National Geographic : 1947 Jul
Europe Contributed Flowers and Words EUROPEAN languages changed and devel oped as ideas and vocabularies enlarged through the broader contacts with other peo ples. Yet, although often greatly modified, the names for familiar objects still contained word roots derived from their former association with folklore and ancient uses, as well as indi cations of the early sources of the names them selves. These still are reflected in the modern names of many of our common garden plants. FOXGLOVE (Digitalis purpurea): So popu lar is this decorative garden plant with its dramatic spikes of flowers in varied colors that we sometimes forget that it also is the source of the ancient and still much used medicine, digitalis. In the Old English folklore this plant was called Foxes glofa, a poetical and fanciful term which means the same as the modern name. STOCK or GILLIFLOWER (Matthiola in cana): In its wild form this species is a coarse shrubby perennial with single reddish or dull purplish flowers. A sprig of the original red dish wild type is shown in the lower central part of the opposite plate. Through the years another form of this plant has been selected and now is the one usually grown. This is the variety annua, or Ten-week-stock, which comes in various colors and degrees of dou bling, several of which are shown in the central part of the plate. The name Stock-which seems to be only a few centuries old-probably was derived from the fancied resemblance of the stiffly flared petals to the distinctive collars, called "stocks," which men used to wear. The name Gilli flower, also often applied to this plant, has had a much longer history. We first pick it up in the Greek as kaudphullon or "carinate-leaf," a name applied to some plant (possibly the progenitor of our modern Carnation) whose "leaves were shaped like the keel of a boat." The Romans conquered the Greeks and ab sorbed many of their words. This one was among those taken and, with their own lin guistic modifications, applied to plants with similar leaves. The Roman legionaries marched into Gaul and carried the equivalent Latin word with them, where it was taken up by the native peoples, further modified, and applied to various plants, among them being what we now call the Clove Pink or Carnation, Wallflower, Stock, and doubtless others. By that time the original Greek name had been so changed and mutilated by its passage through classical Latin into the everyday Latin of the common people, and from thence into the early French language, that it had become "Giroflee." With a curious transposition of the "r" and "1," the word got into England, where it seems first to have appeared as "Gilofre." By later modification this became "Gilofer." As the language developed, "Gilofer" gradually changed, probably into "Giloflor," then "Gili flour," and finally "Gilliflower," which, in its modern English compound form, means noth ing at all. However, it stands as a constant reminder of the devious routes and curious changes through which so many of our English words have come to us. WALLFLOWER (CheiranthusCheiri): Origi nally a native of southern Europe where the climate is seasonally warm and dry, this little plant did not favor the cooler and moister soils of the more northern regions. However, as man began to build houses, castles, and earth works in central and northern Europe, their walls afforded sunny nooks with warm and dry niches where this little weed could flourish, and so it migrated northward. The origin of the common name, therefore, is obvious. A single tuft of the wild form of the Wallflower is shown toward the right margin of the plate. It now is cultivated in various colors; double flowered forms also are known. Both the Stock and Wallflower are members of the Mustard, or Crucifer Family. The word "crucifer" refers to the crosslike appearance of the four petals of the usual wild type of flower. The word "mustard" traces back to a time when this ancient condiment, derived from yet another member of this large family of plants, was prepared by mixing it with "must," or new, unfermented wine. SWEET SCABIOUS (Scabiosa atropurpurea): Of the many colors in which this species is now grown, only three are shown here, the blue, deep red, and pink. The deep purple (almost black) forms are often called Mourning Brides. The plant also is sometimes called Pincushion flower, but the old name Scabious still seems to be preferred, a linguistic legacy of that lusty period in our history when bathing was both a luxury and a social affectation. In those days an old European garden was not complete without its plot of Scabious; the flowers may have been pretty, but the plant was more valued as a cure for the "scabious," or itch. Here in this charming modern garden plant we have a reminder of a rather earthy and unwashed period in our ancestral history, as well as a link with the language of the past.