Tag Archives: Phyla nodiflora

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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