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Baboon’s Bottom? Or Drunk Skunk?

Sandra Simpson

Sandra Simpson

March 27, 2013

The topic of naming new plants for commercial release is always an interesting aside when I talk to people involved with breeding and hybridising – how do they choose a name for their plant? Is it straight from the heart or a more businesslike proposition?

Iris 'Baboon's Bottom'

Iris ‘Baboon’s Bottom’

When I visited the Amazing Iris Garden last November I was amused to see a row of plants with the tag Baboon Bottom. It’s hard to imagine someone showing off their garden without trying to avoid that name or offering an apology on its behalf. But American Brad Kasperek names all the irises he breeds at his Zebra Gardens in Utah for wild animals so here come Tiger Honey, Bewilderbeest and Orangutan Orange (perhaps he only sells them two by two?).

Personally, I think it’s a bit daft, especially when you get irises called Drunk Skunk and Ode to a Toad, but then I was never a fan of Sexy Rexy, a perfectly nice Sam McGredy rose burdened with a silly name. In the video link (click on his name) Sam reveals that left to his own devices the red rose that is Olympiad would have been named Frank Sinatra – and also reveals just how successful Olympiad was for him in the American market, partly due to its name.

Sam has had more winners with his names than not, including one rose that he didn’t even breed. Schneewittchen is a particularly famous rose bred in 1958 that is still popular around the world. Never heard of it?

Photo by Stan Shebs

Photo by Stan Shebs

When it was due to be released in Britain, Sam (who then lived in Northern Ireland and had one of the UK’s largest rose-breeding nurseries) and the breeder’s agent got talking and Sam gave the advice that although it was a good rose, the name would hold it back.

“Well, would you give it an English name,” he was asked. He agreed and in due course came up with … Iceberg. And the rest, as they say, is history.

One of New Zealand’s best rose breeders is Rob Somerfield of Tauranga who says he agonises over names – it has to be something that stands out from the crowd of roses on the market but equally it has to be appealing (refer: Baboon Bottom).

Rosa 'Blackberry Nip'

Rosa ‘Blackberry Nip’

“The name is so important, it’s another marketing tool,” Rob says. “When a good name is used on a dud rose it’s a real shame.”

Blackberry Nip was his first commercial release back in 1998 and is still a strong seller (it now also has a climbing form). That name came to him in a flash, partly inspired by the colour of the bloom. I had a favourite great-aunt whose preferred tipple was Blackberry Nip so I have a soft spot for Rob’s rose – and that is exactly how the whole thing works.



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Stephen Ryan
11 years ago

I couldn’t agree more. One of the best selling Rhododendrons is ‘Pink Pearl’ in my humble opinion a real dud but what ever happened to the stunning scented pink called ‘Faggetter’s Favourite’

11 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Ryan

Hello Stephen,

Nice to “see” you again. When you were in Tauranga last year you told me a story about telling a plant breeder he hadn’t got the name right and he challenging you to do better – I would have included the anecdote in the article but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what sort of plant it was. I think the punchline was Peach Melba! (It was a good night …)

11 years ago
Reply to  Stephen Ryan

Doesn’t have to be a cultivar to have a dud name.

The reverse can apply too. ‘Goldenvale’ sounds innocuous enough, but it’s species name is Rubus cockburnianus.

…brings tears to my eye.

11 years ago
Reply to  Eugene

Hi Eugene,

All the people I know with the surname Cockburn (or variations thereof) pronounce it Coburn …

Julie Thomson
11 years ago

And to add to that, when I was visiting the Melville Rose nursery in Kalamunda in the Perth hills last month, I noted that a rose named after Mary MacKillop was planted alongside one called Gypsy Rose Lee. Not sure they would have been good bedfellows!

Bob Saunders
11 years ago

I saw ‘Long Tall Sally’ recently in Patsy Durak’s rose garden in Gooseberry Hill, Perth. Well, I suppose baby boomers can become rose breeders too. So can we expect sometime soon . . . ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’, ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ or maybe even ‘Simply Red’ ??