Pups - A Bit of Lexicography

by Derek Butcher

Just where did this expression start in Bromeliads? It means the offsets that occur at the base of the plant. After questioning Brom-L and Round Robin participants on the Internet in August 2005, Geoff Lawn of Perth suggested the answer could well lie in Brom Soc Bull. 1952 where Mulford Foster, the then Editor wrote about Muriel Waterman. Anyone who has read about Muriel from her fellow Kiwis will realize she was a one eyed Bromeliad grower and rather eccentric too! Her diaries could well have been destined for the rubbish tip but for the action of Andrew Flower who saved them from a shed in a local Botanical Garden. These make interesting reading and suggest her main contacts were in England or the USA. She had very little contact with Aussies.

This is what appeared in the Bulletin with a drawing of pups by Mulford Foster where the caption reads "Mrs Waterman is never in the doghouse but she is always finding 'pups' on her bromeliads".


OUR NEW ZEALAND TRUSTEE in Brom. Soc. Bull. 2(4):1952

Mrs. Muriel Waterman is our honorary trustee from New Zealand; there are few members who have worked so actively for new members in our struggling Society. So infectious is her enthusiasm that ten recruits have succumbed to her spell! And she doesn't just let it go at that; she buys the last ten copies of the bromeliad issue of the Missouri Botanical Bulletin (Sept. 1945) and sends them to the new Zealand members for Christmas with a neat reminder that their renewal to the 1952 Bromeliad Bulletin is due. And, as if that were not enough she has paid for three subscriptions so that she can have two extra copies each month just to loan around (for bait we suspect!) This is the real bromel booster spirit. We believe that before long they will have enough members to form a local chapter of Bromel Boosters Down Under.

Bromeliad Pups   
Mrs. Waterman is never in the doghouse but she is always finding "pups" on her bromeliads.
Her enthusiasm is classic! No one but a genuine plant lover could express herself so originally, so simply and effectively. She does not only converse about her plants but they speak to her.

Mrs. Waterman lives several miles from Auckland. When a package of bromels arrived sometime ago she went into a whirl after receiving a telegram from the airport which stated, "Please uplift carton bromeliads from Pan American." What happened after that is best described in her own words. "Not being dressed for a trip into the city I rushed into a covering long coat and tore down the road adjusting clothes, hat and buttons as I flew, yelling to the busman who was almost out of earshot, to wait for me. Luckily, he happened to see me, or I would have had to wait another hour, and it is an hour's ride to the airport. You can imagine with what animated suspension of anticipation I made that ride. It was a big thrill to behold my box of bromels being unpacked for inspection."

"When finished and back in the bus, I clasped the box to my bosom, practically 'talking' to them all the way home. What an event on this side of the world! After rushing into the house, I hurried through tea, since it was 5:15, then hurriedly shut up twelve coops of baby bantams, (a ceremony I usually do more lovingly) told my husband not to call me for anything under the sun! Then proceeded with my precious cargo to the sanctum of my glasshouse where I fondly unpacked each prize from another world. As I carefully unwrapped each plant I dipped it, head down, into one of two buckets of tepid water, (each a different depth); I allowed them to drain and then planted each treasure with its already prepared name-label. Finally I sprinkled the lot with a child's watering can. Already they looked as if they had come from a greenhouse across the street instead of from half way round the world!"



Clearly Mulford Foster was impressed with the word 'Pups' and we know from reports from others that it was a word that Mulford frequently used. I feel sure it was because of his great influence on bromeliad growers for nearly 30 years that this expression is now so widespread. It is catchy and has less letters than offsets or offshoots, and never gets confused with cuttings! Why pups and not kittens or chickens will remain a mystery. There is also a suspicion that this term was used even earlier with Agaves and Aloes of Succulent plant interest. It should be noted that these too are monocotyledons like Bromeliaceae and offset similarly.

And now to the word 'keiki' that means child in Hawaiian. This word is used by plant growers in Hawaii for any offset to a plant whether Banana or Bromeliad! Interestingly it has been used to describe the offsetting seen in so many orchids for which Hawaii is famed, that occur high on the stem and not at the base. This has lead it to be associated with this sort of happening in Bromeliaceae, say Tillandsia secunda or even T. dasyliriifolia (see Ramirez in J. Brom. Soc. 54(3): 112-121. 2004).

It is a trait of the English language to experiment with new words or new meanings as though there are not enough already! Some continue and some get discarded. I am sure that 'pup' will remain in Bromeliad usage for many years to come but will always refer to 'normal' offsetting at the base. The seedling type offsets that sometimes occur in Alcantarea and saxicolous Tillandsias have yet to have their own special name. It has been said that 'hair pups' and 'grass pups' have been used to describe these in the USA but these have not, as yet, appeared in any official publication of the BSI. Which one will appear first? Which one will prevail? Other offsetting in the inflorescence such as you find in Orthophytum and others, will get the name adventitious added to them if only to denote they are emerging in an unexpected place. Outside Hawaii, will 'keiki' apply just to these floral phenomena? Who knows?

Finally you would have noticed the use of the word 'bromel' by Mulford Foster which was a word he coined. Much to the disgust of both Racine and Mulford, Aussies further reduced it to broms!

I would like to thank the various respondents from Brom-L and Round Robin that made this article possible.


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