(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 the plants in one issue so part V will come later. Parts I, II, & III were published earlier.

          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." 

Clematis: (Ranunculaceae)

          Clematis comes from the Greek klema meaning "twig".  These plants were growing in many gardens all over the world before Linnaeus named them.  The most popular one is the purple “Jackmanii" named for George Jackman who bred that cultivar in 1858. Americans tend to train their clematis vines using lattice or growing them over mailboxes. The British prefer more freedom and their clematis vines are undisciplined.

Poppy:  (Papaveraceae)  

          The botanical name for poppy comes from the Latin word "papaver".  Poppies were first noticed during the Napoleonic Wars of the 1800s.   They were the mysterious flowers that bloomed around the fresh graves of the soldiers.   Poppies grow best in freshly turned soil for they need sunlight to germinate.   The same thing occurred again in World War I prompting the Canadian doctor John McCrae to write:  "In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row...." Of the many common garden flowers once valued for medicine, only a few remain in drug stores today.   The poppy is one of them.  Only the Oriental poppy yields morphine and codeine.  Corn poppies do not.

Sweet Pea: (Leguminosae)

          These fragrant flowers are named for the Greek word for "pea" as they belong to that family.  (However "fragrant peas" are poisonous.)  The "sweet" label comes from the scent.  They were discovered in Sicily in the 1700s by a Franciscan monk.   The original blossoms were small, purple, and sweet smelling.  But during early breeding cycles, the flowers grew in size but lost their fragrance.   Years later, those who prized the beauty of cottage gardens revived some of the earliest varieties and fragrant sweet peas made their comeback.

Lilac: (Oleaceae)

          The name "lilac" comes from the Arabic "laylak” meaning blue.   The botanical name, Syringa, is from the Greek syrinx "a pipe".  The wood of both lilac and the mockorange were used by the Turks to make pipes.  Lilac plants were first found in Turkey. They are cousins to the privet bush. Olives and lilacs are very distant relatives; both generally outlive those who plant them.   Early settlers in America planted lilacs near farmhouse front doors, a touch of beauty in a harsh land.   They retain their fragrance even when they die.   The smoke from their burning wood is perfumed.   Lilacs are forever!

Foxglove:  (Scrophulariaceae)

          The name "foxglove" comes from fox’s glofa, (Old English) because they do look like fingers in a glove.   The plants are native to Britain and other places in Europe.   Foxglove plants came to America in the 18th century and were grown as flowers and also used for medicinal properties.   Digitalis comes from both the seeds of the plant and its dried leaves.  Foxglove didn't grow as well in American woodlands as they did in Britain.  They are biennials that self-seed profusely if they're happy where they're planted.

Bleeding Heart:  (Fumariaceae)

          This plant is among those "stolen" by plant collector Robert Fortune.   He roamed through China in the mid 1800s wearing peasant clothing complete with false pigtail to collect lovely garden treasures. The story goes that he avoided eating in public because he couldn't handle chopsticks and feared the lack of skill would give away his disguise.   After the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 he made public many of the flowers he'd taken.   The bleeding heart does appear to be a heart dripping, but upside-down, it becomes a "lady in the bath".

For more information see:

·       "100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names" by Diana Wells,
Algonquin Books: 1997.

·       How Plants Get Their Names by L.H. Bailey, Dover Publications.

Copyright 2005