Where Do Flower Names Come From?

In order to pass on information to others about flowers to others, shorthand descriptions were given. These allowed people to pass on information quickly as to where a plant can be found, what it looks like, and if it is edible or poisonous.

Flower names are normally based on the distinctive features of the plant. Some flower names give information on the appearance. Other flowers are named after the person who discovered it or even one of their enemies.

Some flowers are also named for their medicinal or chemical properties. The color, its origin, or habitat may also be used while others are named to give information on its flower or fruit.

There is no hard and fast rule where flowers get their names from, but in this article I look at some of the ways these beautiful plants get their names.

Historical Names

Many of the plant names we now know come from ancient history and civilizations. Many go back to Graeco-Roman times, but almost all of the Latin names unsuprisingly come from Latin or Greek.

Although most plants follow the scientific Latin nomenclature, many countries have developed their own name for different species of flowers.

The scientific name for the tomato plant, Lycopersicon, comes from Greece. Lykos means wolf and persikon means peach, translating to wolf-peach. The tomato plant was thought to be poisonous, only being grown for its look, therefore the plant was to be avoided, hence the warning name of wolf-peach.

Another country that has provided many plant names is China. The Chinese name for tea is tcha, very similar to char known around the world as tea. In Latin the plant species is known as Thea sinensis, meaning tea from China.

Medicinal Names

Not all plants come from historical names, and medicinal plants often are named for their use. Botany was taught to students of medicine until the end of the 19th century. The connection between botany and medicine can often be found in the naming of plants.

Opium is one of the most important medicinal plants. Opium comes from the Greek word opos or opion meaning sap. In opium, the sap is collected from the poppy capsules once mature. The sap is then made into opium and is the reason for the Latin name. The Latin name is named after its medicinal use. Papaver somniferum means sleep-inducing poppy.

During the Middle Ages, religious beliefs and superstition were very popular and these had an impact on the naming of plants and flowers. A theory called the Doctrine of Signs explained that God put his mark on different plants as a signature of their medicinal properties.

Hepatica comes from the Greek word hepar which means liver. As the leaves have the shape of a human liver, it was thought that the plant could cure ailments of the liver.

Another plant called hounds tongue has leaves that are shaped like a dog’s tongue. These plants were reportedly used as an antidote for bites from a dog or even curing illness in dogs.


Flowers are often colorful and is one of their most obvious characteristics. Many plant names are named after their color, with species of the same plant being distinguished from each other in this way.

The Latin scientific names also include colors to identify them. Alba is Latin for white and many white plants use this to identify them. Silene alba, the white campion has white petals.

Black is also used in scientific names for plants and flowers. Nigrum is Latin and melano is Greek for black, with the scientific name of blackcurrant being Ribes nigrum. Ebony can be found in scientific plant names as Melanoxylon, and red is either ruber or roseus. Green is represented by chloro, virdis, or virens.

Names Of People

Scientific literature was written in Latin in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, and scientists would often latinise their own names.

Flowers are often named after a latinised version of the discoverers name. Freesias are named after the German botanist Friedrich Freese. Anders Dahl, a student of Carl Linnaeus who was influential in standardising the naming of animals and plants used his name for the dahlia.

Carl Linnaeus used other peoples names to name plants. Siegesbeckia orientalis, a weed was named after a man called Johann Siegebeck. Linnaeus hated him as he was a rival, therefore naming a weed after him was a great dishonor.

Roses are often named after famous people. Think of a famous person and there is a good chance they already have a rose named after them. If you want to find out which people have roses named after them, you can find out here in the rose database.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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