What’s in a name?

Down at my garden center I’m busy inputting all the products I intend to sell this gardening season into the sales computer. At times it’s dizzying inputting all the names of the plants both common and Latin. After inputting hundreds of plants one can’t help to reflect on the power of their names.

Probably the most powerful word in the United States garden center industry is Cheyenne. Yep, as in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The mere mention of this name conjures up images of a plant being hardy, sturdy, reliable, drought-tolerant, cold-hardy and long lived.

The reason to name a plant after Cheyenne has everything to do with the Cheyenne Horticultural Field Station that was in operation from the late 1920s to the early 1970s. The field station was operated by the federal government. Its mission was to try and figure out what the heck could live on the High Plains, as nobody really knew what could be grown horticulturally.

The field station in its hay-day tested everything from trees to fruit-bearing plants. The scientists at the field station literally scoured the world for plants to collect and test. Their travels included all of Europe, Asia, and North America. There’s even documentation that a tree growing along the Great Wall of China was collected and brought back to Cheyenne to be grown.

All that said, the Cheyenne Horticultural Field Station really became famous 20 some years after the federal government walked away from its trials. Horticulturalists began looking at these old trials. Many plants withered away from lack of care. But there were hundreds of plants not only living but thriving under harsh conditions.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out these plants were solid gold horticulturally speaking. If they could stand up to abandoned, neglected conditions on the High Plains of Wyoming, just imagine what they could do in a gardener’s landscape?

Here are some of these famous plants coined after the Cheyenne Horticulture Field Station. Probably the most famous plant is Cheyenne Privet (Ligustrum vulgare ‘Cheyenne’) a shrub that can grow 16 feet tall and 5 feet wide. It has dark green foliage and extremely fragrant flowers.

Then there’s Cheyenne Mockorange (Philadelphus lewisii Cheyenne) reportedly the toughest mockorange shrub on the market today. It can grow 9 feet tall and 6 feet wide, and in early summer produces abundant sweetly fragrant blooms.

Others include Cheyenne Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles japonica ‘Cheyenne’), Cheyenne Pink Velvet Honeysuckle (Lonicera Korolkowii ‘Cheyenne Pink’) and Cheyenne Russian Sage (Pervoskia atriplicifolia ‘Cheyenne’). There are more.

Although not named Cheyenne, the gold standard for cold-hardiness strawberry is the Fort Laramie Strawberry developed at the field station.

Marketers are capitalizing on the name Cheyenne. Recently a new hybrid Echinacea, Cheyenne Spirit Echinacea, was introduced to the gardening public. With its purple to reddish to cream colors of its flowers it has become a marketer’s dream plant.

So Cheyenne, Wyoming, you have very special place in the horticulture world. Sadly, there’s not a plant named after Casper, Sheridan, Laramie or Newcastle.

I guess I better get back to my chore of inputting names. Today, I’m working on ‘Happy Hour’ annual flowers with such names as Bahama mama, Grapetini, and the Moscow mule.

Later, I’ll need a cocktail.

Originally published in the Casper Star-Tribune, February 22, 2015

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