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Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Search Results for: Plants and history | Search the catalog for: Plants and history

Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Alcea, Plants and history

What's the origin of the hollyhock?


I consulted The Gardener's Atlas by John Grimshaw (Firefly Books, 1998) and in the section on mallows, Alcea rosea (garden hollyhock) is described as "indigenous to the Near East." It was initially grown to be used for its fiber, like fellow Malvaceae family member Gossypium (cotton), but it didn't work well for that purpose, and has been used as an ornamental plant in Europe since the Middle Ages. Its seeds may have been taken to northern and western Europe by returning Crusader soldiers. "The soldiers added 'holy' to hoc, the Anglo-Saxon word for a mallow." All the doubles and strains with variegated flowers were cultivated in European gardens. There is a smaller species, Alcea rugosa, which is native to the Ukrainian steppes.

Date 2017-05-04
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Garden Tip

Keywords: Anemone, Plants and history, Ethnobotany, Cyclamen

Cyclamen start blooming in the fall. Diana Wells, in her book 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names (Algonquin Books, 1997) reports that Cyclamen's common name is "sowbread" because they were supposedly used to feed pigs. The name cyclamen comes from the Greek "kyklo" meaning circle and probably referring to the seed stalks that curl up to a tight coil as they ripen.

Wells writes about another autumn flower, Japanese anemones. Plant hunter Robert Fortune sent seeds of the plant to England in 1844. He noted these white flowering perennials were often growing on graves in China and remarked Anemone "[a] most appropriate ornament for the last resting places of the dead."

A few other fun books on the lore and history of plants are Cornucopia the Lore of Fruits and Vegetables by Annie Lise Roberts (Knickerbocker, 1998) with colorful photos and recipes and the classic Who named the Daisy, Who named the Rose by Mary Durant (Dodd, Mead & Co., 1976) that gives a folk history of American wildflowers.

Date: 2007-04-03
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August 01 2017 12:36:01