Sometimes a plant's proper name is embedded, if not camouflaged, in its title. Many are tagged in honor of a "plant guy," including:
Fuchsia: Leonhart Fuchs, a 16th-century botanist who wrote a definitive book on using plants for medicinal purposes. (The color fuchsia wasn't coined until 1859.)
Gardenia: No, gardens aren't named after this shrub, nor it after garden. It's named for Dr. Alexander Garden, a Scottish physician and botanist who lived in Charleston, S.C., in the mid-18th century but was banished back to his homeland after siding with the Brits in the Revolutionary War.
Rudbeckia: Two botany professors at Sweden's Uppsala University, Olaf Rudbeck the Younger and Olaf Rudbeck the Elder.
Zinnia: Johann Gottfried Zinn, an 18th-century botanist and anatomist who provided the first detailed anatomy of the human eye.
Other annuals and perennials named after botanists: dahlia (Sweden's Anders Dahl), forsythia (Scotland's William Forsyth), gerbera (Germany's Traugott Gerber), heuchera (Germany's Johann Heinrich von Heucher), lobelia (Belgium's Matthias de Lobel) and magnolia (Pierre Magnol).
The power of myth
Some plant names are based on ancient mythology:
Achillea: Achilles, the Homeric hero who purportedly gave this plant to his soldiers to help stop the bleeding from wounds during the Trojan War.
Artemisia: Artemis, the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, the wilderness and wild animals.
Aster: Asterea, the Greek goddess of the starry sky (known as Virgo in Roman mythology).
Cypress: Cyparissus, a grandson of Hercules who mistakenly killed a holy deer and asked to be killed and reincarnated as something whose tears would roll down eternally. The gods turned him into a cypress tree, aka the "tree of sorrow."
Iris: Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow and a messenger of Zeus and Hera, who would bring missives from the "eye of Heaven" to Earth. The word "iris" translates as "eye of heaven," and a portion of our eyes also bears their name.
Narcissus: Narcissus, the handsome Greek youth who died while gazing at his own reflection.
Orchid: Orchis, the son of a nymph and satyr, who was torn apart by wild beasts, metamorphosing into a slender plant. (It's perhaps worth noting that "orchis" also is the Greek word for testicle.)
Some favorites honor non-botanic types with interesting back stories:
Begonia: Michel Bégon, a governor of the French colony of Haiti and the primary builder of the French port city of Rochefort.
Bougainvillea: Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a French explorer who discovered the plant in South America. Bougainville played a key part in the colonists' Battle of Chesapeake victory in the Revolutionary War and led the first recorded settlement of the Falkland Islands.
Nicotiana: Jean Nicot, a 16th-century French diplomat best known for arranging a royal marriage between 5- and 6-year-olds in Portugal until presenting the queen mother, Catherine de Medici, with tobacco leaves that cured her migraines. Yes, nicotine also is named for him; talk about a mixed legacy. BILL WARD