“Three shiny green leaves,” said my Dad.
“No, those are strawberries – see the buds? Their leaves are more ragged and not shiny.”
“So, like these?”
“No, that’s an ash maple, also known as Acer Nugundo, Box Elder Maple, or Ash-leaved Maple. In Canada they call it the Elf Maple and the Manitoba Maple. Some people call it the Cut-leaved Maple, the Red River Maple, the Stinking Ash, the Three-leaved Maple, the Western Box Elder, and the Sugar Ash. The Russians call it the American Maple.”
“It's a tree, Headley.”
“But it looks like a bush.”
“That's because it's young. If you look at the stem… Never mind, just look for three shiny green leaves.”
“Yes, Headley, that is poison ivy. You should probably put that down now.”
I have a hard enough time telling green from blue, telling green from green is just too much for me. Botany class seemed like a practical joke. I half expected someone to slip a Chinese finger trap on me as I stared at hundreds of nearly identical items with Latin names that had been specially immunized against memorization.
The one exception – and not in botany, but in real life, was in the swamp behind my house growing up. We had cattails, pussy willows, elephant ears, and skunk cabbage. This stuff was memorable, but if a plant didn’t look or smell like mammal parts, I was out of luck.
Flowers are different. I know a daisy from a marigold, a pansy from a violet – but once you pick the blossoms, it’s all back to green – just green.
It’s not easy naming green.
“Headley, help me weed the garden.”
“Sure, Mom. What do I do?”
“You pull the weeds and leave the flowers.”
“Which are the weeds?”
“That clover is a weed.”
“That patch of grass is weed.”
“Headley, you know the difference; just pull the weeds.”
“No, Headley, that used to be a petunia. Go help your father.”
Maybe it doesn’t surprise you that I got a very serious case of poison ivy when I was nineteen. My father wanted the entire back yard stripped of foliage. My arms were rotting so profusely that I had to have my hands strapped to a pole above my bed in order to sleep.
(sorry - I probably should've warned you.)
The foliage grew back about a week before I recovered. I think a lot of it had three shiny leaves, but what do I know?
I don’t get green stuff.
Tarzan knew green - he just didn't know English.