Seeking Local Popular Names for Plants
by: Deannie Sullivan-Fraser

Who could forget "Snotty var," the descriptive Newfoundland popular name for Balsam, Abies balsamea, guaranteed to stick to your memory after just one hearing.  It certainly did to mine, sending me on a great journey collecting our local plant names, names that don't make it into our floral manuals and therefore aren't being passed on to the next generation.

Names like "Buzzies" for Burdock, Arctium spp., from Rosemary Eaton of the Cole Harbor Heritage Farm.  She says the buzzies get stuck in the animals' fur.  Wolfgang Maase tells me that these burrs, which stick better than crazy glue, have the popular name "Priester-Läuse" or "Priest's Lice" in German.  Perhaps someone reading this may have heard that term here in our German population?

Sometimes the name is similar to the plant's common name.  Stephanie Robertson tells me that folks in the Pictou area refer to Butter and Eggs, Linaria vulgaris, as "Scrambled Eggs"; when the wind blows through their masses it scrambles their colors.

The use of a plant can give rise to its name.  Acadians on the French shore call Cat-tails, Typha spp., "Flambeau" as children would light the heads on fire in fall and use them as torches.  Cinnamon Fern, Osmunda cinnam omea, offers a quick snack and has been given the names, "Indian Meat" and "Cheese Fern" and possibly "Wild Banana", although this name could be referring to Interrupted Fern - can anyone elaborate?

The Acadians in Chezzetcook used a plant which creeps over the granite and has a white berry, for a tonic in spring.  No one yet can tell me which plant or how to spell it - sounds like "Peumonaire". Or the plant that belongs to the name "Never Die", a weed that a Pugwash farmer just can't get out of his fields.

If you can solve or confirm these or know of any other local names or can put me in touch with someone who may have some, please contact me either by email at or by writing to Deannie Sullivan-Fraser, 61B Hazelhurst Street in Dartmouth, NS B2Y 3N1. 466-6891.  Please send all relevant info - where name was used and any stories/info which may accompany it are of particular interest.

Nova Scotia Wild Flora Society