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