Two plants of the season

(About plants, with lots of  linguistic digressions.)

Now blooming locally: golden marguerites and acanthus. Photos:



(There’s an especially nice bed of acanthus in front of the downtown library in Palo Alto. And the plant grows widely as a wildflower.)

The common name golden marguerite is enmeshed in a complex tangle of common names; acanthus, the genus name pressed into service as a common name (bear’s breeches is the folk alternative), is much more straightforward linguistically.

1. Golden marguerites. The complexity begins with the composite golden marguerite, which isn’t subsective, but resembloid: golden marguerites aren’t marguerites (Leucanthemum vulgare or Argyranthemum frutescens), but rather marguerite-like flowers that are yellow in color; golden marguerite is a fixed expression.

Botanically, Anthemis tinctoria. From the Wikipedia entry:

[Anthemis tinctoria], or Golden Marguerite and Yellow Chamomile, is a species in the genus Anthemis of the Sunflower family (Asteraceae).

This popular flower has several common names : Golden Marguerite, Marguerite Daisy, Dyer’s Chamomile, Ox-eye Chamomile, Boston Daisies, Paris Daisies.

What a profusion of names here. And just as golden marguerites aren’t marguerites, yellow chamomile and ox-eye chamomile aren’t (exactly) chamomiles, and marguerite or Boston or Paris daisies aren’t daisies.

[Digression on anthemis (not in the OED). This is simply ‘flower’,  < Greek ἀνθε- (ἄνθος) flower. Brief discussion on this blog here:

Anthurium is another ‘tail’ word — this time, ‘flowertail’, with the anth- element as in agapanthus and chrysanthemum and, amazingly, anthology.]

[Digression on daisy. Old English dæges éage day’s eye, eye of day (an allusion to the flowers’ closing at night and opening in the morning). Specifically Bellis perennis ‘common daisy’, but also applied to Leucanthemum vulgare ‘oxeye daisy’, and, loosely, to similar daisy-like flowers.]

[Digression on chamomile. From the Wikipedia entry:

Chamomile or camomile … is a common name for several daisy-like plants of the family Asteraceae. These plants are best known for their ability to be made into an infusion which is commonly used to help with sleep and is often served with either honey or lemon.

There are a number of species whose common name includes the word chamomile. This does not mean they can be used in the same manner as the herbal tea known as “chamomile.” Plants including the common name “chamomile”, are of the family Asteraceae, and include: Matricaria recutita, wild chamomile, commonly used in chamomile tea

but also: Anthemis nobilis, Roman chamomile (also used in tisanes); Anthemis arvensis, corn or scentless chamomile; Anthemis cotula, stinking chamomile; Anthemis tinctoria, dyer’s chamomile; Cladanthus multicaulis, Moroccan chamomile; Eriocephalus punctulatus, Cape chamomile; Matricaria discoidea, wild chamomile or pineapple weed

… The word derives, via French and Latin, from Greek χαμαίμηλον (chamaimilon) (“earth apple”). The more common British spelling “camomile”, corresponding to the immediate French source, is the older in English, while the spelling “chamomile” more accurately corresponds to the ultimate Latin and Greek source

[Digression on the family name Asteraceae. Named for the type genus Aster, a replacement for the older family name Compositae, referring to the properties of the family’s (composite) flowers. From Wikipedia:

Asteraceae or Compositae (commonly referred to as the aster, daisy, or sunflower family), are an exceedingly large and widespread family of vascular plants. The group has more than 22,750 currently accepted species, spread across 1620 genera and 12 subfamilies.

As for aster, it’s < Latin aster < Greek ἀστήρ star. As in asterisk, astronomy, etc.]

[Digression on marguerite. There are two plants referred to simply as marguerite (or margarite) in English: Leucanthemum vulgare and Argyranthemum frutescens.

Wikipedia on the first:

Leucanthemum vulgare, the oxeye daisy, (syn. Chrysanthemum leucanthemum), is a widespread flowering plant native to Europe and the temperate regions of Asia. It is one of a number of Asteraceae family plants to be called a ‘daisy,’ and has the vernacular names common daisy, dog daisy, margarite, moon daisy, and ox-eye daisy.

Leucanthemum vulgare is a typical grassland perennial wildflower, growing in a variety of plant communities including meadows and fields, under scrub and open-canopy forests, and in disturbed areas.

Leucanthemum vulgare is widely cultivated and available as a perennial flowering ornamental plant for gardens and designed meadow landscapes. It thrives in a wide range of conditions and can grow in sun to partial shade, and prefers damp soils.

As for the etymology, we have the anth- formative again, plus leuc-, < Greek λευκο-, combining form of λευκός white (cf. leucocyte ‘white blood cell’). So ‘white flower’. (Leucanthemum isn’t in the OED.)

The other candidate for plain marguerite, from Wikipedia:

Argyranthemum frutescens, the marguerite and marguerite daisy, is a perennial forb known for its flowers. It is native to the Canary Islands in Macaronesia.

Argyranthemum frutescens, as the Marguerite daisy, is cultivated in the horticulture trade and widely available and used as a flowering ornamental plant in private gardens and public parks.

The etymology has the anth- formative again, plus argyr- <Greek ἀργυρο- comb. form of ἄργυρ-ος silver (cf. Lat. argentum ‘silver’, Argentina, and the chemical element Ag). So: ‘silvery(-white) flower’.]

[Further digression on forb, a technical term defined by exclusion:

A forb … is a herbaceous flowering plant that is not a graminoid (grasses, sedges and rushes). The term is used in biology and in vegetation ecology, especially in relation to grasslands and understory. (link)]

[Back to marguerite. OED3 has the etymologies:

< French marguerite margarite n.1, originally the common daisy (Bellis perennis) and hence applied also to other plants with similar flowers (applied to Leucanthemum vulgare already in 15th cent. in Middle French). The same French etymon was earlier adopted as margarite n.1; compare also Margaret n.

margarite < Anglo-Norman margarite pearl, Old French margarite, margerite pearl, daisy (12th–13th cent.; Middle French, French marguerite marguerite n.) < classical Latin margarīta pearl < Hellenistic Greek μαργαρίτης

Apparently the flower name and the woman’s name Margaret (English) or Marguerite (French) were derived separately from the ‘pearl’ word — in the case of the flower name, through an allusion to the whiteness of the flowers; in the case of the woman’s name, as one of a set of gem names applied complimentarily to women (for instance, Jewel, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Jade, Opal, Amber, Jet).]

2. Acanthus. In contrast to the complexity of the common names associated with golden marguerites, the acanthus is a piece of cake. From the Wikipedia entry:

Acanthus is a genus of about 30 species of flowering plants in the family Acanthaceae, native to tropical and warm temperate regions, with the highest species diversity in the Mediterranean Basin and Asia. Common names include Acanthus and Bear’s breeches. The generic name is derived from the Greek word ακανθος (acanthos), meaning “thorny.”

There are two species commonly grown as ornamentals: Acanthus mollis (illustrated above) and Acanthus spinosus. These plants figure in the acanthus as an element in decorative art:

In architecture, an ornament is carved into stone or wood to resemble leaves from the Mediterranean species of the Acanthus genus of plants, which have deeply cut leaves with some similarity to those of the thistle and poppy. Both Acanthus mollis and the still more deeply cut Acanthus spinosus have been claimed as the main model, and particular examples of the motif may be closer in form to one or the other species; the leaves of both are in any case rather variable in form. The motif is found in decoration in nearly every medium. (link)

An illustration:


On the acanthus in architecture:

The Corinthian order is one of the three principal classical orders of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The other two are the Doric and Ionic. When classical architecture was revived during the Renaissance, two more orders were added to the canon, the Tuscan order and the Composite order. The Corinthian, with its offshoot the Composite, is stated to be the most ornate of the orders, characterized by slender fluted columns and elaborate capitals decorated with acanthus leaves and scrolls. (link)

[Digression on the acanthuses and their relationship to the Lamiaceae or Labiatae (the “mint family”). Acanthuses have two of the salient properties of the mint family, labiate flowers and square stems, but they are in a distinct family, the Acanthaceae. On Labiatae, see here.

As for the alternative botanical names for the mint family, these are entirely parallel to the alternatives for the aster, daisy, or sunflower family: an older name descriptive of the flowers (Labiatae, with labiate, or lipped, flowers; Compositae, with composite flowers) and a newer name based on a type genus (Lamiaceae, with type genus Lamium ‘dead-nettle’; Asteraceae, with type genus Aster).]

The golden marguerite and the acanthus: both impressive, but each in its own way.

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