23 December 2010

Some light reading for the holiday

At this time of year there is so much going on that I assume gardeners are busy with
activity. Maybe a novelty article is in order. Take a few minutes, relax and enjoy.

Cyclamen at Cagle's Flowers in Muskogee


Flowers have a Latin name and usually more than one common name. The origin of those names is an interesting study. For example, petunias are named for petun, the Brazilian tobacco to which it is related. Lettuce is named for the white sap inside its ribs because lac means milk and the Latin name for lettuce is Lactuca satvia.

Astilbe’s name means lack of beauty and is a combination of two Greek words: a, meaning without and stilbe, meaning brilliance (without brilliance). It is also called spirea because it resembles Aruncus spirea or goatsbeard.

Buddleia or Butterfly Bush is named after English Rev. Adam Buddle. Buddle was a horticulturist who studied and wrote about moss. The most common variety, Buddleia davidii was named for the Jesuit missionary Pere Armand David. David was a plant explorer in China but he did not discover Buddleia. Pere David became a forestry professor whose professional passion was clean air.

Cyclamen persicum, sometimes called Persian Cyclamen, is a houseplant with pink and white flowers. The name Clycamen means circle, referring to the seed stalks that curl up as they ripen. Its common names include Sowbread and Swinebread because in Shakespeare’s time pigs ate native, forest grown Cyclamen.

Apollo loved a boy named Hyacinth. While the two were playing a game of discus, Hyacinth was hit on the head and killed. As he was dying a

Hyacinth flower grew out of his wound. Hyacinths that grow in the wild turn their flower heads toward the ground. The little markings on their petals resemble “Al, Al” which in Greek is the sound of a sorrowful cry.

Lavender is from the Latin word lavare, to wash because it was used by the Romans to scent soap and then later as a perfume to cover the lack of bathing. Soap was too expensive for common people so lavender water was used instead. In early America, lavender was laid between linens instead of laundering them.

Monarda or Bee balm’s botanical name is Oswego tea. The Oswego Indians from the Oswego River drank monarda tea and taught the Europeans to use it as a substitute for the tea they dumped into the Boston Harbor. The Monarda common name is from the Spanish physician Nicolas Monardes, a colonial naturalist with an interest in medicinal plants.

The most practical orchid is the one that produces vanilla flavor. The word vanilla is from the Latin word vaina, or sheath, the shape of a vanilla bean. Orchid comes from a Greek word, orchis or testicle since the orchid tuber resembles testicles, at least in its appearance.

Peony’s botanical name is Paeonia. Paeon was the Greek physician to the gods who was capable of healing wounds with herbs. Another healing god, Asclepias (milkweed’s Latin name), was jealous of Paeon’s healing skills so Zeus turned him into a plant to save him. Peonies were thought to heal 20 different physical problems.

Roses have the Latin rosa for their red color. The Persian word for the rose was gul, meaning flower. Later roses, called Tea Roses, were brought to the west from China in tea boxes.

St. John’s Wort’s name is a reflection of its being harvested on St. John’s Day, June 24. The Latin name, Hpericum is from the Greek words hyper, above, and eikon or picture. Traditionally, the plant was hung over a religious altar on St. John’s Day to ward off evil.

Zinnias were named for the German botanist and medical professor, Johann G. Zinn who wrote the first description of this Mexican native. The original zinnias were considered ugly and the 200 varieties we enjoy today were not hybridized until this century.

More plant name information will be on my blog tomorrow.

The front window at Cagle's Flowers in Muskogee

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