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On exploring the Camellia Greenhouse at the Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay today we came upon a potted South African clivia — and cringed. It bore the common name Kaffir Lily.

Caption: The Hesperantha or Schizostylis coccinea once had a most unfortunate common name.

In Africa — especially Southern Africa — the term kaffir is extremely offensive, a racial slur, hatefully used to denote people of black African origin. It’s similar in offense to the word nigger. I can’t imagine that the word is used harmlessly amongst gardeners — perhaps ignorantly, yes. Shouldn’t we be rooting it out?

Such a beautiful flower doesn’t deserve to be mired in controversy.

UPDATE: Monday August 16th, I wrote to Planting Fields management and they responded promptly and positively …

From: Harry Brindley
Sent: Sunday, August 15, 2010 9:17 PM
To: Henry B. Joyce; Tracy Potavin
Subject: Offensive common name given to a clivia in the Camellia Greenhouse …

Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park
Planting Fields Foundation
Oyster Bay, New York

Henry B. Joyce, Executive Director
Tracy Potavin ,Education Assistant

Dear Mr Joyce and Ms Potavin,

My wife and I visited Planting Fields this weekend and, for the most part, had a wonderful experience.

However, we were rather shocked to come across a potted South African clivia in the Camellia Greenhouse bearing the common name “Kaffir Lily”. In Africa — especially Southern Africa — the term “kaffir” is extremely offensive, a racial slur, hatefully used to denote people of black African origin. It’s similar in offense to the word “nigger”. I’m a South African and I cringed when we came upon this labeled specimen.

I would appreciate that you remove the label, educate your staff accordingly and encourage them to use alternative names for this beautiful plant.

Thank you,
Harry Brindley

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaffir_(racial_term)>
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizostylis_coccinea>

From: Henry B. Joyce
Date: August 16, 2010 2:38:36 PM EDT
To: Harry Brindley
Subject: RE: Offensive common name given to a clivia in the Camellia Greenhouse …

Dear Mr. Brindley,

I forewarded your note to The Park’s director Vincent Simeone, who tells me that he has removed the label. Your are absolutely right. Thank you.

Best regards,

Henry

Henry B. Joyce – Executive Director
Planting Fields Foundation

From: Vincent Simeone
Date: August 17, 2010 10:33:48 AM EDT
To: Harry Brindley
Subject: FW: Offensive common name given to a Clivia in the Camellia Greenhouse …

Hi Mr. Brindley,

I am the director of Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park. Your e-mail regarding the plant label on Clivia in the Camellia Greenhouse at Planting Fields was forwarded to me by Henry Joyce.

I just wanted to let you know that the plant label you refer to has been removed. Obviously we were unaware that this common name had an offensive meaning. The name was taken directly from a scientific journal called the Hortus Third, which is the encyclopedia of plant names throughout the world.

The label will be replaced with a new one only reflecting the botanical name for Clivia.

Thank you for bringing this important issue to our attention.

Sincerely,

Vincent A. Simeone

UPDATE: Sunday September 5th, 2010. We picniced at The Planting Fields again today and checked up on the relabeled clivias. “Boslelie” literally translates to bush lily. Appropriately and proudly South African again.

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