Yarrow, Achillea millefolium It was way back in 1735 that Carl Linne published his systematic natural - the system for naming plants that botanists and plant breeders still use today.  A plant's Linnaean name is written in Latin and has two, or sometimes three, parts. The family name, or genus, comes first and the species name comes next. After that, there is sometimes the name of the variety. For example Achillea millefolium is the linnaean name for yarrow.....Achillea is a reference to the greek god Achilles, because this plant can be used to treat tendon injuries.  Millefolium refers to the leaves because each one seems to have thousands of fronds.


Country Names

Of course plants were in abundance long before 1735 and for most of the population meadow, hedgerow and woodland plants were the main source of food and medicine. Naturally then, we were using the English language to name plants for centuries before young Linne drew his first breath.

buttercups and cowslipsTake the cowslip; Latin name Primula veris. "Primula" comes from the Latin for "first " presumably because it's one of the first flowers to bloom in spring.  "veris" means "flowering in early spring " seems logical....If you happen to speak Latin.  "cowslip", however is a derivative of "cow slop". These ingenious little plants germinate and grow in meadows,  more specifically in cow pats in meadows.


Then there are meadow buttercups,  Ranunculus acris  literally translated,  Ranunculus means little frog, presumably because this plant is found in damp places - where there are usually frogs as well. "acris " means sharp-flavoured. The leaves and stalks of this plant have a bitter taste and are not nice to eat when the plant is alive,  apparently though they're perfectly palatable when cut and dried for hay. "buttercup "is thought to reflect the idea that butter made from the milk from cows grazed in buttercup meadows will have a beautiful yellow colour.

So many of our wild flowers have wonderful names that, if we look back in time, describe what the plants do for us, where they grow or what they look like.  Lady's bedstraw for example (latin name Galium verum) was used by mediaeval ladies to stuff their mattresses because the scent it released masked the smell of unwashed bodies.

Hay rattle (Rhinanthus minor) is a meadow plant whose seeds literally rattle in their pods when it's time to cut the hay.  Meadow Cranesbill (Geranium pratense) has flower parts that strongly resemble a crane's beak.  

So many plants, so many names and whether you look at the latin name, or the common name, they all mean something.

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