Flower names are a popular topic, so I picked a bouquet of wildflowers on my recent trip to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. (That’s “picked” as in “selected.” I believe in the motto, “Take only pictures; leave only footprints.”)
Blue columbine, the state flower of Colorado, takes its name from the French colombine, in medieval Latin columbīna, ‘dove’s plant.’ The inverted flower is said to resemble five pigeons clustered together. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “The horned nectaries suggested to an earlier age allusions to cuckoldry.” The dictionary cites Ophelia’s “mad scene” in Hamlet, in which she strews fennel, columbines and rue.
The flower of Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja) looks like the bristles of a paintbrush freshly dipped into paint. It paints the countryside in a wide number of hues, mostly red, orange and purple, but also yellow and even yellow-green.
Here’s a wild strawberry blossom. It’s uncertain what strawberries have to do with straw. The words for strawberry in other Germanic languages have no reference to straw. One (far-fetched, I think) explanation is that the little seed-like “achenes” on the surface of the fruit resemble particles of straw. A more plausible hypothesis is that the runners look like straw.
Photo credits: columbine, paintbrush & wild strawberry, Judith B. Herman; fireweed, John Wessel