When I spent a week at the Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine last year to visit my friend Cleo, the experience made me realize how little I know about the natural world. The names of even basic north-eastern birds sounded like something out of a Lewis Carrol poem – grebes and eiders and auks and guillemots. It also became clear that I’m not a dab hand at naturalist descriptions. When asked to describe a bird I normally point to “that fat black one” or “that tiny one zipping around and being annoying.” Sadly, my ineptitude also extends to flora, as became evident when I first attempted to ask the internet about this peculiar plant I photographed in Bangkok:
“Yellow flower Thailand,” I googled fruitlessly. “Yellow flower triangular leaves,” “weird yellow flower Bangkok.” Fortunately, I remembered that Google has an image search function, rendering my ineffectual keywords moot.
It turns out that this is a flower called the Golden Torch (more formally named “Heliconia psittacorum x Heliconia spathocircinata cv. Golden Torch“). According to the all-knowing internet, the “x” in between the two species names indicates it’s a hybrid, while the “cv” means that it is a cultivar. Wikipedia describes 194 species in the Heliconia genus, most of which are tropical. Many are equal parts bizarre and beautiful, both in appearance and nomenclature. For example, we have Heliconia rostrata (also called “lobster claw”):
The seeds themselves look more like human premolars than horse teeth: