A Bouquet of Flower Names and their Origins

In celebration of spring, here’s a little mixed bouquet of flower-name etymologies.

The starburst-shaped aster gets its name from Latin aster, which stems fromGreek στήρ meaning ‘star.’ (An asterisk is a little star < Latin asteriscus, < Greek στερίσκος, diminutive of στήρ star.)

Daisy goes back to Old English dæges éage ‘day’s eye, eye of day,’ from the appearance of the flower, and because it closes the ray, concealing the yellow disk, in the evening, and opens again in the morning.

Gladiolus comes Latin (diminutive of gladius sword, which is also the source of gladiator). The Roman naturalist Pliny used the term as a plant name.

Pansy < Middle French pensée (1460–6; French pensée ‘thought.’ The flower is called pensée in French and the equivalent, pensamiento, in Spanish, but just what is so thoughtful about this particular flower is unclear.

The bright yellow sunflower (Helianthus annuus)that the world associates with Van Gogh is a native of North America named for its resemblance to a radiant sun. The name is translated from the modern Latin flōs sōlis. Because of the belief that these flowers exhibit “heliotropism,” or turning to face the sun as it moves across the sky, they are called “girasole” in Italian, from girare, ‘to turn; + sole, ‘sun.’

Helianthus Californicus, Judith Herman

The Jerusalem artichoke is not an artichoke, but the edible tuber of a sunflower, Helianthus tuberosis. And it’s not from the Middle East. “Jerusalem” is from girasole.

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3 Responses to A Bouquet of Flower Names and their Origins

  1. Daisy is one of my favorite etymologies: so poetic, yet hidden by the change in pronunciation of the final vowel.

    • lexiekahn says:

      Yes, I agree. As I almost said in my post about contractions, we think of people in the distant past as being rigidly formal or so absorbed in their struggle for existence that they had no time for humor or poetry. Obviously not so.

  2. hrishi says:

    gladiyolas i like them,which is always available in almost evey where in world and we live in dubai uae,where everything costly.

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