Guest Author - Nikki Phipps
Did you know that flower bulbs were once used as currency in Holland? Were you aware that Americans plant over a billion bulbs each year? The beautiful Gladiolus, do you know how this stately bulb got its name? A Roman scientist from the first century A.D. came upon the flower and was so enraptured by the resemblance between the sheath of the flower and the weapon carried by Roman soldiers that he decided to call the flower “gladiolus,” derived from the Latin word “gladius,” which means sword. Do you know how the “baboon flower” got its name? Its genus Babiana is derived from the Dutch word "baviaantje," meaning little baboon, and alludes to observations made by early colonists who noticed that baboons were very partial to the corms, often digging them up and eating them.
The ever-popular Tulip, a symbol of love and immortality, has been around a long time. In fact, this bulb dates back to the time of Confucius. The bulb became so popular in Holland that by the late 1600’s, Tulip prices exceeded that of precious metals, selling for more than $2,000 for a single bulb. Tulips are commonly grown for their beautiful colors; however, did you know that these bulbs can also be used in place of onions for cooking? On the topic of onions, did you know that the ornamental flowering onion, Allium moly, was once considered a sacred plant? According to European folklore, this charming little bulb was highly regarded as good luck and a protection against demons. Garlic is also supposed to guard against evil. Legend has it that Satan stepped out of the garden of Eden, and upon touching the ground with his left foot, garlic sprang up while the onion appeared at his right foot.
Crocus has a long history. According to legend, the Greek Gods Zeus and Hera loved each other so passionately that the land burst open with crocuses. The crocus was also famous for both aesthetic and practical reasons in the ancient world—used in medicine, as food, perfume, and a source of dye. Saffron, Crocus sativus, has been cultivated for thousands of years. You may be aware that Saffron is one of the world’s most expensive spices as it is handled very delicately, but did you know that it requires over 80,000 individual flowers to produce a full pound of saffron? The Banana plant does not grow from a seed but from a rhizome or bulb. They are actually herbs and found in the same family as lilies, orchids, and palms. Bananas are also said to be the largest plants on earth without a woody stem. Did you know that Over 96 percent of American households but bananas at least once each month and consumes over 28 pounds each year? Were you aware that in some parts of Africa you can actually buy and drink banana beer, which is brewed from bananas?
The striking trumpet-shaped flowers of Lilies are thought to be the oldest known to man, originating in the Orient. Throughout the ages, Lilies have not only been common attractions in the garden, but they have also been popular subjects for religious works of art. It was once said that to break a lily you would have bad luck. Although known by about four different Latin names, Bluebells are now classified as Hyacinthoides, named after the Greek god Hyacinthus, accidentally killed from a discus thrown by Apollo. From his blood sprang these flowers marked by Apollo’s cries of grief. A native of Turkey and the Middle East, The Hyacinth was not always a sought after bulb. In fact, the flower was thought unimpressive to say the least until it was transformed by Dutch hybridizers into the colorful, multi-flowered jewel that it is today, earning its name Dutch Hyacinth. Did you know that women in Turkey used to wear Feather Hyacinth in their hair as a sign that they were marrying? Derived by its popularity with the Indians, the Indian hyacinth (C. quamash)was considered a delicacy. The Indians roasted or boiled its bulbs, producing a sweet, molasses-like treat. It is sometimes called "Black Camas" because the bulb turns black when it is slow cooked. This plant was also once used as a birthing aid to induce labor.
The much-loved Daffodil, also known as Narcissus, comes with a sordid past. It's supposed to be bad luck to bring a single daffodil into the house but good luck to bring a bouquet of them. Its name is derived from the ancient Greek word “narke” meaning “deep sleep or stupor.” It is also closely associated with the word “narcotic” due to the bulb’s toxic properties. Snowdrops were also thought to spawn bad luck. If only one came up in the garden, it was a sign of impending disaster or death. Anemones were often used to ward off sickness and ill fortune. However, in some countries the flower was thought to carry diseases, believing that they gave off poisonous gases. Lily-of-the-Valley was used to counter spells. Its name signifies a “return to happiness.” Lily-of-the-Valley is also known as ‘Our Lady's tears.’ According to legend, the tears shed by Mary at the cross turned into these lovely flowers.
Did you know that Ranunculus (Buttercups) derived its name from the Latin word “ranunculus” meaning “little frog.” According to myths, an Asian prince gave his name to the bulb and upon his death, was changed into the flower. The story was said to mimic the fairy tales in which frogs are changed into princes. Were you aware that Amaryllis belladonna has many common names? For example, in the United Kingdom it is known as the Belladonna or Jersey Lily. In South Africa, it is known as the March Lily. In the United States, the flower is referred to as the Naked Lady. It has also been called St. Joseph's Staff in Portugal, St. Rosalina in Sicily, and the Madonna lily in Italy. Amaryllis means sparkling. It was named after a beautiful shepherdess in Greek mythology. The specific epithet “belladonna” means beautiful lady.