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Do you know the Mardi Gras plant?

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I’m convinced that more people would grow Euonymus americanus if they could figure out what to call it. The woody shrub is native to the South, angular in form, and ideal for shady spots. Its small flowers soon give way to precious seed capsules that pop open to reveal bright red berries in fall.

Each of those features gives rise to a common name: Strawberry bush, hearts a bustin’ and wahoo are all synonyms for this plant!

A New Orleans tale

Sometimes common names are entirely singular and make discussion difficult.

An extension agent tells the story of a phone call he received from a gardener shortly after he arrived to work in New Orleans. The lady wanted to know what to do about her "Mardi Gras plant," and he didn’t want to admit he’d never heard of it.

He got her to describe the problem and the plant, and finally the light bulb went on over his head. She was asking about Mahonia bealei, a rugged understory shrub popular in the South and known as Oregon grape holly.

The plant is not limited to the Northwest and is neither a grape nor a holly, but does have green leaves, yellow flowers, and purple berries. Those are the colors of Mardi Gras, and he thanked her for telling him its local name. “Oh no,” she said, “I’m the only one that calls it that!”

The unrelated shrimp and butterfly plants

Other common names are just plain confusing. There are at least three plants called "shrimp plant," a yellow (Pachystacys lutea), a red (Justicia brandegeana) and a blue (Cerinthe major purpurascens). All have a bract structure in their flowers that includes a curved "tail" that gives them their common name.

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