|Pieris japonica 'Bisbee Dwarf'|
I love plant name origins, especially those derived from Roman and Greek mythology. Often, however, the myth has absolutely nothing to do with the plant, while sometimes it does. Andromeda, (Pieris), for example, was the daughter of the Aethiopian king Cepheus and his wife Cassiopeia. When C. leads her to boast that A. is more beautiful than the Nereids, Poseidon sends the sea-monster Cetus to ravage Andromeda while she is chained to a rock...to administer divine punishment. The dangling flower panicles of Pieris are said to resemble a chain, so in this case you can imagine a connection. On the other hand Dionaea, the “Venus fly trap” is named for Dione, the mother of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Dione was also the mother of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, but sometimes she is also identified with Aphrodite. Confusing, but then what do these love goddesses have to do with a carnivorous plant?
Linnaeus named over 8,000 plants, but only one plant was named for him – Linnaea borealis* – and that name was bestowed by his teacher and friend Jan Frederick Gronovious. The circumboreal “twin flower” in the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae) is a modest groundcover and Linnaeus falsely humbled himself when he wrote: “Linnaea was named by the celebrated Gronovious and is a plant of Lapland, lowly, insignificant and disregarded, flowering for a brief space – from Linnaeus who resembles it.”
*I was surprised to find that Linnaea is placed in the same family (Caprifoliaceae) as Lonicera, the honeysuckles, in fact surprised that Linnaea is even included in the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs. While Lonicera contains many climbers it can also be a woody shrub. It was named by Linnaeus for Adam Lonicer, a 16th century German naturalist.
|Camellia x 'Water Lily'|
|Georg Joseph Kamel|
I'll probably never have a plant genus named after me, and definitely not if I found it myself. It would be an honor if someone else named something for me...as long as it was a pleasant, agreeable plant, and not something that had a bad odor or prickly thorns. Camellia is a nice evergreen genus in the Theaceae family. Linnaeus named it for Georg Joseph Kamel (or Latin Camellus 1661- 1706) a Jesuit of Moravia who traveled in Asia. Besides his holy pursuits he was a renowned pharmacist and naturalist who produced the first accounts of the flora and fauna of the Philippines. He died in Manila at age 45 from a disease whose symptoms included diarrhea, so he was famous for curing others but failed to fix himself.
Botanist William Botting Hemsley (1843-1924) was in the right place at the right time to document some of plant-explorer Ernest Henry (“Chinese”) Wilson's plant introductions from China. Sinowilsonia henryi is one-such, a monotypic genus related to the witch hazels and which was brought into cultivation in 1908. It flowers in May monoeciously, but since the flowers are not as showy as the Hamamelis genus Sinowilsonia is rarely encountered in horticulture. The specific name henryi honors Augustine Henry, an Irish customs officer/botanist who spent 20 difficult years a thousand miles into the heart of China. He survived malaria, boredom, loneliness and the death of his first wife. When he botanized he employed Chinese helpers and through them he could record the native names and applications for plants used in folk medicine. Henry sent to Kew about 150,000 dried specimens which included over 5,000 new species. He encouraged Kew-trained E.H. Wilson to seek out the “Dove tree,” Davidia involucrata.
|Magnolia x 'Kiki's Broom'|
Magnolia was named by Linnaeus in honor of Pierre Magnol, a professor of botany and medicine at Montpellier in the 16th century. Magnol's father was an apothecary and his mother came from a family of physicians, but he concluded that “it would be very advantageous to make a serious study of plants” before practicing medicine. His reputation grew rapidly and soon he was corresponding with many French and foreign botanists. A hundred years before Linnaeus, he was serious to promote interest in botany which he thought was highly neglected by educated people. Magnol is credited as the first to use the term “family” in the sense of a natural group of plants.
The Frenchman Etienne Soulange-Bodin (1774-1846) was a biologist and botanist and is commemorated by his hybrid Magnolia, x soulangeana (M. denudata with M. liliiflora). He was impressed with the offspring's first flowering in 1826 which were precocious, and today the hybrid is one of the most commonly used flowering trees in Europe and America. His botanical career was interrupted due to service as an officer in Napoleon's army. After reflecting on all the pointless carnage from the Napoleonic Wars, Soulange supposedly said, “We would all have been better off staying home to grow our cabbages.” I agree, and it is certainly better to make Magnolia hybrids than war.
Speaking of Napoleon, his first wife was Marie Josephine Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, who is honored with the “Chilean bellflower,” Lapageria rosea, and it is the national flower of Chile. It is an evergreen climbing plant that can grow up to 98' (30m) into trees, and it is pollinated by hummingbirds. The connection with Empress Josephine is that she was a collector of plants for her garden at Chateau de Malmaison*, however it was the English collector William Lobb who first introduced it to Europe. I used to grow the non-hardy vine in our fun house. I had a dozen plants that were raised from seed and one produced white flowers. I was encouraged that they grew well in the protected house, but I overzealously potted them into small 7” wood boxes. They hated the move and all went into decline where they wouldn't live but wouldn't die either. After a couple years of impasse I finally grew disgusted and threw them all out.
*Josephine modelled her garden with winding paths and informal shapes as opposed to the formal style of Versailles. Napoleon thought: “How silly to spend fortunes creating little lakes, little rocks and little rivers...” and he preferred the uncontrived woods. During the Napoleonic Wars ships carrying specimens for Josephine were allowed free passage, and between 1803 and 1814 she introduced hundreds of species of plants to Europe.
|Banksia spinulosa 'Red Rock'|
Empress Josephine was enthusiastic about Australian plants, and even Englishman Joseph Banks contributed to the French-Australian connection. It is perhaps a lesson for today that plant exchange can trump national competition, that growing cabbages and collecting trees brings a greater reward than creating empires.* Joseph Banks – ultimately Sir Joseph Banks – took part in Captain James Cook's first great voyage (1768-1771), visiting Brazil, Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia and later sent botanists around the world to collect plants. He made Kew the world's leading botanical garden of the time, maybe of all time. The interesting genus of Banksia was named in his honor and it consists of about 170 species in the family Proteaceae, and though not hardy for me I enjoy seeing them in arboreta such as the Santa Cruz (California) Botanical Garden.
|Alexander von Humboldt|
*For example: Banks met the young Alexander von Humboldt in 1790, when Banks was President of the Royal Society. Before Humboldt and his scientific travel companion Bonpland left on their 5-year expedition to America and South America, Banks arranged for plant specimens to be sent to himself, believing in the internationalism of science. Banks appears in the historical novel Mutiny on the Bounty and also in Patrick O'Brian's sea novel Post Captain.
On the Cook voyage, when in Brazil, Banks encountered and made the first scientific description of Bougainvillea, named for Cook's French counterpart, Louis Antoine de Bougainville. It is also a vine (or bush or tree) with flower-like leaves. De B. (1729-1811) was a French admiral and explorer and was the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the world in 1763. It is possible that the first European to observe Bougainvillea was Jeanne Bare who was an expert in botany. As a woman, she was not allowed on the ship and so disguised herself as a man in order to make the journey...and thus became the first woman to circumnavigate the world.
Paulownia 'Purple Splendour'
Paulownia is commonly called the “Empress tree” as it was named by Philipp von Siebold for Anna Paulowna (1795-1865), a Russian-born princess of The Netherlands. She was the daughter of Tsar Paul I of Russia and in the mixed-up world of royalty at the time it's uncertain why the German-born botanist and explorer Siebold felt compelled to honor the Russian daughter, except that he was a physician in the Dutch military service and eventually introduced many new plants from Japan into Holland. In fact there is speculation that Siebold brought the first Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum' to Boskoop, The Netherlands, one of which is the largest known to exist at Esveld. As for Anna, at one point Napoleon I of France asked for her hand (and more!) in marriage, but her mother managed to delay her reply long enough for N. to lose interest. Later she married the Prince of Orange who would become King William II of the Netherlands. Though intelligent, she was considered a royal bitch, arrogant and distant from the public and one who possessed a violent temper. My interest in the genus isn't because of the crabby princess, but rather for the tree's interesting bark, and because my sweet wife took happy shelter under a P. fargesii leaf during a sudden shower.
I lament that at my nursery Begonia would be mixed up with Bignonia and that Amsonia would be confused with Amasonia. See: look at those spellings again, and be sure that all four are very different plants. I named my eldest daughter Sonya – yep! – in the Russian style because I fell for the girls in Russian novels where the “y” would be dragged out to a long yyyyy...a. I even teased to name a plant, 'Sonya Begonia', but I never did. Instead I named a variegated Xanthocyparis nootkatensis 'Laura Aurora', but it turned out that it – the plant – wasn't stable. Amsonia was named for the Scientific explorer Charles Amson, and the species tabernaemonteana was named for the German herbalist J.T. Tabernaemontanus, and God – what a wonderful last name! You all have probably grown or admired Begonias, a genus named for Michael Begon, a French botanist. Bignonia, however, is a flowering plant in the Catalpa family (Bignoniaceae) and was named for Jean-Paul Bignon, a famous French preacher.
|Henri de Saussure|
|Ferdinand de Saussure|
I have never grown, and have seen Saussurea gossypiphora only once in my life, and that was at 14,000' in the Indian Himalaya where we hunkered-down for two days in a snowstorm. The herbaceous perennial is known as the “snowball plant,” and it was one of the strangest, most fascinating creatures that I've ever seen. When I returned home I researched and was surprised that it's in the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and is known as Kasturi Kamal in Hindi. It is used medicinally where the wool is applied to cuts – they seal and stop the bleeding. The genus was named for the Swiss de Saussures, father and son alpine explorers and scientists. The specific name gossypiphora is a fancy way of saying “wool bearing.”
|Lagerstroemia fauriei 'Townhouse'|
|Magnus von Lagerstroem|
|Urbain Jean Faurie|
Magnus von Lagerstroem (1696-1759) was a Swedish naturalist and friend of Linnaeus. He stayed home and never visited Asia, nevertheless he was Director of the Swedish East India Company and in that role he was able to obtain natural history items from India and China, and one such Linnaeus named Lagerstroemia indica. I have admired the Japanese version of “Crepe myrtle,” L. fauriei, in others' gardens but I have never grown the straight species – only hybrids with L. indica – and in any case it is only the bark that I care for. The flowers of the genus are preposterously gaudy but sometimes the leaves will present you with spectacular autumn color. But the bark – as with the disgusting Eucalyptus genus – can make you actually want to stick one in your garden. The fauriei specific name is for the Abbe Urbain Jean Faurie, a 19th century missionary and botanist in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. The photo above is of an unnamed species or hybrid from the Dallas Botanic Garden, and I find the trunks of the two women to also be particularly attractive.
Dr. William Darlington (1782-1863) for whom Darlingtonia californica was named, was a physician, botanist, banker and a US Congressman from Pennsylvania. He was among the first to advocate for a National Arboretum. He was President of the West Chester bank and David Townsend (1787-1858), another botanist to whom Sir William Hooker dedicated a genus, was the bank cashier for more than 30 years. There was a likeness of each genus painted in fresco in the bank over the doors of the president's and cashier's rooms. Darlington said that he would rather have a genus named after him than “a marble column one hundred feet high on the Place Vendome at Paris.” Darlingtonia californica is the “West coast pitcher plant,” sometimes called a “Cobra lily,” a carnivorous plant native to Oregon and northern California growing in bogs with cold running water. It was discovered in 1841 near Mt. Shasta and was scientifically described by John Torrey of Pinus torreyana fame. The Townsendia genus is from western North America in the Asteraceae family, and so completely different from Darlingtonia. It's amazing that two botanists from one bank are plant famous. At my bank they think my “nursery” is a day-care for kids, and no one working there has ever touched a tree.
John Torrey is the botanist who is commemorated with Pinus torreyana. The species isn't particularly attractive, but it is the most rare in the United States, restricted to a small area north of San Diego, California on buttes above the Pacific Ocean and also on one of the Channel Islands west of Santa Barbara, California. It has been classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN. The needles are in fascicles of five, unusual for a “yellow” pine. The species was named by Englishman Charles Parry who was a student botanist of Torrey.
|Joao R. Cabrilho|
California is referred to as the “Golden State,” but the name has nothing to do with the Gold Rush of 1849. In 1542-43 Portuguese-born Joao Rodrigues Cabrilho was the first European to explore the coast of the present state of California, and he noticed golden hillsides from his ship. These were Eschscholzia californica, the “California poppy,” which was named for the German/Russian botanist Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz (1793-1831). Mr. E. was one of the earliest scientific explorers of the Pacific region and he collected flora and fauna in Alaska, California and Hawaii. His botanical collections were published as Descriptiones Plantarum Novae Californiae in 1826, the first scientific description of California's flora and the first reference to California in the title of a scientific paper. It was his friend and colleague Adelbert von Chamisso who named the poppy in his honor.
Just about everybody mentioned in this blog was above average in intelligence, maybe with the exception of the crabby Anna Paulowna, so I don't begrudge them the honor of having a plant genus name. The Place Vendome that Dr. Darlington refers to was built on the orders of Louis XIV, then Napoleon replaced the statue of the king with a bronze column made from 1,200 enemy cannons.