Over the past several years, in late summer I’ve noticed a tall, leggy plant with big leaves and a brown top. Some are taller than me (I’m 5’4”). Based on the round, conical shape of that brown part, I always figured it was some sort of daisy-type flower that I’d somehow missed earlier and was only seeing it after all its petals had fallen off. Although, oddly, I never saw a random clinging petal, or petals on the ground. Since brown isn’t one of my favorite colors, especially in flowers, I mostly ignored them.
But this year, focusing more on learning the names of wildflowers and song birds, when I first noticed them in the forest this summer I became more curious. I took photos, then looked them up in my wildflower field guide, Wildflowers of the Mountain West (Anderson, Gunnell and Goodspeed, 2012, University Press of Colorado). It’s my go-to book with good photos of flowers and leaves, along with written descriptions that help with identification.
I discovered that I was looking at the western coneflower. My field guide provides this information about them:
- Plant size: 3 to 6 feet.
- Habitat: Open meadows, woodlands, and stream banks.
- Elevation range: 6,200 to 9,900 feet.
The habitat and range pretty well describe where my dogs and I do most of our trail running.
According to Wikipedia, the western coneflower is native to the northwestern United States from Washington to northern California and east to Wyoming and Montana, where it grows in moist habitats, such as meadows, although I see them thriving under forest trees as well.
Recently a friend had posted photos of some of the wildflowers he had seen while hiking in the Grand Tetons. He asked for help identifying a particular flower. I knew it to be a western coneflower and added the name in a comment to his photo. He, after agreeing that’s what it was, added another comment with the Latin name: rudbeckia occidentalis.
I rarely pay attention to Latin names for plants or animals because I know I’ll never remember them. I’m lucky to remember common names for most plants I see. But this particular name tickled my fancy, so I looked up its meaning, which is pretty straight-forward:
Rudbeckia: any of a genus (Rudbeckia) of North American chiefly perennial composite herbs having showy flower heads with mostly yellow ray flowers and a usually conical scaly receptacle.Meriam-Webster Online Dictionary
Occidentalis: of/pertaining to/connected with/coming from the west.Oxford Latin Dictionary
It’s a perennial flower of the west, a genus that includes Black Eyed Susans and asters.
But this morning, running trails with my dogs and seeing western coneflowers in several spots (they’re hard to miss, being so tall), the Latin name floated through my brain and “rudbeckia” struck me as funny. As a child I was called Becky, a common nickname for Rebecca. My family and many long-time friends still call me Becky.
Stopping during our run to photograph these distinctive flowers, in my head I was saying: Rude Becky. Rude beckies!
So, I’ve decided to rename the western coneflower after me. (How wonderfully narcissistic!) From now on when I see them in the forest I’ll internally refer to them as rude beckies.
Thinking I might create a blog post about rude beckies, I took a few more photos of coneflowers at the end of our run. And, as if on cue, a bee landed on one and started feeding.
Why was the bee significant? Here’s a side note in my field guide’s entry for the western coneflower: “As deceiving as it may seem, this unattractive flower is a favorite of bees because of its high nectar and pollen content.”
I’m sure this late in the wildflower season, when most flowers have bloomed and gone to seed, bees appreciate having rude beckies, I mean rudbeckias, around, no matter how unattractive they may be.