Flowers' Florid Tales


If you saw a photograph of a common flower, chances are you could identify it. But can you identify it (eyes closed, now) only by its etymology? Try these:

1. This flower of the iris family was named after a Roman soldier's short sword (the Latin word is "gladius") because its spikes of large blossoms and long, narrow leaves resemble swords.

2. The name for this popular spring flower comes from the Turkish "tulbend," or turban, because of the blossom's fanciful resemblance to the Muslim headdress, or possibly because the flower was commonly tucked into the folds of turbans. It was first cultivated as a garden flower in Turkey, not Holland.

3. It used to be called windflower, or Daughter of the Wind, because it can only open at the wind's bidding, according to the Roman scholar Pliny. Typically, it grew on windy sites. Hence, its name derives from the Greek word for wind, "anemos." Its blossoms may be the "lilies of the field" of the New Testament.

4. "Chryso" and "anthos" (Greek for "golden flower") is the word origin for a big fluffy flower that was permitted only in imperial gardens in ancient Japan."The order of the c______" is the highest honor the emperor can bestow. ("Kiku" is the flower's name in Japanese.)

5. Its name comes from the Latin "columba," meaning "dove." Its blossoms, when held upside down, resemble a ring of doves. The petals are the birds' wings. In early religious art, this flower represented the dove of peace, or the Holy Ghost.

6. This "day's eye" was named by Anglo-Saxons who noticed that the flower closes its petals at night and opens them at sunrise. There's an old English saying that spring has not arrived until you set foot on 12 of these flowers.

7. Next to the rose, this flower was a favorite of the ancient Greeks, who wore garlands of them on festival days. Shakespeare mentioned the shy bloom no fewer than 18 times. It was a favorite with Napoleon, too, who is said to have presented a bouquet of them to Josephine on their anniversary. Like the rose, this flower also denotes a color.


(1) gladiolus; (2) tulip; (3) anemone; (4) chrysanthemum; (5) columbine; (6) daisy; (7) violet.

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