Animal anthropomorphism is alive and well in many of our gardens — in the plants! There is a veritable zoo of plants named after animals. This concept did not escape that beloved, classic poet and author Ogden Nash who wrote a book on the subject — “The Animal Garden,” which was published in 1965.

More recently, Susan M. Betz, author of “Neighboring with Nature: Native Herbs for Purpose & Pleasure and Herbal Houseplants,” pondered the topic and came up with a list of plants with animal names — both common and botanical. In the Nash book, plants took the place of pets for a family of children whose parents suffered from allergies, and so animals were banned in their home. Plants as pets are catching on today for a variety of reasons.

Some people talk to their pets and some talk to their plants. There are legions of gardeners who swear that such one-way conversations are beneficial to their plants and help their charges thrive and grow. But in all my years of experience with plants, I’ve yet to encounter one with the power to speak or even make noise — the “Little Shop of Horrors” Audrey notwithstanding. (Remember her cries of “Feed me!”)

What better way to see children get involved in growing things than with an animal-themed garden? The National Garden Bureau notes this approach is a natural way to introduce them to gardening and cultural ecology.

“Every plant has an interesting past; exploring the origins of plant names, personal characteristics and cultural requirements, uses, and history makes them seem like good friends and helps us grow as gardeners,” say the NGB. “Many common and botanical plant names have been passed along to us with animal names within them. Lamb’s ears, horehound and lion’s ear all bear a resemblance to the animals for which they were named and insects contributed to the identity of butterfly weed, bee balm, and spider lily.”

Grow an animal garden: 

Once you’ve chosen your pet plants, the next step is to learn the growing conditions.

And that begins with understanding the growing conditions of your garden site, according to the NGB and Betz. Select plants that can be grouped in the garden according to their cultural and water needs.

Understanding the native habitat of any plant is the best way to understand how to grow it successfully. Begin with the botanical classification or Latin name of a plant which can provide clues to correctly identifying it, and what its origins are. Most plants fall under the classification of annual, bi-annual or perennial. The type of plant will enable you to predict its garden performance. For example, annuals live for one growing season; then they set seeds and die. Bi-annuals, or biennials, produce foliage their first growing season, go dormant over the winter, then flower, set seed and die in their second growing season. Most perennials live many seasons.

Animal plants container gardens: 

But don’t let a lack of space deter you from creating your own animal garden. A group of containers can be planted with dwarf and miniature varieties. Try: Cosmos “Little Lady Birds,” cardinal climber vine, and zinnia “Polar Bear” or the marigold “Big Duck Gold,” which is easy-to-grow from seed. Take the theme a step farther with animal-shaped containers. Imagine catnip in a pot shaped like a cat, or try ‘Bunny Tails,’ an annual grass in a container shaped like a rabbit or ‘Kangaroo paw’ plant in the pouch of a kangaroo.

And don’t forget to add a few garden and container accents like butterflies or dragonflies on slender stakes, or animal-themed garden statuary. Here’s a list of just some of the more common plants, trees and wildflowers with animal names.

Plants with animal names:

Sun Loving Plants

  • Bear’s britches, Acanthus

    This Australian native, Kangaroo paw plant has colorful, little fuzzy paws. Lynette L. Walther

  • Bird of paradise, Strelitzia
  • Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa
  • Bunny Tails, Lagurus ovals
  • Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis
  • Catmint, Nepeta
  • Cranesbill, Geranium
  • Dragon’s blood, Sedum
  • Harebell, Campanula roundifolia
  • Hens and Chicks, Sempervivum
  • Kangaroo paw, Anigozanthos
  • Lamb’s ear, Stachys lanta
  • Leopard’s bane, Doronicum orientale
  • Spiderwort, Tradescantia
  • Turtlehead, Chelone glabra
  • Zebra grass, Miscanthus sinensis

Shade Tolerant Plants

  • Bee balm, Monarda didyma
  • Elephant ears, Colocasia esculent
  • Goat’s beard, Aruncus diocius
  • Monkey-flower, Mimulus rigens
  • Rabbit foot fern, Davallia fejeensis
  • Spiderwort, Tradescantia

Wildflowers and Weeds

  • Catchfly, Silene armeria
  • Cattails, Typha latifolia
  • Fleabane, Erigeron
  • Horsetail, Equisetum arvense
  • Horsemint, Monarda punctata
  • Yellow Goatsbeard, Tragopogon pretensis
  • Squirrel cup, Hepatica
  • Tickseed, Coreopsis lanceolata
  • Toadflax, Linaria vulgaris
  • Trout lily, Erythronium americanum
  • Viper’s bugloss, Erythronium americanum
  • Wake Robin, Trillium

Trees and Shrubs

  • Butterfly bush, Buddleia
  • Crab apple, Malus
  • Dinosaur tree, Ginkgo
  • Dogwood, Cornus florida
  • Fishtail palm, Caryota
  • Pussy Willow, Salix discolor

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing, a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. She is a member of GardenComm, the professional organization for garden writers. Her gardens are in Camden.