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The name daisy comes from “day’s eye” because the flower is only open during the day and closes up at night. ~Wikipedia
Spring is just around the corner and already I am anticipating the flowers. On my daily drive to work I pass through upland forest, small wetlands, open pastures and river bottom. There’s a bowl-shaped pond at the top of the mountain and a rocky outcrop below. Or on my walks I might pass a shale barren, or meander through a high mountain meadow, or follow a cold spring-fed creek. All of these locations support different flowers whose names I shout happily as they appear.
After I’ve greeted them, I add the flowers to the running list I sing in my head as spring creeps ever closer: coltsfoot, bloodroot, trillium, Dutchman’s breeches, Virginia bluebell, trout lily, spring beauty, Jack in the pulpit, redbud, violet, dogwood. It’s an anthem of hope to my winter-weary soul.
But, while the common names of flowers and other plants can be descriptive, they can also be deceptive. Brown-eyed Susan, brown Betty, gloriosa daisy, golden Jerusalem, English bull’s eye, poor-land daisy, yellow daisy and yellow ox-eye daisy are all names for what I call a black-eyed Susan. Trillium is also known as wake robin, birth root and tri flower. Each name is regional, making it hard to talk about flowers with faraway friends.
And, as my editor often has to point out to me, common names are also really hard to capitalize. I mess them up frequently. Usually they are lower case, but as you can see in my list above, that’s not always true.
So, with spring just around the corner, I have set out to learn the Latin names of my flowery friends. When I see marsh marigold, I’ll say, “Good morning, Caltha palustrus.” And, I’ll sing, “Welcome Cypripedium parviflorum,” when I see the sweet yellow lady slipper peeking out from under the winter brown duff.
Some of the scientific names are easy to remember because they refer to places of origin. Iris virginica (Virginia blueflag) is native to Virginia as are Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells) and Silene virginica (fire pink). Other names like Trillium grandiflorum contain clues to the flower’s appearance. Trillium refers to the number three, which describes the distinct three-petaled flower and grandiflorum makes me think of something big. The flowers of trilliums are indeed showy.
As at least many of you know, there’s a system to the scientific naming of flowers. They are called by a combination of their genus and species. Flowers that share the same genus have common characteristics that distinguish them from other flowers while those with the same species name have other things in common. Any flower with the species name alba is white. Likewise, purpurea means purple and rubrum means red.