Pandanus pygmaeus


Sonasi Latine loqueris (Honk if you speak Latin): the pandanus pygmaeus, dwarfish cousin of the screw pine.


Gardening in tongues

My Latin isnít exactly fluent. In fact, the only Latin terms with which Iím even vaguely familiar are NB (nota bene) and AD (anno domini). Do abbreviations count as Latin phrases? I donít have a clue, to be honest, and Iím not even sure why we use them.

Why Latin is used today is rather odd. It seems to exist for no other reason than to let people try to sound a lot more intelligent than they really are. What possible alternative rationale could there be for someone to say ďergoĒ instead of ďthereforeĒ? As far as Iím concerned the only thing these people succeed in doing is making themselves sound like total prats.

It does have its uses though. Pub fights can be averted with a bit of Latin thrown in. A book called Latin for All Occasions (Lingua Latina Occasionibus Omnibus) by a gentleman by the name of Henry Beard suggests that fighting words are a lot safer in Latin:

Quid me appellavisti? (What did you call me?)

Ita, te adloquor. (Yes, Iím talking to you.)

Visne illud iterare? (You want to repeat that?)

Visne aliquid de illo facere? (You want to make something of it?)

Foras gradiamur. (Letís step outside.)

I donít know why inane violence is amusing in Latin, but it is. Even threats carry more weight in Latin, somehow: In tempore praeterito plus quam perfecto de te mox dicent. (People will soon be referring to you in the past pluperfect tense.) Or the classic Latin curse: Utinam modo subiunctivo semper male utaris! (May you always misuse the subjunctive!)

You might want to be careful with these though. Walk into a pub in Yorkshire and start ranting in Latin, and theyíll soon bring you back down to earth. Youíll deserve a slap purely because you sound like a complete pillock.

Latin has no good reason to be uttered anywhere in Northern England, or elsewhere for that matter. Whatís the point?

Even universities try to milk the Latin thing, for no particular reason. What are they on about, with their magna cum laude and summa cum laude nonsense? Are the words ďhonorsĒ and ďdistinctionĒ just too easy? It worked just fine in my day.

Apparently, one American university came up with one of their own: egregia cum laude.

It wasnít until some academic type actually looked it up in his big Latin dictionary and realized that it translated as ďwith hysterical praiseĒ, that the university decided that it probably wasnít a particularly good idea after all.

The world of botany is awash with Latin. As I mentioned, my Latin skills are limited to say the least, but it doesnít take a mastermind to figure out what a pandanus pygmaeus looks like. Itís called bai toey in Thai, whatever that means. Even though my knowledge of Thai slightly exceeds my Latin, I still havenít a clue.

Predictably, itís a small pandanus. Iím actually surprised that some politically correct do-gooder hasnít petitioned various agencies to have the name changed, citing the stereotypical generalization of a group of vertically-challenged African people.

Anyway, the pandanus pygmaeus it is. Some books say that itís also known as the screw pine, but I would say that epithet should be reserved for the bigger pandanus trees that line many of Phuketís beaches; the ones with the weird, 45-degree roots.

The pandanus pygmaeus is one of the more popular landscape plants in this part of the world. It grows to about 30 centimeters tall, and spreads by sending out runners from the base of the plant.

Itís variegated (has more than one color on its leaves), with a bright margin of cream or yellow with yellow stripes in the center of the leaf. There are soft spines along the edges of the leaves, but not soft enough to avoid scratches if you scrape against them.

Itís perfect for a border that you just canít be bothered with, as it doesnít need that much attention and will grow to a specific height. Put a row of these at the front, about 20cm apart, and you can put the bigger plants behind, using the pandanus pygmaeus to cover the lower spindly bits of its neighbor. Theyíre also quite happy in a rockgarden.

The flowers are a complete letdown, if you can spot them. Theyíre tiny and petal-less Ė Iím not even sure why they bother. The whole point of flowers is to attract insects to help the reproductive process along. It would seem that this plant decided to go down the celibate path; probably why it mostly reproduces itself via suckers. Enough said.

Anyway, propagating them is easily done Ė just cut a bit of it off and stick your new cutting in some moist compost. Hardly rocket science.

It likes light, so try to give it a home in one of the sunnier parts of the garden. The pandanus pygmaeus is perfect as a house plant, as long as it gets at least four hours of direct sunlight a day.

Be fairly generous with water, too, but if itís in a pot and not in the ground, donít let it stand in water as it will complain bitterly. Allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings.

It will never be the biggest plant in the world, and itís not in any particular rush to reach its maximum size Ė it will quietly take its time. At least it grows mostly upright and wonít droop. It may not be the F-16 of the plant world, but it behaves itself.

Like most plants, the pandanus pygmaeus will benefit from a bit of pruning every now and then, to make it a bit stronger. Itís weird how cutting bits of plants off increases their Charles Atlas tendencies.

If I were one of those academic types, I would be able to come up with a neat, intelligent-sounding Latin link from Charles Atlas to the botanical world. But Iím not. So I wonít.

Ergo, Latin speakers should fac ut vivas (get a life). Sorry for sounding like a total prat. Whatís ďbeerĒ in Latin?



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