The dangers of searching for plants names on Google

I don’t often read the Stamford Mercury in my quest for botanical news, but in the mysterious way that the web works (or sometimes doesn’t) I found myself at their story Plant mystery solved!. It seems they published a story about a mystery plant (subsequently identified by Kew Gardens as Paulinia tomentosa) and since then the phones haven’t stopped ringing. The latest article has a picture of a new oddity, and from the limited information and the incy-wincy picture I had a hunch it might be Ecballium elatarium.

Which brings me to the real point of this post. As a botanist of sorts I am always told to use scientific names. But as a person who also lives in the real world I know that’s just not what ordinary people do. So in order to confirm to myself that I was somewhere near right I stuck the common name of the above mentioned plant into a Google Image search. So why am I not giving the common name and providing a direct link to the search results? Well, to be honest I got a bit of a shock when I saw what I got. Plus the fact that my mum reads this from time to time. Go ahead and put the pieces together and try it if you wish, but DON’T do it if you’re of a sensitive disposition and don’t have a broad mind! NOR if you’re sitting in an open-plan office and want to keep your job. And certainly NOT with the kids around!

It’s not the first time this has happened either. Years ago I was sent a dried chilli pepper that was labelled ‘Pompino’. Back in the early days of the web there really wasn’t any content filtering, and I got nowhere with a search for the name on whatever pre-Google search engine I was trying, save for an endless stream of Italian porn sites. A search today on Google seems to avoid all of those, and instead shows us it’s the name for a bike, and a restaurant in Auckland (although their offer of catering for group functions and home delivery makes the mind boggle!), with the only hint of anything untoward being a link to an Italian slang dictionary.

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