Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Poetry of Botanical Foolishness

By a lucky coincidence, April Fools Day always kicks off National Poetry Month. And Botanical Rambles is celebrating this year with a small collection of botanical foolishness.

Spring has sprung, and we’re getting down to the serious business of the enjoying and learning about Washington’s flora during the growing season. Two recent Rambles (here and here) provide information on numerous opportunities. But this post celebrates three writers whose botanical foolishness has delighted generations of plant lovers.

Berton Braley’s “Botany”

This poem, from 1929, is an earworm. After you read it, I’m afraid it will stick with you for days. Braley wrote scads of poems and other works through the mid-twentieth century. Surprisingly, this poem, titled simply Botany, was not mentioned in his Wikipedia profile when I accessed it a few days ago. However that profile does refer to the lyrics he wrote for a University of Wisconsin marching song.

The full poem can be found on a cyber museum page set up for Braley. Here are the first two stanzas:


two gardeners leaning over a table of potted plants

Washington Native Plant Society Plant Sale

There should be no monotony
In studying your botany;
It helps to train
And spur the brain–
Unless you haven’t got any.

It teaches you, does Botany,
To know the plants and spot any,
And learn just why
They live or die–
In case you plant or pot any.

That reminds me, Washington Native Plant Society plant sales are coming up, in Olympia on April 23 and in both Mount Vernon and Bellevue on April 30.

H.D. Harrington’s “The Identification of Grasses”

You’ll find this poem in the book How to Identify Grasses and Grasslike Plants (1977), which is an excellent resource for, you know, learning how to identify grasses and grasslike plants. Harrington was a long-time herbarium curator at Colorado State University. He made over 10,000 collections in that state and published Manual of the Plants of Colorado in 1954.

The full poem can be found on this archived newsletter page from the Native Plant Society of Oregon. Here are the first two stanzas:

The Identification of Grasses

cover of How to Identify Grasses and Grasslike Plants

Cover of How to Identify Grasses and Grasslike Plants

A grass can be “glumey” in more ways than one,
When its classification remains to be done;
You pull off the parts, and soon feel your age
Chasing them over the microscope stage!

You peer through the lenses at all of the bracts
And hope your decisions agree with the facts;
While your oculist chortles with avid delight
As you strain both your eyes in the dim table light

If this whets your appetite to learn more about this grassy group, don’t forget to register for Know Your Grasses: The Identification and Appreciation of Grass to be held June 24-25 at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Edward Lear’s “Nonsense Botany”

For you visual learners, I recommend the delightful botanical artwork produced by Edward Lear. He drew several taxa new to science (and, I’ll bet, new to everyone else).

Take a look at the slide show of pen and ink works held at the Houghton Library at Harvard University. The drawings illustrate the homey Smalltoothcombia domestica, the intoxicating Bassia palealensis, the tasty Plumbunnia nutritiosa, the playful Bubblia blowpipia, and more.

black and white images of whimsical plants

Bubblia blowpipia and Smallcombia domestica by Edward Lear (Creative Commons)


I’m sure there are other examples of botanical foolishness in the world. While not in the league of Braley, Harrington, and Lear, here’s a short and foolish poem that I made up a few years ago:

Allergy Season

It’s appallin’
How much pollen is a’fallin’
It’s alder I can do to keep from weeping,

Perhaps you have written or drawn some botanical foolishness of your own? Please share!