocked. And so Rockin' salvias were born on the inspiration of this iconic artist.

We would have kept the Prince theme going all the way and named this salvia Rockin'® Purple Rain, but alas, that name was already taken by another plant. We were thankful when 80s hair band Deep Purple stepped up to finish the show.

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Amazel™ Basil (Ocimum)

Say "amazing basil" three times fast and you'll see how this tongue twister resulted in the name Amazel™ basil. This incredible plant was hybridized at the University of Florida under the direction of Dr. Dave Clark, and his students came up with this creative name. When we were observing it in trials, we found ourselves exclaiming over and over again that this was an AMAZING basil. Once you see and taste it for yourself, you'll be saying how Amazel this basil is, too! Watch for it new in stores in Spring 2019.

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'Cat's Meow' Catmint (Nepeta)

What else would you call the very best variety of catmint you'd ever seen? After many years of hybridizing Nepeta, our perennial partner Walters Gardens created this new variety that stays densely mounded without having to give it a haircut halfway through the season. It is covered in sky blue flowers for months and pollinators obviously love it too. 'Cat's Meow'—defined in the Urban Dictionary as "the epitome of cool"—was an obvious choice to name this new superior variety. And you'll love our next new catmint coming soon—'Cat's Pajamas'!

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Invincibelle® Hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens)

To tell you the story behind the Invincibelle name, we should first explain how 'Annabelle' hydrangea came to be. History recounts how two sisters first discovered this hydrangea growing in the countryside near their town of Anna, Illinois way back in 1910. They thought it was very beautiful, so they shared it with friends and neighbors. Anna (town) + bella (beautiful) = 'Annabelle' hydrangea. 'Annabelle' has since become an iconic hydrangea that is grown all around the world.

Wanting to build on that name recognition and reflecting on the practically bulletproof nature of a new pink-flowered, Annabelle-type hydrangea in their trials, our shrub partners at Spring Meadow Nursery chose the name Invincibelle®.

The sale of Invincibelle® Spirit hydrangeas has since raised over $1 million for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation® and the donations continue to roll in. Many people who have bought this hydrangea for someone who has been affected by cancer tell us the name "Invincibelle Spirit" reflects their loved one's attitude of perseverance to beat this disease.

Want to get the inside scoop on even more stories behind the names? Find them in this article.

Contributor Bio: Susan Martin is an avid zone 6 gardener, garden writer and speaker who enjoys spreading her passion for plants to her fellow gardeners. Follow her on Facebook @Gardener Sue's News.

Patent Info: Rockin'® Deep Purple Salvia USPPAF CanPBRAF; Amazel™ Basil Ocimum USPPAF CanPBRAF; 'Cat's Meow' Nepeta faassenii USPP24472 CanPBR5098; Invincibelle® Spirit II Hydrangea arborescens USPP28316 CanPBR5622


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