Is it a He or a She?

July 24, 2013

I bought and planted a weeping willow tree about 2 weeks ago — right before the heat wave.  Needless to say the poor thing went into shock and threatened to die on me.  He has since pulled through and now that the weather is cooler I even noticed this morning that a flush of green has returned to some of his remaining leaves.  His survival hinged completely on the quick actions of my mom and I — we really nursed him for a few days.  As we were walking back into the house from an emergency watering session that involved probing sticks deep into his root ball to make sure the moisture was getting where it needed to go….my mom, my daughter and I were discussing the tree’s situation when Meredith (my daughter) asked how we knew he was a he.

A very good question; we senior gardeners explained that all trees are boys….and all flowers are girls.

willow tree in shock from planting by rochelle greayer www.pithandvigor.comThe weeping willow is a ‘he’ – I liken him to a Mikhail Baryshnikov type, where as his neighbor, the sugar maple, is more of a Hugh Jackman (he can dance too but its a whole different kind of thing).

My daisy’s are all like little Anne Hathaways   They are so pert and happy, but after a while they start to whirl around themselves and get a bit annoying  but my Autumn Joy Sedum are the upright, beautifully classic Meryl Streeps of my garden – they never fail me.

peach day lilies hemerocallis by rochelle greayer

My daughter’s question begs further examination though.  Not everything fits into the obvious Tree/ Flower breakdown.  This rule leaves so many plants to androgyny….so I made this list for your reference.   These genders have always been obvious to me so you can argue with me all you want, but I’m just calling it as I see it.  If I have forgotten something, you can, of course, add to the list…I’ll let you know if I agree with your assessment.

  • Grasses – Boys (with the exception of those that grow in bogs – they are girls – don’t ask me why). 
  • Rhubarb – Boy. Obviously. 
  • Ferns are girls except for painted ones — they are boys ( I know this might seem counterintuitive but it is true). 
  • Bulbs are always girls though sometimes I could swear that Alliums are boys. 
  • Roses are little ladies. 
  • Hydrangeas are tomboy-ish girls. 
  • Fruit trees are either strapping teenage boys or wise old men, they go straight from being one to the other, there is no middle phase. 
  • Vegetables are really tricky and very nuanced.  Generally, vining squashes are male, so are tomatoes and root vegetables – peas, brassicas and eggplant are all girls. 
  • Herbs tend to be boys but there are some exceptions, like dill, basil, lemon balm and mint — these are all girls. 
  • Shrubs in general are a mixed bag.  If it flowers it is a girl and if it doesn’t  (or at least not obviously) then you will have to make a judgement call or ask me about it specifically and I will let you know.

There you have it – I hope this clears up any pronoun issues you might have been having…and henceforth, these are the general guidelines for how we will refer to our plant friends on this site.  – Rochelle

 images by rochelle greayer on instagram

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  1. Kris P says:

    Very cute. It is an intuitive distinction, isn’t it? I also seem to think of most trees, even those that flower, like the Jacaranda, as males with the exception of my troublesome Albizia julibrissin (mimosa) – that is most definitely a she and a messy teenage diva she at that.

    • rochelle says:

      Kris, I’ve heard of mimosa trees but don’t have much experience with them…but she sounds intriguing…I live with a messy pre-teen (sometimes) diva-wannabe, so I have a certain affinity.

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