Common Plant names explained


Have you ever wondered how plants acquired their common names? here I look at some plant names that readers will be familiar with, even if, they could not recognise the actual plant to which the name is attached.

Many names have their origins deep in the historical past with many of Greek or Arabic origin. Many of the Latin names are also just Latinised Greek words as we shall see. 

later in our history we find that many Saxon names for the plants are in fact Latin names diguised by familiarity.  In many cases the Saxon modification of the names brings them half way to its modern English form. So let us review a few examples picked at random.

The Latin febrifuge became the Saxon feferfuge and the modern title of Feverfew. { the Latin febrifuga alludes to the plant being thought of as effective against fevers}.

The Latin feniculum became the Saxon finul and the modern English name of Fennel.

The Latin lubestica became the Saxon lufestice which became the modern version Loveage

The Latin lactuca beacme the Saxon lactuce  which became the modern title of Lettuce.

The Latin papavar became the Saxon popig which became the modern title Poppy

The Latin radix {meaning root} became the Saxon raedic which became the modern Radish

The Latin primula became the Saxon prymrose which became the Primrose

The Latin pervenke became the Saxon perriwynke which became the modern day name of Perrinwinkle. 


The fennel derives from the Latin feniculum

Common plant names continued.

Below are some common plant names along with their origins. This page will name a selection of plants which start with the letters A-I.------

Almond--- The early English name for this species seems to have been almande. Both this and its more modern form derives from the French word amande from the Greek amygdalus, the meaning of which has been lost in time.

Aconite--- is said to derive from the Greek akoniton meaning a dart, alluding to the fact that barbaric races used an extract from the plant to poison their arrows.; however, others think that the name derives from akone, meaning a cliff or rocky place where many of the species grow.

Bistort-- derives from bistortia which is  Latin and signifies twice twisted and alludes to the contorted S shape of the root and stems. From the French bistotre from Latin bis= twice and tortus from torquere meaning to twist.

Butchers broom---According to tradition a bundle of mature branches were sold to butchers to sweep their blocks.

Burnet,---- derives from the old French burnete, a variant of brunele a dark brown colour alludes to the flowers of some species.

Brooklime---derives from the saxon name of Broklempe, the English name from brook = lime which is an old English name for mud, a plant of brooks and mud. 




Cowslip--from the Anglo Saxon cowyslepe which, roughly translated, means cow slop, . The plants were thought to grow among cow pats.

Cat's ear---it was thought that the small bract like scales that appear on the wiry stems resembled the shape of a cat's ear.

Ckickweed--- derives from the fact that it is the favourite food of chickens, goslings and many cage birds.

Crane'sbill---the fruits resemble the head and {Bill}  beak of the crane a stork like bird.

Chervil---derives from the old English {Saxon} word cerfelle from the Latin caerphylla from the Greek khairephullon from khairein which means to enjoy+phullen meaning leaf. 


Dandelion derives, it is thought, from the French dent de leon-a lions tooth from the shape of the jagged leaves.

Daisy --a corruption of days eye alluding to the flowers which only open in the daylight hours.

Enchanters nightshade-- In the 16th century , a Flemish botanist named Mathias De L'Obel, tried to identify a plant which the the early Greek physician Dioscorides had named after the magical sourceress Circe.  His first choice was the bittersweet, which supposedly acted as a good luck charm { this plant is poisonous.}. His final choice however, was the enchanter's nightshade which still bears the name Circaea. Inceidently the garden favourite Lobelia was named after this botanist.

Eyebright---because of the plants reputed qualities in the treatment of eye ailments.

Fumitory--is derived from a Medieval Latin name meaning " Smoke of the earth" referring to the acrid smell the roots give off, or from the smoky appearance of the plant.

Heather--- derives from a Greek word meaning of the heath.

Harebell--- alludes to the habitat on rough pastures and heath land that they share with the hare.

Hawthorn-- derives from the Anglo Saxon hagedorn or haegthorn, meaning hedge thorn.

Hemlock---from the Anglo Saxon words hem, meaning border or shore + leac meaning a plant. others say it derives from the Saxon haulmleac, which was corrupted to hemlock.

Iris--is Greek for rainbow or after the Greek goddess of the rainbow.

Image courtesy of Greg Hume  CC-BY-SA  3.0 license.

DANDELION-Derives from the French- Dente De Leon --tooth of the LionDandelionFlower.jpg


ASSOCIATED PAGES--Click on the content banners on the right hand side of this page

Latin names Explained.

Wild flora that occurs on this site are grouped together in the content banners.

Links--my green logo {designers} 

CafePress Shop- for clothing and gift ideas 

                                              Thank you for visiting