(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. This is the last in a series. Parts I, II, III, and IV were printed 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." 

Daylily:  (Liliaceae)  

          These colorful, vigorous, carefree, hardy flowers are almost too good to be true.   Their botanical name is Hemerocallis from the Greek for "day", hemera and kallos meaning "beauty".  Even though each bloom last for just a day, daylilies are robust producers and show color for weeks at a time in summer gardens.   There are over 40,000 registered varieties with new ones appearing each season.   Hemerocallis originally came from the Orient where the Chinese and Japanese used them for food and medicine.   Daylilies were also cooked as a vegetable, sometimes dried, and roots were often pickled.  They have grown in America since colonial times.

Hydrangea:  (Hydrangeaceae)

          The hydrangea was named by Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish naturalist who developed the binomial nomenclature used to classify and organize plants.  The name comes from hydro, "water" and aggeion, "vessel".  The name applies to the cup-shaped fruits and the fact that large hydrangeas may require ten to twelve gallons of water daily in extreme heat. They came to Britain in the 18th century with great fanfare.   A special delegation met at the London docks to 'welcome' the hydrangea and attended a breakfast reception in honor of the plant!   In the early days botanists were most puzzled when blooms turned from pink to blue in acidic soil.   They also found it difficult to classify petals, sepals, and flowers of its showy flower head.   There are a hundred species of hydrangea.

Peony:  (Paeoniaceae)

          The name for peony comes from the healing powers of a physician-god of the Greeks, "Paeon".  Peonies had been used as a healing plant in the Orient for centuries.   How they came from China to Europe is not known.  But it was the Romans who introduced these flowers to Great Britain.   British gardeners used peonies for decorative purposes only and when taken to America by settlers they were used in the same way.  Diana Wells says, "They can live for a hundred years or more undisturbed and are the immortal remains of rural American families whose farms were abandoned and whose houses have crumbled."

Petunia:  (Solanaceae)

          The name petunia comes from petun, a Brazilian term for tobacco, a petunia cousin.   It was sent to Europe from South America in the 1800s.   James Tweedie of the Glasgow Botanical Gardens had the purple flowering variety sent to Scotland.   A French governmental official sent another variety, "night-scented petunia" to Paris.  It is from these two plants that all our modern hybrids come. Despite the hybridization of petunias into singles, doubles, cascades, stripes with frills and fluffs, they are likely to revert to the original purple that Tweedie found in South America.

Geranium:  (Geraniaceae)  

          The garden variety of geranium is called cranesbill because of its long seed pods that resemble a crane's beak.   It originally came from South Africa.   In 1772 Francis Masson sent a large number of plants to Amsterdam.  Fifteen years later there were so many geraniums that botanists divided them into three families: cranesbills, erodiums (the rock garden variety) and pelargoniums (the South African ones).   The name comes from the ancient Greek, geranos, which was a crane. That evolved to geranion from a word for "leggy, long-necked bird".

Copyright 2005