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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

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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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