Book Review: 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names, by Diana Wells

100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names will not make you a better gardener, but it should make you a more amused and informed gardener. And it may provide you with the material for some witty or scholarly remarks you could mention casually at next summer’s garden walks.

diana wells
Diana Wells

Diana Wells provides brief, entertaining, and erudite background on the names of 100 popular garden plants. Often she adds tidbits about people with whom said plants are associated.

Here are a few samples:

Do Nasturtiums make your nose wrinkle?
Do Nasturtiums make your nose wrinkle?
  • The name Nasturtium (Tropaeolum) comes from the Latin for “twisted nose”. This is because the pungent smell makes some people wrinkle their noses.
  • For centuries Yarrow was used medicinally, for example to slow bleeding. The botanical name, Achillea, derives from Achilles using the plant to treat his soldiers’ wounds. The common name comes from the Anglo-Saxon gaerwe, meaning to prepare, as people thought Yarrow could prevent illness.
Hyacinth 'Blue Jacket': grew from a bloody head wound? I wonder if wild Hyacinths were mostly red.
Hyacinth ‘Blue Jacket’ doesn’t look like it grew from a bloody head wound. I wonder if wild Hyacinths were mostly red.
  • The subject of bleeding leads me to Hyacinth (Hyacinthus), a beautiful youth loved by Apollo. Unfortunately, the young man received an accidental but fatal head wound. While dying in Apollo’s arms, a flower grew from Hyacinth’s bloody forehead. Apollo’s lovers had a habit of turning into plants. Maybe he should have tried to get them covered under his insurance.
King Clovis of the Franks: saved by irises?
King Clovis of the Franks: saved by irises?
  • Iris are named after a messenger of the gods in Greek mythology. The fleur-de-lis is actually an iris (I always thought it was a Lily). Irises growing in the water enabled King Clovis of the Franks to identify a shallow river crossing he used to escape hostile Goths. After that it was the symbol of the Kings of France. Louis VII had irises on his banners during the Crusades. They were called fleur de luis, which then became fleur-de-lis.

If this is the kind of thing you appreciate, then read 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names. If it isn’t, then I have nothing for you at the moment.

Now here’s a totally unrelated question. Has anyone else discovered that WordPress no longer allows you to word searches of your photo gallery? All of a sudden all I can do is call them up by month of posting.

32 Comments on “Book Review: 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names, by Diana Wells”

  1. Hi Jason. I’ve got this book too! Great for dipping into over dark winter evenings! I just checked and found you are right about the wordpress search for photos changing. How annoying. I wonder if there’s any alternative way to find photos… must take a look later as I used that search feature often.

  2. Fun and interesting. You inadvertently made me understand the Italian word for hyacinth which is giacinta (pronounced giàchinta). If the ‘h’ is missing (doesn’t exist in the Italian alphabet and the ‘y’ which they also don’t use sounds like a soft ‘g’ (as the ‘j’ in justice) and of course ‘th’ is another problem so ‘t’ then the word is the same! I hadn’t thought of it just hearing the word or seeing it written in Italian. So thank you Jason.

  3. This type of book sounds interesting and fun to me–the kind I like to pick up and read parts of now and then. I already knew some of the mythological origins like iris, hyacinth, and narcissus, just from reading those myths, but I’ve often wondered about others. Like lungwort–such an ugly name for a pretty plant.

  4. Thank you. I love this sort of book. I will look out for it. For Rose’ s question: the name Lungwort came about because it was used to treat lung diseases. The blotched leaves were thought to look like diseased lungs. According to the Doctrine of Signatures, God made a plant look like an organ of the body that it would cure.

  5. What a fascinating and interesting book, I love facts and myths connected to plants, I used to write them down when I came across them then gave up when I filled about thirty notebooks….sighs….blog problems have been a pain for me recently….I can search but maybe that’s because I have my own website?xxx

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