Have you ever wondered where plants get their names?
You may have noticed these bright bunches around the neighbourhood. The name comes from Greek roots rhodon ‘rose’ and dendron ‘tree’.
Speaking of roses, this case of etymology is one of my favourites. Did you know that the Arabic الوردة / alwarda and the English rose have the same root? The words trace back to a common source, through Ancient Greek rhodon or wrodon, to Old Persian wrda, to Sogdian ward.
This flower with edible bulbs has been an important food source for Coast Salish people, including those on Vancouver Island. I understand that the name comes from Nez Perce, an Indigenous language, and means ‘sweet’.
Here is a funny one. The name is from French dent-de-lion, literally “teeth of a lion,” because of the shape of the jagged leaves. Funnily enough, the French now call the flower pissenlit (something about it being a diuretic).
A friend taught me to remember the name by imagining little foxes wearing the flowers as gloves. Apparently folk tales described foxes using the flowers on their paws to silently hunt their prey. The Latin name, digitalis, refers to the fact that you can stick your finger in, or that the flowers themselves look like flowers. In German, this flower is a fingerhut, a thimble for your finger. But be careful – they are poisonous!
From Old English dæges ēage ‘day’s eye’, because the flower opens in the morning and closes at night. Apparently in Medieval Latin it was solis oculus ‘sun’s eye,’, which also sounds very cool.
Finally, my favourite case of flower etymology. The story I read is that a Western flower collector misunderstood a Turkish person, who described the shape of the lale (‘tulip’ in Turkish) as something like a türban ‘turban’, which became tulipan (still ‘tulip’ in Spanish and Polish), before someone dropped the -an, mistaking it for a suffix.