History in Bloom ; MONITOR QUIZ

By Kendall, Nancy M. | The Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 2000 | Go to article overview

History in Bloom ; MONITOR QUIZ


Kendall, Nancy M., The Christian Science Monitor


You can tell a daisy by its petals and a rose by its scent. But can you identify a blooming plant by its history or legend?

1. Legend has it that trading ships full of these exotic Turkish bulbs (no, not tulips) were wrecked off the coast of Holland. Crates broke open and the bulbs washed ashore, where they rooted and grew. A less-colorful, but more accurate, tale gives the credit to a German doctor, Leonhardt Rauwolf. He collected samples of them on his visit to Turkey in 1573 and brought them back to Europe. The plants became very valued, though the demand for them never reached the mania that surrounded tulips (also from Turkey) in 1600s Holland. Still, the Dutch had developed more than 2,000 varieties of the fragrant spring bloom by the 1700s. To the ancient Greeks, the flower's name originally applied to a blue gem, probably a sapphire.

2. As American pioneers moved West, they had to leave their cherished ornamental plants back East. To supply the homesteaders' hankering, plant peddlers began traveling. The peddlers sold plants and seeds door to door. A popular one was this droopy, heart-shaped flower whose Greek name, Dicentra, means "two spurs" Some 150 varieties of this flower are found in North America, western Asia, and the Himalayas. But the most popular type descends from a single plant brought to England in 1846 from the Chinese island of Chusan by an English botanist named Robert Fortune. Turned upside down, the flower looks like "a lady in the bath" or a "lady's locket," its other names.

3. Its name means "rainbow" in Greek. Varieties of this flower grow around the world. Occasionally, it can be found growing on roofs in Japan. Years ago, when the Japanese were forbidden to grow "unofficial flowers" in their gardens, gardeners placed them on their rooftops. In England, the flower was nicknamed "flag," after the Middle English verb that means "to flutter," because it flutters in the wind. In France, the flower is sometimes known as the "fleur- de-lis" (flur duh lee, or "flower of the lily"). The fleur-de-lis is also the name of a design that represents a white type of this flower. It appeared as a design on the scepters of Egyptian rulers in 1500 BC, and was also carved on the brow of the Sphinx. It became the symbol of the kings of France in the 1100s.

4. The genus name for this flower (Convallaria) comes from the Latin word for "valley," which may be the original home of the plant in Eurasia. Sprigs of the blossoms are worn on lapels on May Day in France. In Scandinavia, it's a good omen to find these "tears" in the woods on a spring day. In this country, the flowers are commonly included in bridal bouquets and considered the fifth thing that a bride should carry - along with things that are "old, new, borrowed, and blue."

5. Great Britain's Queen Anne, who reigned from 1665 to 1714, was especially fond of a particular kind of trumpet-shaped flower. She did excellent needlework and wove patterns of its blossom into carpets, tapestries, and dresses.

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