Just appeared as the background on my desktop, this photo of zinnias in my Columbus garden (some years ago):

(This photo is also in a set of Columbus garden photos on AZBlogX, here.) Also in the desktop rotation is this zinnia photo:

These are single-flowered zinnias, with some semidoubles, but none of the double-flowered plants that most people associate with zinnias:

These pictures then led me to the story of how the zinnia got its name, and on from there to a remarkable kalanchoe.

From Wikipedia:

Zinnia is a genus of 20 species of annual and perennial plants of the family Asteraceae. They are native to scrub and dry grassland in an area stretching from the Southwestern United States to South America, with a centre of diversity in Mexico. Members of the genus are notable for their solitary long-stemmed flowers that come in a variety of bright colors. The name honours … German botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn (1727–59).

The intriguing story of Zinn:

Johann Gottfried Zinn (December 6, 1727 – April 6, 1759) was a German anatomist and botanist…

… Considering his short life span, Zinn made a great contribution to the study of anatomy. In his book Descriptio anatomica oculi humani, he provided the first detailed and comprehensive anatomy of the human eye.

In addition to his medical career, Zinn was also an ardent botanist. In 1750, the German Ambassador to Mexico sent Zinn some seeds of mal de ojos, which was considered a weed in Mexico, but the plant briefly aroused interest in Germany.

In 1753 … Zinn became director of the Botanic garden of the University of Göttingen, and in 1755, professor in the medical faculty.

… Botanist Carolus Linnaeus designated a genus of flowers in the family Asteraceae native from Mexico as Zinnia in his honour. Zinnia was introduced to Europe in 1613. (link)

That takes us to the Mexican plant whose seeds Zinn got in 1750:

Kalanchoe daigremontiana syn. Bryophyllum daigremontianum also called Devil’s Backbone, Alligator Plant, Mexican Hat Plant or Mother of Thousands [or Mal de Ojo, because it’s used in some cultures to ward off the evil eye] is a succulent plant native to Madagascar. This plant is distinguished by its ability to propagate via vegetative propagation. All parts of the plant are poisonous, which can even be fatal if ingested by infants or small pets.

Plants reach up to 1 m (3 feet) tall with opposite, fleshy oblong-lanceolate “leaves” that reach 15-20 cm (6-8 inches) long and about 3.2 cm (1.25 inches) wide. These are medium green above and blotched with purple underneath. The margins of these leaf-like organs have spoon-shaped bulbiliferous spurs that bear young plants. The plantlets form roots while on the plant.

Kalanchoe daigremontiana can go through a flowering season, where the main stalk elongates vertically upwards by as much as 30 cm, within a couple of days, developing an umbrella-like terminal inflorescence (a compound cyme) of small bell-shaped pink flowers. Flowering is, however, not an annual event… (link)

Mostly, the plant reproduces — profligately, hence “Mother of Thousands” — vegetatively.

No doubt Zinn was fascinated by this oddity. He probably didn’t appreciate that it’s native to Madagascar; it’s a long way from Madagascar to Mexico.


4 Responses to “zinnias”

  1. David Says:

    Latin names are useful because different plants often are given the same common name. ‘Mal de ojo’ is also a vernacular name for Zinnia.

  2. David Says:

    Also, the German ambassador to Mexico in 1750? There was no unified country of Germany to send one and no independent country of Mexico to receive him back then. I don’t know if there is any record of where Zinn got his Zinnia seeds, but it’s more likely he got them from the French, who got theirs from Joseph de Jussieu, who collected them in Peru.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Yes, Wikipedia has things mixed up. The ambassador was presumably from one of the German states, serving in the Viceroyalty of New Spain. But all this needs straightening out.

  3. Mary Azarian « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] zinnias, see here.) Azarian’s chosen medium is the woodcut, which gives her work a deliberately old-fashioned […]

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