WORDS FOR FLOWERS
Michael Ellis

I do love words, to celebrate the glories of spring I like to share with you all the origin of a few of my favorite flower names.

Daisies: A 19th century poet named John Leyden observed that some species of daisies closed up at night. And perhaps this is why the ancient English called this flower the “day’s eye”, which eventually was condensed into daisy.

Columbines. Columba is Latin for dove and Columbine means anything that is dovelike. And if you look closely at the flower, exercising great imagination, it does resemble a tight cluster of 5 doves.

Dandelions. This word is French, literally “dente de lion” or the teeth of the lion. This is because of the serrated edges of the leaves reminded someone of the snarl of a lion. Again imagination is useful here.

Gladiolus. To the Romans a gladius was a sword and a gladiator was one who swung a sword. So this plant is named Gladiolus for the linear, sword like shape of the leaves.

Nasturtiums: we can break this word up into Nasus (as in nasal, nose and nasty) and torquere (which means “to twist” as in the words tourniquet and torture). Nasturtiums have a very peppery taste and when you eat them you twist your nose.

Pansies. That name comes from the French, pensee, the word for thought as in pensive. To some one the flowers resemble a little human face, frowning as if in deep thought.

And finally orchids. Ah one of the most beautiful of all plants, it does not take its name from the exquisiteness of the flower but because of the shape of the roots. In some European species the plant has twin bulbs that reminded someone of testicles. And “orkhis” is the ancient Greek word for those body parts. This uncanny resemblance between orchids and male testicles gave rise to the belief that they were powerful aphrodisiacs. Maybe that is why orchids are so popular as teenage corsages on the big prom night.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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December 1, 2010