As gardener’s learn the common names known to various plants, I often question how this name is created; is it after a family member, how it looks to the breeder or another reason.
Some names given to plants make perfect sense; they look exactly like the name suggests or their attributes show us why. Other names still, baffle gardeners why the name is given, but we accept it anyway.
Furthermore, there are some plants that have more than one name. Is it because the original name was forgotten and another was thought of, or is it in the translation from one language to another when plants were brought from all over the world?
This is the reason why many gardeners are learning the latin names for their plants. The latin names are created using the parentage of the plant species, thus a gardener will usually be correct when searching a plant using the latin source. Occassionally, though this is true in most cases, it isn’t always perfect. There are plants available that are referred to, with two latin names. One ususally connects with the other, so it still is a very good way of finding your plant at any nursery.
These are some examples of common-named plants and the possibilities why they were named as such:
Love-in-a-mist – An annual, free-flowering soft blue flower that truly appears to be in a mist of green foliage. The thin green foliage envelopes the blossom and with a small area being planted, it really looks misty.
Forget-me-not – Once a gardener has this in their garden, it truly is hard to forget this plant. This is a plant that self-seeds so freely that it can become almost weedlike, but with its pretty blue, white or pink flowers, it is a welcoming sight early in the season.
Lily of the Valley – Another plant that is difficult to erradicate once it is planted. Small, fragrant bells with green leaves make this plant what it is, with its tenacious roots managing to work their way through anything, simply to start another plant. Possibly the original plant was found in a valley; the valley being full.
Snow-on-the-mountain – This plant isn’t big or chunky looking, but instead its leaves are all tipped in white, thus probably the reason for this name.
Baby’s Breath – A soft cloud of tiny white or soft pink flowers adorn the stems of this plant. I wonder if the creator of this name saw a young baby breathing into the cold air and thought the name was appropriate.
Black-eyed Susan – The dark brown, almost black center of the flowers are surrounded by bright yellow/gold petals, creating a ray of sunshine around the center. It is this center that is referred to with this name. Possibly the name of a loved one was thought of whenever seeing this plant.
Canary Creeper – This plant really looks like the name suggests; bright yellow flowers resembling canary birds in flight are all over this twining vine.
Cardinal Flower – Along the same bird theme, the scarlet red flowers are attached along the stem, resembling a flock of cardinal birds sitting in a tree.
Red Hot Poker – Straight, upright stems with dark red tops softening to soft orange down the stem is this plant’s characteristic; and resembling a fire poker is a possibility for this name.
Obedient Plant – This plant’s flowerheads can be moved into a position by the person manoevering it and it will stay, thus being obedient.
Peach-leaved Bellflower – This is one name that baffles people. It’s leaves are not peach coloured, but instead a medium green hue. The white, bell-like flowers that grow up the stem are above these green, elongated leaves.
Many, many more names are available to ponder as to why they are named as such. So, when looking for a particular plant, it is helpful to have the latin name of the plant, but it isn’t a necessity. Simply enjoy the plant in your garden and wonder why it received the name it did.
Note: The writer is searching for any text in regards to this topic. Please contact The Wellington Advertiser if you have any material that could be borrowed for research in this area, or have recommendation of any books. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Email: Jennifer Moore