For the Cat Who has Everything

by Norman Todd


The following article was published in the VRS newsletter of December 1993.  It is learned in history, rhodo-botany, Latin, and feline psychology.  And whimsy above all.


Did you notice the word ‘who’ in the title?  If you do not think of cats as persons, this article will not interest you.  It will interest you if you are in that most frustrating of situations when you just can’t think of the ultimate present for that most significant cat in your life – to be given on that very, very special cat day.  I have the answer and it may surprise you.  It was Rhododendron roxieanum var oreonastes.


Don’t turn off right now because you think Rhodedendron roxieanum var oreonastes will be too difficult a name for your cat to appreciate – just hang in and read a bit more.


You see, cats don’t know many things by their names.  And it is pretty well useless trying to get a cat to understand abstract things, e.g., things like ‘the Natural Law Party’ or ‘relativity’.  Cats recognize most things by smell.  That is how they recognize pretty well all tangible things; smart cats can even sense a few abstract things using this sense.


Anyway, Rhododendron roxieanum var oreonastes sends cats into paroxysms of ecstasy.  We all know that paroxysms do not always occur as pleasant events but when you see that closed-eyed Cheshire look on your cat’s face and feel the vibes from its tremulous twitching little nose, you will know this paroxysm is a good one.


You could also object to using a fairly abstract word like ‘paroxysm’ for your cat’s intemperately orgasmic raptures, but even if your cat does not know that precise word, you can be sure it has a complete fix on the idea.


Rhododendron roxieanum var. oreonastes is a classic rhododendron fit for the garden of the most fastidious connoisseur.  It kind of looks like a land-based green sea urchin.  (That is Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, just in case your cat is of the more than normally curious type, still alive and might like to know that).


Rhododdendron roxieanum var oreonastes belongs to the Taliense affiliations and, at least from a nurseryperson’s point of view, possesses all of the bad qualities of that tribe, i.e., it is almost impossible to propagate from cuttings, is not easy to graft and, as it takes eons to bloom, it is hard to get seed and when you do, it might not be viable.  When it does bloom, however, it is a real joy to behold and if you find yourself in the position of beholder, you could be excused for having one of these paroxysms all to yourself.


Being such a coveted plant, it makes sense for those who do own this rare and expensive rhododendron to be discreet and selective in letting the fact of your ownership be widely known because most of the specimens of Rhododendron roxieanum var oreonastes in captivity are of a very portable size and visitors could have a paroxysm of envy and greed which could even end up in thievery.


You might think, then, that it would be logical, if you value your status as a collector of rare plants more than the love of your cat, not to tell your cat you have one in your garden.


However, I would advise against not telling your cat because it is a sure bet that your cat will sense the precise minute Rhododendron roxieanum var oreonastes crosses your lot line.  And anyway, you, having read this far, must be darn nearly desperate to let your cat experience one of those incontinent paroxysms.


If you know your Latin (I don’t, so I’m just waiting for someone to tell me this paragraph is all nonsense) you will quickly intuit that the name itself – oreonastes – gives away about this interesting reactionary feline phenomenon.  The roxieanum part of the moniker is something of a letdown because it’s one of these commemorative names, eternally memorializing a Mrs. Roxie Hanna of Tali-fu, China, who was a friend of the plant’s discoverer, or at least describer, George Forrest.  Too bad we don’t know more about Mrs. Roxie Hanna - perhaps - who knows – she may have had a weakness for aromatically induced paroxysms.


It’s the oreonastes bit that is the mother lode.  The ‘oreo’ portion really means ‘mountain’ in Latin, but cats are not too well versed in dead languages and, get this, they recognize the modern meaning of ‘oreo’ ie., ‘cookie’!


Ah ha!  So then we move on to the ‘nastes’ bit.  You may not believe this, but this is the exception that proves the rule; cats have almost instant recognition of what ‘nastes’ means in Latin.  They do not make the correspondence to the modern English meaning of ‘nastes’ ie., ‘unpleasant’, but go right to the Latin word ‘nasitortium’ which means ‘distortion of the nose’.  You look at your cat in its oreonastical paroxysm and you will see what ‘nasitortium’ means.  The Romans knew what it meant and so does you cat.  Nasturtiums evidently gave Romans nasal   paroxysms and that’s what they called them nasturtiums.


Romans almost certainly never said or smelled Rhododendron roxieanum var oreonastes.  It’s almost impossible to be absolutely sure what kind of paroxysms they would have had they done so.  Most likely, they would have given it a very wide berth after Pompey’s 67 B.C., army’s unfortunate run-in, which quickly developed into a run-out, with the poisonous honey from the Pontic azalea (Rhododendron luteum).  In that instance, Pompey’s army surely had a debilitating and paralyzing collective paroxysm that cost most of the soldiers in the army their lives at the hand of Mirthridates, King of Pontus.


Perhaps this does bring up a cautionary point.  Watch out that there are no predators around when your cat is having its paroxysm because they are sitting ducks (??) in that state and to compound it, you yourself, might end up having a paroxysm of grief when looking at the moribund remains of your pet.


At this point I’m sure you want to know how I came by all this dope on God’s ultimate gift to mousers.  Well, the first Rhododendron roxieanum var oreonastes I had I kept in a pot.  At that time, I did not know how addictive it was to cats, but anyway it must not have been cat-accessible.  Probably I kept it in the greenhouse, and it got to be about fourteen or fifteen inches tall and in age produced a flower bud.  I must say my mind ran to thinking about installing special security devices to protect from human predation but I was guilessly unaware that there were four – count them – “Tristan’, ‘Smudge’, ‘Timmy’ and ‘Kate’ – incipient paroxysmatic pussies right in my very own home.


I wondered why all of those exquisite narrow, lanceolate, indumented botanical marvels of advanced photosynthetic evolution were lying around the base of the plant.  Then the flower bud disappeared and I had to look more closely.


We all know what rododendron hairs are but the hairs  I found were 2.1 to 4.6 cm. long, glandular, glabrous, white, sometimes black and white, orange flushed brown or black.  These weren’t rhododendron hairs.  They were cats’ hairs.

Next piece of evidence.  At last year’s club picnic I won the door prize – a Rhododendron roxieanum var oreonastes.  It was a beautiful plant in a four gallon pot.  It had been expertly grown by Clint Smith.  I went home thinking that the ’93 picnic was the best we had ever had.

It sat on the deck where it could be admired from the kitchen window – by people.  But it was admired much more closely by the purring pussy cats that lodge (dare I admit to thinking ‘temporarily’) at 5631 Batu Road.  They had an orgy of paroxysms and one of he main branches was amputated – covered with cat hairs.


Some of you may see this as presenting a dilemma.  Which or who comes first, cats or rhododendrons?  I suspect most of you will plunk for the former and you will want to ingratiate yourself to your fat feline friend – by getting him, her or it that transcendentally perfect gift, Rhododendron roxieanum var oreonastes.


Don’t be tempted by the claims of shysters touting catnip.  This is like comparing slug’s eggs to sturgeon on caviar.  Go for the best; but be prepared for difficulties because Rhododendron roxieanum var oroenastes is not easy to find.  You will have to be committed and resolute in being your cats’ benefactor responsible for providing the greatest hallucinogenic rapturous paroxysms by acquiring – preferable by theft – Rhododendron roxieanum var oreonastes.


Cats truly pass this way but once.  Dismiss that view that a cats’ life is a vale of tears; make it a Garden of Eden.  You have the answer.


For more information on paroxysms caused by ingesting rhododendrons or rhododendron products, see David Leach’s article “The Two Thousand Year Curse of the Rhododendron” in Rhododendron Information, A.R.S. 1967.  Also “Puzzles in Rhododendron Poison” by the author in ‘Rhododendrons on a western Shore’ Ed.., A.McCarter, VRS 1989.