Another reason to use botanical names

Narcissus tazetta ‘Erlicheer’

Today a dire message arrived in my email. It was from a bulb company. “This year, there is a continued shortage of Paperwhite Ziva,” it said.

Yikes! No narcissus tazetta ‘Ziva’?!! Actually, that’s fine with me. I have not bought this variety for 15 years or more, though I grow tazettas every year. I hate even using the term “paperwhite” because my friends immediately assume I am talking about Ziva, which is ubiquitous in every big box and high-volume mail-order house. And at least two thirds of those friends say, “Eeeww! I can’t have those in the house! They smell like … cat pee/dirty socks/etc.!” Then I have to explain that I don’t grow the paperwhites they’re thinking of. I grow tazettas like ‘Erlicheer,’ ‘Grand Primo,’ and ‘Grand Soleil d’Or,’ which have mild scents. This is why is sucks to have one name used for a whole range of cultivars. What’s wrong with “tazetta?” It’s a cool word.

Of course, scent is in the nose of the beholder, and I do know many people who like ‘Ziva.’ Indeed, there are reasons why it’s the most well-known tazetta. It grows the fastest of any of them and is very floriferous. You can count on a big showing of white flowers within a couple weeks. Once, a colleague bought glass containers of these for her entire staff and it was amazing. However, sure enough, there were also a few pleas to remove them.

My tazettas take much longer and some, like the ‘Soleil,’ present more sparing displays. But you have to go right up to them and stick your nose in the flower to catch the scent, and, for many, that’s the way it should be.

So, to all these disappointed Ziva buyers (it happened last year as well): think about some other tazetta varieties. And get an earlier start. As for me, I only use “Paperwhite” to refer to my reading device.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


    • Fabulous! Thanks for a great laugh. Just imagine how TZ would create her / his? outfits with a floral theme – oh my!

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