Fogfruit or Frogfruit: Art and whimsy

On the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website, botanists answer questions from the laity — you, me and other interested observers of things botanical. Wild Bill of Wild Ramblings asked me where the common names, Fogfruit and Frogfruit, emanated. For the moment, Wild Bill — and others –, this is the best answer I found. Yet, the question of origin requires more research.  The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is a good first start.

The OED cites:  ‘1866   J. Lindley & T. Moore Treasury Bot.,   Fog-fruit, an American name for Lippia nodiflora.’  I will have to go to the university library to find The Treasury of Botany, but at least I have a title to search.  Nineteenth-century newspapers and periodicals probably have notations about common names, so I better dust off my microfilm reader at the office.  Oh, Bill, why did you have to ask that question?

33. Texas Frogfruit or Fogfruit

Common names are curious things.  While no one would bat an eye about a paper dissecting some arcane point of minutiae regarding Polygonum orientale, it’s difficult to imagine a crotchety old botanist standing before his peers at a professional conference and delivering a serious exposition on “Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate.” Where botanical names are all about science and rules, common names are about art and whimsy.  Botanical names are about the sharing of information; common names are about conversation and pleasant communication.  Botanical names are neat and orderly, law-abiding citizens; common names are messy, free-wheeling, teenaged scofflaws.

All of that is a way of saying that “frogfruit” and “fogfruit” are like the old chewing gum ads – they’re “two… two… two mints in one!”  OK, Phyla nodiflora is not a mint, it’s in the Verbena family, but both common names are commonly applied to that species and several others related to it.  In fact, fogfruit probably even predates frogfruit as a common name by about 100 years (early 1800’s for fogfruit vs. early 1900’s for frogfruit).  Most likely, frogfruit arose as a common name from a mispronunciation or misspelling of fogfruit. I have in my mind the scene of a copy editor looking at “fogfruit” and saying, “That can’t be right!  What the heck is a fogfruit?  It must be, oh, I don’t know, maybe frogfruit!  Yep, that must be it.  Frogfruit makes a lot more sense!  Set the type, boys!”  Even today, if you do a Google search for each common name, you’ll get more “hits” for fogfruit than you will for frogfruit.  Neither common name makes much sense to me and I’m still looking for a good (non-fanciful) explanation for the origin of either one.  My personal preference is for the common name, Turkey-tangle, but that’s another issue altogether.

—  Joe Marcus of Lady Bird Wildflower Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

For a full explanation see:

http://www.wildflower.org/expert/show.php?id=4265

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11 Comments

Filed under Flowers of Flying Hat, Wild Flowers of Texas

11 responses to “Fogfruit or Frogfruit: Art and whimsy

  1. Rubia

    Jack, this is an interesting answer! Thank you for sharing. The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center is such an excellent resource for these matters.

  2. If I was directing theses in history of science, writing one on the origin of common names for a region of plants would be good — central Texas, for example.

  3. Plant common names are fascinating to study. Some seem to have only one, others half a dozen, and they vary considerably be the regions in which the plants are found. I frequently use two resources for ID’s and information about the plants I encounter here, one is a book written by a group of people in British Columbia, the other a website at the University of Washington. Even though the two areas represented by these are not that far apart, the common names for the same plants have a lot of difference. To complicate that even more, I have the sense that the folks in British Columbia commonly use names that have been translated from the original names given to the plants by the native peoples of the area.

  4. Well, this is interesting, It turns out your turkey tangle fogfruit is first cousins to our blue vervain, Verbena hastata. And the fogfruit grows as far north as PA according to my ever ready constant resource at the USDA. See http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=phno2 . I use this resource constantly, especially the “characteristics” icon which gives one a lot of habitat info. Very interesting!

  5. Well! While you folks are researching names, I found a truly interesting little tidbit. Your fogfruit is in the verbena family, which also includes one of my favorite flowers, lantana, AND the wood that provides my income – teak!
    Who in the world would have imagined that? Not I!

    Here’s the quotation from the Ladybird Johnson site: “This species is a member of the verbena family (family Verbenaceae), which includes about 75 genera and 3,000 species of herbs, shrubs, and trees, mostly of tropical and warm temperate regions. Among them, teak is a highly prized furniture wood, and Vervain, Lantana, Lippia or Frog Fruit, and Chase Tree or Vitex are grown as ornamentals.”

    Amazing.

  6. Teak! Lantana! Favorite objects of mine, too. I know you work around the gulf area and you work with teak? I so love the sea — whole different world there. I am still researching names.

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