(Our guest writer today is Judy Shull-Hiebenthal, a Seward County Master Gardener. We are delighted that she has agreed to share with us her research about the names of some common plants. We are not able to do all of them in one issue so parts II, III, and IV will come later.)


          Gardeners tend to be readers.  We peruse the catalogs that arrive
early each year.   We enjoy stories and pictures in magazines telling
of the success of other gardeners.   And we seek other sources when
there are problems to solve.   One of the small books in my gardening
library is "100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names" by Diana Wells,
Algonquin Books: 1997. (This source along with miscellaneous others was
used to prepare the text that follows.) Diana Wells writes, "If we fail to remember the history of our flowers we know them less and to trace their link with us is to make them part of our lives.   If we forget they are part of our lives, we may be too casual about them."  

Nasturtium: (Tropaeolaceae)

          Anyone who has smelled nasturtiums will understand the origin of its name....nasus meaning nose and tortus for twisted.  The pungent nasturtium can make your nose wrinkle.  They originated in South America.  A Spanish plant collector, Nicolas Monardes, noted the flower in 1569 in his writings.  The flowers made their way to Europe in 1648.  Thomas Jefferson was a nasturtium fan, planting them for many years in his flower beds at Monticello.

Astilbe:  (Saxufragaceae)

          French botanist Father Armand David discovered this plant in China.  He was a Jesuit missionary sent to the Orient as an educator but was released from that post to collect plant specimens.  He sent boxes and boxes of plants back to Paris. About one-third of them survived.  They made major contributions to the botanical treasury.  The original Astilbe discovered by David was rather plain...thus the name, a (without) stilbe (brilliance).  Modern cultivars ARE brilliant.  David's name is found today on another popular plant, the butterfly bush....Budleia Davidi.

Hollyhock: (Malvaceae)

          Remains of this plant were found in the grave of a Neanderthal man dating back 50,000 years.  It was brought to Britain by Crusaders...and labeled as holy plus hoc.  "Holy" from the holy wars and "hoc" because its leaf was used to treat the hocks of horses in order to reduce swelling. Garden hollyhocks are members of the mallow family.  Relatives include okra, cotton, and hibiscus.  Through history they, too, were used for cures of various ills.  Stems of mallows were a source of dye and fibers of the stalks were woven into cloth.

Chrysanthemum: (Compositae)

          Mums originally grew wild in China.  Later, they were cultivated in Chinese gardens for 2500 years, eventually making their way to the West.  Mums were first seen in English gardens in 1795.  The word chrysanthemum comes from the Greek for "gold flower".  Early residents around the Mediterranean Sea created garlands of mums to ward off demons.  Feverfew, also known as tansy, is a member of the same family.  Other close relatives include Shasta daisies, ox-eyes, and painted daisies.

Hosta: (Liliceae)

          Hostas became popular when gardeners began to look for easy-care plants.   They originated in Japan and China.  Early they were known as plantain lilies (planta...soul of the foot) because the leaves resembled a foot. Then botanists in many countries worked to bring order to the naming of plants. As they did, many hoped to have their name attached to these plants. In 1812, Leopold Trattinic proposed that the plantain lily be named for Nicholas T. Host, an expert on grasses.  Disagreement ensued but finally in 1905 the International Botanical Congress agreed to the change from plantain lily to hosta.  The genus has 70 species and from them has come beautiful shade plants in colors from blue to yellow, with stripes, points, puckers, and wrinkles.

Rudbeckia:  (Compositae)

          This hardy flower is also known as coneflower or black-eyed susan.  The name is linked to a personal friendship between Olaf Rudbeck and Carolus Linnaeus.  Rudbeck taught at the University of Uppsala in Sweden at the time that Linnaeus was working on the system of scientific classification of plants. Linnaeus was a poor, hungry scientist.   In 1730 he was hired by Rudbeck to tutor the Rudbeck children.  The position ended Linnaeus' poverty & allowed him to continue his classifications.  In gratitude Linnaeus chose this plant to bear his friend's name.

Copyright 2005