Week 370: “The Plum Blossom” by Yusef Lateef

Shakespeare insisted that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

True as this may be, it underestimates the power language has to affect our perception. I think it’s a safe bet that if roses were called something like “thorn-stemmed blood bursts,” they likely would not be our first choice for Valentine’s Day flora.

There are plenty of flowers that benefit from having particularly pleasant names; Forget-me-nots, Queen Anne’s Lace, Baby’s Breath. Objectively, they’re no more beautiful than something with a less appealing moniker like, just say, the Crocus. But they sure sound nicer.

Which brings us to the plum blossom. It’s not an ugly name, but it’s not exactly inspired either. I can just imagine the conversation that led to the naming of the plum blossom:

“Hey, that plum tree has a blossom on it.”

“Oh yeah. What should we call it?”

“How about…plum……blossom.”


The sad part is that plum blossoms are much more awesome than their name suggests. They bloom in winter, giving a glimmer of spring hopefulness well before winter is over. In many Asian countries, the plum blossom is used in medicines, recipes, and as flavouring in alcohol.

I think it deserves a better name.

I’m not saying that I’ve got any specific suggestions, but if anyone reading this has any sway with whatever botanical organization is in charge of naming plants, please take a moment to enjoy this song and come up with something that honours this brave little plant. Because a plum blossom, by a slightly better name, might smell a bit sweeter.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The wind instrument Lateef uses is a simple, soft instrument known in China as the Xun. Or, as it’s known in English, the emphatically less cool, “globular flute.”

2. Lateef’s willingness to experiment with unconventional instruments was unique in his time. What would later be known by the name “world music” was, to him, just music.

3. Yusef Lateef was originally known by a different name himself. He changed his name upon converting to Islam. “Lateef” means “kind, gentle,” which is a perfect description of the mood of this song. And arguably more elegant than his birth name: William Huddleston.

Recommended listening activity:

Browsing a florist’s shop for flowers you don’t recognize, and secretly inventing names for them in your head.

Buy it here.