(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 III, IV and V will come later. Part I was published about a month ago.)

          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." 

Impatien:  (Balsaminaceae)

          This large family of flowers is so named for the way their seeds pop out of the seed pods....impatiently.  Unless cut short by frost, impatien seeds could take over our gardens.   Germination is high.  Jewel weed is a member of the same family as is Busy Lizzie, common in England.  Touch-me-nots are too.  Garden impatiens are highly prized for ease of growing and willingness to thrive in shade.   In the mid 1800s these not-always-highly-regarded flowers were sent to England from India and Zanzibar.  The impatien family is vast!

Dahlia: (Compositae)  

          Dahlias originated in Mexico where they were raised and eaten by the Aztec Indians.  Once it was believed that the bulb had potential as a substitute for potatoes.  But its taste is peppery and repulsive.  Dahlias are known by two names...dahlia and "georginas".  In Eastern Europe this flower is still called georginas named for Johann Georgi of Petersburg Russia.  Linnaeus honored his pupil and physician, Dr. Anders Dahl, by giving his name to the dahlia flower.

Penstemon: (Scrophulariaceae)

          The penstemons are also known as the beardtongues.  Most of these herbaceous perennials are native to America.   The name comes from the Latin penta, five and the Greek stemon, thread. They are related to snap-dragons and come in many sizes ranging from two inches to three feet in height.  Their tubular flowers range in colors of white, pink, red, and lavender.  They make excellent cut flowers.  Short varieties do well along borders.  The "Husker Red" cultivar was developed by Dale Lindgren at the University of Nebraska Research Center in North Platte. It has red leaves with a white flower. Penstemons are good for rock gardens and do well with limited water.

Pansy: (Violaceae)

          The tricolored violet also known as Johnny-jump-up is

the ancestor of our pansy, or Pensee.  This word originates from the  
French penser meaning "to think". They were bred by Mr. T. Thompson, an
English admiral's gardener, who first saw them as strays in his garden.  He described the bloom as a miniature impression of a "cat's face gazing at him".

Iris:  (Iridaceae)

          Iris was the messenger of the Greek gods and keeper of the
rainbow linking earth and the other worlds.   She escorted souls of dying
women, escorting them along her iridescent bridge to another life.   Today,
our iris plants are available in that rainbow of colors.  These blooms were also
known as "fleur de Louis" which became "fleur de lis".  They appeared on French
King Louis VII's crusade banner.   Irises are grown in Japan, China, and Siberia
and all temperate places, but NEVER in the tropics.   Some are native to
America.   Most others have been brought from Europe.   Irises were among
the many favorite flowers of Thomas Jefferson.  

Columbine:  (Ranunculaceae)

          This name comes from the Latin Columba, meaning "dove."  Hold one upside down and it resembles a ring of doves drinking from a container.   One botanist said the leaves also look like doves.   You can see these birds again by removing one petal and its sepals. In old paintings and tapestries, the columbine represented the dove of peace.   Some say it also resembles "granny's hat."  

 (Copyright 2005)