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Japanese knotweed – What’s in a Name!?

Published on by Dr Paul Beckett

Japanese knotweedJapanese knotweed has often caused confusion, not only by being mistaken for other plants, such as Russian vine or bindweed, but also by having so many different names. This confusion exists not only with the local names of the plant in the UK and around the world, but also with the Latin name. In the UK the preferred common name is Japanese knotweed and its preferred Latin name is Fallopia japonica. Fallopia Japonica was independently classed as Reynoutria japonica by Houttuyn in 1777 and as Polygonum cuspidatum by Philipp Franz von Siebold and Joseph Gerhard Zuccarini  (Siebold & Zucc.) in 1846. However, it wasn’t until the early part of the twentieth century that scientist realised that these were in fact the same plant. Japanese and American authors still often refer to Japanese knotweed as Polygonum cuspidatum. Other scientific names that have been associated with Fallopia Japonica have included the following:

  • Polygonum reynoutria (Makino)
  • Polygonum seiboldii (Vriese)
  • Polygonum zaccharini (Small)
  • Pleuropterus cuspidatus (Siebold & Zucc.) Mildenke
  • Pleuropterus zuccarinii (Small)

In the UK the common name has also varied significantly, and has included: ‘Hancock’s curse’, rumoured to be named after a plant supplier; ‘German sausage’ believed to refer to the characteristic dots on the stems; and ‘pea-shooter plant’, believed to be coined by children who used the hollow, cut stems as pea-shooters. Other English names have included, ‘donkey rhubarb’, ‘gypsy rhubarb’, and ‘Sally rhubarb’; most likely due to the fact that it tastes a bit like rhubarb. In America the common names have also varied and have included ‘elephant-ear bamboo’, ‘fleece flower’, ‘Japanese bamboo’, ‘Japanese fleece flower’, ‘Mexican bamboo’ and ‘wild rhubarb’. Around the world Japanese knotweed has had local names such as: ‘Parkside’ in Sweden; ‘Asiatic knotweed’ in New Zealand; ‘Huzhang’ in China; and, of course, ‘Itadori’ in Japan.

About the author: Dr Paul Beckett

Dr Paul Beckett - picture

Dr Paul Beckett is one of the UK’s leading experts in Japanese knotweed and is a member of the Expert Witness Institute. He regularly provides Japanese knotweed expert witness services. He helped produce the RICS knotweed guidance for surveyors and was integral in the formation of the Property Care Association (PCA) Invasive Weed Control Group (IWCG).

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