Flower names and their etymology

While waiting for the warm season, full of flowers, we can have fun with the etymology of some flower names.

The tulip comes from the Middle East. In Persian it was called lâle, hence the Romanian word lalea. And during the Ottoman Empire, when the head was covered with a turban (tülbend) that resembled a tulip flower, the words tulip and turban were introduced in English, both having the same Turkish root.

The azalea is also called rhododendron, which in Greek means „tree with roses” (rhodon = rose, dendron = tree). In fact, this Asian plant (the national flower of Nepal) is a shrub (not a tree) and it is definitely not a rose. Azaleas grow on dry land, and azaleos means “on dry land” in Greek.

A similar flower is alstroemeria, which is named after the Swedish baron Klas von Alstroemer. It is also called the „Aztec lily.” There are plenty of such flowers that have been named after different personalities: dahlia from Anders Dahl, a Swedish botanist; magnolia from Pierre Magnol, a French botanist; gardenia after an American botanist named Alexander Garden, zinnia after the German botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn. In many Mediterranean or warm countries there is a plant with beautiful flowers of different colors, bougainvillea (named after the French navigator Louis Antoine de Bougainville).

Dandelions come from the French „dent de lion” (lion tooth).

Iris was a Greek (rainbow) goddess – iris means „rainbow” in Greek. The goddess Iris traveled along the rainbow to bring messages to earth.

Gladiola has a name of Latin origin (gladius = sword, hence the word „gladiator” as well), because its leaves are long and sword-shaped.

Autumn is the season of chrysanthemums. In Greek, khrusanthemon means golden flower (khrusos/gold and anthemon/flower).

In winter, Poinsettia is popular, and it was named after the first American ambassador to Mexico – Joel Roberts Poinsett. He introduced the plant in the USA in the 1820s.

Behind words there are other interesting words and etymologies, which we can discover while studying foreign languages.


Source: thefreedictionary, wikipedia and DER (Romanian Etymological Dictionary)

Article by Nadia Esslim


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