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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - July 15, 2014

From: Cedar Hill, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Why is Mentzelia oligosperma called chickenthief?
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Could you tell me why Mentzelia oligosperma is sometimes called chickenthief?

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants would like to be able to tell you the origin of the common name of Mentzelia oligosperma (Chickenthief), but I'm afraid I have had absolutely no luck in finding it after extensive searches on the internet and in my many botanical books.  Apparently I am not alone.  Here is the response from eXtension Ask an Expert.  I can give you some insight the origins of its botanical name.  The genus "Mentzelia" comes from the name of the German botanist, Christian Mentzel (1622-1701).  The specific name "oligosperma" means "few-seeded" (oligo = few, sperma = seeds).   The Mexican name for the plant is "pegajosa" which means "sticky."

Here are some admittedly wild guesses as to the origin of the name "chickenthief."

  • I doubt the plant's leaves are sticky enough to entrap an adult chicken, but maybe baby chicks have been trapped and couldn't get out to follow the hen.
  • The name does sound a lot like "stickleaf" and maybe someone heard it as "chickenthief" rather than "stickleaf" and repeated the name to others.
  • Maybe it was an attempt to give the plant a sort of Cockney Rhyming Slang name.

 

 

 

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