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Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Common names, Botanical nomenclature

Can you recommend a book that talks about the origins of the common names of plants, not just their botanical Latin equivalents?


The best book I have found is Geoffrey Grigson's A Dictionary of English Plant Names, published by Allen Lane in 1974. It goes into a great deal of detail, and usually provides the approximate date when the name came into use. Another good resource is Flowers and Plants: An International Lexicon with Biographical Notes, by Robert Shosteck (Quadrangle, 1974).

Date 2017-12-08
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Adoxa moschatellina, Common names

While reading a book on British woodlands, I came across a reference to a flower whose common name is 'town hall clock.' Can you tell me what plant it is, and why it has this name?


Townhall Clock's scientific name is Adoxa moschatellina, in the Adoxaceae family. Other common names for this native British wildflower are Moschatel, Five-Faced Bishop, Muskroot, Tuberous Crowfoot, and Hollowroot. All of those names are descriptive of various aspects of the plant's appearance, but the name Townhall Clock is evocative of the way this pale yellow-green early spring flower rises up on a slender stem. According to Sarah Raven (in her book Wild Flowers, Bloomsbury, 2012), four faces of the flower are "arranged as if on the surface of a cube, the fifth facing upwards." The aroma of the flowers is musky, or like "elder blossom with a bit of almond."

There are some detailed photos of it on this Finnish plant identification website. Despite the name Townhall Clock, it's a subtle flower that might easily be overlooked. In fact, its genus name means "without glory," due to its unshowy blooms.

Date 2017-03-25
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May 23 2018 14:32:42