Another Bouquet of Flowers and the Origins of their Names

In celebration of summer, here is another seasonal bouquet.

Carnation. Does “carnation” have something to do with “incarnation” or ‘becoming flesh’? Some etymologists think so. “Carnation” is an obsolete shortened form of “incarnation” used as recently as 1993 by Gore Vidal: “If you had no recollection of any previous incarnations, what was the point? For all practical purposes the first carnation was extinct when it died.” The word was used from the 16th through 19th centuries to mean ‘flesh color,’ the light rosy pink of Europeans’ skin, to the deeper crimson resembling raw flesh or meat.

Other etymologists, however, believe the flower was originally called “coronation” from its use in crowning wreaths or from its spiky petals that resemble little crowns.

Dahlia sounds like the name of a Greek wood nymph, but the flower is a native of Mexico and was declared the country’s national flower in 1963. It was introduced to Europe in 1789 and named for Swedish botanist Anders Dahl.

Delphinium takes its name from the Latin word “delphis,” meaning ‘dolphin,’ from the shape of the buds.

Foxglove. The “glove” part is easy to understand: the flowers resemble the fingers of a glove. The botanical name, Digitalis, also refers to fingers. The “fox” part mystifies etymologists, though.

Hydrangea comes from modern Latin, from Greek hudro– ‘water’ + angeion ‘vessel’ (from the cup shape of its seed capsule).

Lavender. See earlier discussion here.

Orchid. “Carnation” may have a carnal origin, but what about “orchid.” Its name is derived from the Greek orchis, ‘testicle’ in reference to the bulbous shape of its roots.

Orchid photo by Elena Chochkova (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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