The first time Kataev in Трава забвения (The Grass of Oblivion) referred to a flower called бигнония [bignoniya], I vaguely thought it might be a Russian equivalent of begonia, but of course that’s бегония in Russian. The second time I was curious enough to investigate, and it turns out there’s a whole different flower called bignonia — flowers are as bad as fish and card games. Then unexpectedly (ни с того ни с сего, as the Russians say), as a separate paragraph, he says “Цветок бигнония имел еще другое название: текола.” [The bignonia flower had still another name: tekola.”] Naturally I googled this odd-looking “текола,” but got nothing. Then I tried searching on [bignonia tecola], and Google suggested [bignonia tecoma]; sure enough, it turns out that “Tecoma stans is a species of flowering perennial shrub in the trumpet vine family, Bignoniaceae.” As this brief, soothing YouTube clip says in its description: “Текома, кампсис, бигнония – это всё названия одного растения.” [Tecoma, campsis, bignonia — those are all names of a single plant.] So the “текола” in the text is either a typo that slipped past proofreading or Kataev’s own error; I wonder if anyone’s ever noticed it before. It seems to be in all Russian editions, starting with the first version in Novy mir; maybe the next Collected Works will either change it or at least add a footnote correcting it.

Oh, and if you’re curious (as of course I was) about the origin of tecoma, the OED (entry from 1911) says:

Etymology: modern Latin (Jussieu 1789), < Aztec tecomaxochitl, mistakenly supposed by Jussieu to be the name of a species of the genus to which he gave this name (but really the name of Solandra guttata, N.O. Solanaceæ).
The Aztec name is a compound of tecomatl + xochitl ‘rose, flower’; the plant being named from the resemblance of its flower to that of the tecomatl or Calabash-tree (Crescentia Cujete, N.O. Bignoniaceæ), lit. ‘pot-tree’, < tecomatl earthen vessel, pot.


  1. The species I am familiar with is apparently Bignonia capreolata, which I knew under the common name “crossvine.” It’s ubiquitous in much of the South.

  2. This is delightful!

    Jussieu’s publication of Tecoma is here. (I hope this comment isn’t eaten by the spam filter because of hyperlinks.)

    But I wonder if the plant(s) originally called tecomaxochitl was called such because its flowers resemble a tecomatl “ceramic drinking vessel or bowl” (in Classical Nahuatl, as opposed to xicalli “calabash drinking vessel”), rather than because the flowers of S. guttata resemble those of C. cujete. This is suggested here.

    The usual English gardener’s name for plants of the genus Solandra is chalice vine, and S. maxima is called cup of gold. Here is a picture of S. guttata.

    As far as I have been able to discover, C. cujete is now called tecomate (from tecomatl and jícaro (from xicalli) in Mexican Spanish. I tried to find out the Classical name of the tree. There is huaxin, or does that only refer to the related C. alata (the pulp of whose is eaten)? However, huaxin lives on as Mexican Spanish guaje, “vessel made from the shell of the fruit of Crescentia”.

    Karttunen breaks down tecomatl as a compound of tetl “rock” and comatl “vessel, container”.

    For the further etymology of tetl, the Wiktionary has a nice entry with references.

  3. AJP Crown says

    The flower looks like the very pretty male squash flower, which seems to last about one day before it withers.

  4. I’m really glad you dropped by, Xerîb! Great research, and that Online Nahuatl Dictionary is amazing — if I’d seen it before, I’d forgotten. Also, I’m impressed by the Proto-Uto-Aztecan info available at Wiktionary.

  5. @AJP Crown: Are there squash that have male and female flowers that look different? I always thought it was really neat that squash had separate male and female blossoms, but I think all the squash that I grew had flowers that looked the same outside. To tell whether one was male or female, you had to look inside for whether it had stamens or pistil.

  6. AJP Crown says

    Oh, that must be what she does; growing squash from seed is my wife’s department. For the past week she’s been complaining that there are only males and that they’re supposed to be removed until females show up. That’s why I’ve been seeing these very pretty flowers on the garden steps. So far she hasn’t divulged the details of how she can tell.

  7. AJP Crown: It’s obvious if you look inside the flowers which are which. Typically, you want to minimize the number of male flowers, since squash will obviously only grown from fertilized female blooms. The anthers from just one make flower are typically enough to pollinate a whole patch of vines.

    I wonder now whether this is why squash flowers specifically are used as food: since the process of raising squash naturally entails picking off a large number of male flowers, to entice a vine to produce more useful female flowers.

  8. I think you don’t need to look inside the squash flower. An outside look at the base is good enough. The female flowers have a miniature future squash at their base, while males just have a thin stem. We ate our male flowers in our version of parmigiana di melanzane today but are on the lookout for more recipes because more of them keep coming (blame the pandemic turning normal people into gardening maniacs)

  9. Boy, you learn a lot at Languagehat

  10. @Dmitry Pruss: Come to think of it, you’re right. I guess I never paid that much attention to the stems below the flowers, but when you mentioned the incipient squash behind the female blossoms, it came back to me.

  11. AJP Crown says

    Dmitry’s said it all. It applies to the pumpkins too, which she’s also growing. She said they’re all male to start with and you can later tell the difference by the long thin stems on the males as opposed to the short female ones containing future dinners.

  12. PlasticPaddy says
  13. SFReader says

    I looked at pictures online – bignonia is a pretty flower and is not at all like the disgusting description Katayev gave in the Grass of Oblivion.

    As I understand, Katayev hated the flower for its color – ????

  14. AJP Crown says

    GREAT recipes! Thank you, Paddy.

  15. Lars Mathiesen says

    I never considered that zucchina might be the diminutive of something. Also it’s popularly zucchini here, I’m relieved to see that zucchino is a valid form in Italian as well.

  16. As I understand, Katayev hated the flower for its color

    Yes, he keeps obsessively returning to it — it’s one of the oddest things about that odd (but wonderful) book. Maybe suppressed anti-Bolshevism? (“I can’t hate the red flag, but I can hate this red flower!”)

  17. SFReader says

    Yes, that’s exactly it.

    Don’t remember the wording, but he mentions that these awful red sprouts resembled a monster killing something which was dear to him – I took that to mean that he likens red bignonia to the Bolshevik revolution which killed old Russia whose patriot he remained to the end.

  18. SFReader says

    Also check the ending. There he explicitly likens Bignonia to the revolution, blood and death [of old Russia, presumably].

  19. Ah, I haven’t gotten to the end yet. So it wasn’t suppressed but overt — how did he get it published in 1967??

  20. Well, Soviet censors were not that bright.

  21. AJP Crown says

    That’s interesting, Lars. I’ve never heard the word zucchini used in Norway.


    What is it in Sweden? (“What do the swedes say” is all too anthropomorphic.)

  22. PlasticPaddy says

    @hat, SFr
    I think publication date of 67 suggests that any regime criticism was interpreted as criticism of Stalin (Ivan Denisovich was published in 62), especially since Katajev was apparently a Party member in good standing and longtime member of the union of Soviet writers.

  23. Ivan Denisovich was published in 62

    Yes, but that was the Khrushchev thaw. Once he was ousted, it was back to the censorship regime. Brezhnev was trying to (subtly) rehabilitate Stalin, not tarnish his memory.

  24. David Marjanović says

    Zucchini aren’t zucche, but courgettes.

  25. PlasticPaddy says

    I think fiori di zucca are (or also are) the courgette flowers.
    Yes. You and the recipes brought me back to markets and to meals in Rome.

  26. @AJP:
    Zucchini in Sweden, as well as squash. I prefer zucchini myself. Zucchini/squash can refer to singular as well as plural. If you want to be extra fancy you can use the french word courgette, but I don’t know how many will understand you.

    I have a great recipe for a zucchini cake somewhere, it’s similar to carrot cake but with zucchini and no frosting.The first time I heard of the cake was when it was mentioned on the radio.

  27. David Marjanović says

    I think fiori di zucca are (or also are) the courgette flowers.

    …That is actually what they look like. But I haven’t seen squash flowers.

  28. @Moa: That’s called “zucchini bread” in (American) English, although it’s much more a cake than a bread—made from batter, loaded with sugar, leavened without yeast. The only things bread-like about it is that it’s usually baked in loaves and not frosted (although even those features are very much like many pound “cakes”). I used to make it all the time to take to temple or for other potluck events (back when such gatherings still happened).

  29. Just as I’m about to post some uneducated musing about the relation between the words for calabash squash, calabash trees and earthen vessels, I look back realize that Xerib has every point nailed.

    Interesting stuff. Thanks.

  30. @Ryan: Here in the Carolinas, the most salient meaning of calabash is usually a style of light breading (with mixed flour and cornmeal) used for friend chicken and shrimp.

  31. I don’t know what a zucca looks like. Unfortunately I’ll never be able to eat one without thinking of Roberto Benigni’s performance in Night on Earth.

  32. AJP Crown says

    Moa, I prefer zucchini myself.
    So do I.
    you can use the french word courgette, but I don’t know how many will understand you.
    Now I remember that they’re usually known as courgettes in England, or were in the 1960s & ’70s when I was growing up. I wonder if “squash” has taken over.

  33. AJP Crown: The word squash on its own is not so commonly used for zucchini in American English. If someone just referred to “squash,” unmodified, I would expect it to be yellow summer squash, butternut squash, or maybe acorn squash—depending, in part, on the season. You can refer to either “zucchini” or “zucchini squash” without raising any eyebrows, but for less familiar squash varieties, we usually use a compound name, like “calabaza squash,” “turban squash,” or “banana squash.”

  34. Kabocha (/kəˈboʊtʃə/; from Japanese カボチャ, 南瓜) is a type of winter squash, a Japanese variety of the species Cucurbita maxima. It is also called kabocha squash or Japanese pumpkin[1] in North America. In Japan, “kabocha” may refer to either this squash, to the Western pumpkin, or indeed to other squashes.[2]

    Many of the kabocha in the market are kuri kabocha, a type created from seiyo kabocha (buttercup squash). Varieties of kabocha include Ajihei, Ajihei No. 107, Ajihei No. 331, Ajihei No. 335, Cutie, Ebisu, Emiguri, Marron d’Or and Miyako.[3]
    Portuguese sailors introduced kabocha to Japan in 1541, bringing it with them from Cambodia. The Portuguese name for the squash, Camboja abóbora (カンボジャ・アボボラ), was shortened by the Japanese to kabocha.


  35. AJP Crown says

    Brett, all is becoming clear. Thanks. I very much enjoy spaghetti squash. Calabaza squash, turban squash and banana squash I can’t remember, but I missed one or two episodes of Sesame Street – isn’t there a sesame squash? Apparently not, only sesame-additions to other squ… what’s the plural of squash? It ought to be squish.

  36. John Cowan says

    If someone just referred to “squash,” unmodified,

    I would just be bewildered if someone told me they were having squash for dinner, as much as if they told me they were having “starch”. It’s too vague. Zucchini, yellow (summer) squash, acorn squash, pumpkin, etc. etc., that would make more sense.

    The cultivars of Cucurbita pepo.

  37. >Here in the Carolinas, the most salient meaning of calabash is usually a style of light breading (with mixed flour and cornmeal) used for friend chicken and shrimp.

    Do you think it’s because the mix came from the coastal village? Currituck to Calabash.

    (Late edit – found this: https://www.visitcurrituck.com/blog/epicurean-hunt-evening-a-toast-to-whaleheads-history/
    “Third course features Calabash rockfish Caesar salad, which involves frying the seafood in a light dusting of egg wash and flour – a North Carolina cooking style named after the town, Calabash.”)

    John, in my experience, summer squash is generally served in slices, cubes or thin strips that hold their form; winter squash in the texture of mashed potatoes. Seasonally, a reference to unmodified squash is always understandable, since most varieties in season are fairly interchangeable.

  38. David Marjanović says

    Didn’t even occur to me that zucchini would be classified as squash.

  39. Lars Mathiesen says

    In Denmark the hard shelled squash varieties are called græskar, and we don’t see summer squash in the grocery store except for the zucchini variety. So squash, zucchini and courgette are use for those interchangeably.

  40. zucchini would be classified as squash.

    In Russian, it’s кабачок, diminutive from кабак ‘squash’ (from Turkic: qabaq, kabak, qovok in various languages).

  41. @Ryan: I think most Carolinians know that Calabash frying is named after a town, but that’s about it. I knew it was on the coast, but I had to look up which Carolina the town was in.

    And I agree with you about how square is served. Summer squash is in pieces, winter squash a puree. Of course, that’s related to the fact that summer squash (like zucchini) are harvested relatively early, and so are tender and have soft skins. (I knew somebody who grew summer loofah squash. Harvested early, they are good to eat; harvested late, their interior skeleton is good for exfoliating in the bath.) With winter squash, you usually bake them inside the thick, inedible skin, then scrape out the flesh and mash it.

  42. AJP Crown says


    Gresskar are pumpkins in Norwegian.

  43. Lars Mathiesen says

    Well, pumpkin is supposed to be only the big orange Halloween things, græskar normatively is all the winter varieties that you puree though I think some people are not aware that anything but pumpkins exist (and that you can actually eat them). Only garden fanatics or botanicists will use it for zucchini.

  44. AJP Crown says

    I expect it’s the same in Norwegian and just that pumpkins are the only gresskar that we discuss.

  45. When I was growing up, zucchini were “zucchini squash,” but the phrase has gone the way of “tuna fish” and “pizza pie.”

  46. January First-of-May says

    Only garden fanatics or botanicists will use it for zucchini.

    Ditto for Russian тыква, which, I believe, is supposed to refer not only to the pumpkin as such but also to many other closely related varieties – yet, as far as I’m aware, never to zucchini.
    (Botanicists are probably more likely to go the other way, though I can’t recall having ever actually checked the exact terminology.)

    When the protagonist of Mark Twain’s How I once Edited an Agricultural Paper writes “The pumpkin is the only esculent of the orange family that will thrive in the North, except the gourd and one or two varieties of the squash”, the first Russian translation (1896) used тыква for all three of “pumpkin”, “gourd”, and “squash” (with further clarifying words for the latter two, which literally translated as “bottle pumpkin” and “turban pumpkin” respectively), which I suspect was literally correct, considering that it made utter nonsense of any possible joke.

    (The much better 1949 translation by Nina Daruzes translated “gourd” and “squash” as горох “peas” and дыня “melon” respectively, which was hardly literal but made a lot more sense in the context.)

  47. I just started Kataev’s Белеет парус одинокий, and what should I find a couple pages in but this:

    Хотя двор и сад все еще были в тени, но уже ранние лучи ярко и холодно золотили розовые, желтые и голубые тыквы, разложенные на камышовой крыше той мазанки, где жили сторожа.

  48. Nary a mention of Mrs. Calabash? Mr. Durante had talent and bonhomie in spades, often overshadowed by his better known proboscis.


  49. When I was growing up, zucchini were “zucchini squash,” but the phrase has gone the way of “tuna fish” and “pizza pie.”

    …and “hamburger sandwich”.

  50. @SFReader: “…he mentions that these awful red sprouts resembled a monster killing something which was dear to him…”

    Nemirovsky points out one obvious connection: Garshin’s Red Flower. A madman recently brought to a madhouse spots a poppy flower in the garden and sees in it the incarnation of all evil in the world.

  51. Stu Clayton says

    Nary a mention of Mrs. Calabash?

    Wherever she is !

  52. Zucchini is a diminutive of pumpkin in Bulgarian — тиква (pumpkin) тиквичка (zucchini).

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