Thursday, October 20, 2005

How EB White might have avoided confusion

A reader from the west coast writes:

Dear Marie,

The Sycamore confusion shows the wisdom of Latin names for plants. Although I can't seem to fit Platanus acerifolia or occidentalis for that matter, into the poem.

To differentiate, Platanus acerifolia has seed pods that usually hang in clusters of two--like cherries. (I believe this cluster of seeds is called an infructescence) P. occidentalis usually has a solitary seed ball. Our western version, P. racemosa's seed clusters hang 3 to 7 on a single stalk like a string of pearls. P. wrightii (Arizona sycamore) clusters seem to branch. As my eyesight gets worse, I have a more difficult time identifying trees--embarrassing for a landscape designer!

Thanks for all you do,
Betty Jo (Camarillo, CA

Let's try it out in the poem, and even go a little farther:

The fountain is dry at the Plaza,
The Platanus acerifolia go bare;
The Hedera helix is sere and it has a
Resigned and immutable air.

No, I'm afraid it won't do, just as Betty Jo predicts. But she provides a reliable way to differentiate the London Plane, [that predominates in Central Park] from the true Sycamore, at least during the fruiting season.