Shorthand descriptions about flowers were used to pass information about them on to others. These descriptions allowed people to pass on information quickly about where a plant can be found, what it looks like, and if it is edible or poisonous.
Flower names are generally based on the distinctive features of the plant. Some flower names give information about their appearance, including color and petal type. Some flowers are named after the person who discovered them and, in some cases, their enemies.
Some flowers are also named for their medicinal or chemical properties. The color, origin, or habitat may also be used, while others were called 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 how these beautiful plants get their names.
Many of the plant names come from ancient history and civilizations. Many go back to Graeco-Roman times, but almost all scientific names unsurprisingly come from Latin or Greek.
Although most plants follow the scientific Latin nomenclature, many countries have developed their names for different flower species.
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 wolf-peach’s warning name.
Another country that has provided many plant names is China. The Chinese word for tea is tcha, very similar to char, known worldwide as tea. In Latin, the plant species is known as Thea sinensis, meaning tea from China.
Not all plants come from historical names, and medicinal plants often are named for their use. Botany was taught to medical students until the end of the 19th century. The connection between botany and medicine can usually be found in the naming of plants.
Opium is one of the most important medicinal plants. Opium comes from the Greek word opos or opinion, meaning sap. In opium, the liquid is collected from the poppy capsules once they 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 popular, which impacted the naming of plants and flowers. A theory called the Doctrine of Signs explained that God put his mark on different plants as a sign 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 liver ailments.
Another plant called hounds tongue has leaves shaped like a dog’s tongue. These plants were reportedly used as an antidote for dog bites or even curing dogs’ illnesses.
Flowers are often colorful and are one of their most prominent characteristics. Many plant names are named after their color, with species of the same plant being distinguished from each other.
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 champion, 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 such 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 often Latinized their own names.
Flowers are often named after a Latinised version of the discoverer’s name. Freesias are named after the German botanist Friedrich Freese. Anders Dahl, a student of Carl Linnaeus who was influential in standardizing animals and plants’ naming, used his name for the dahlia.
Carl Linnaeus used other people’s names to name plants. Siegesbeckia orientalis, a weed, was named after Johann Siegebeck. Linnaeus hated him as he was a rival. Therefore calling a weed after him was a great dishonor.
Roses are often named after famous people. Think of a famous person; 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 them in the rose database.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.