Flower bulbs often have more than one name. Usually, this is its name in Latin, but many of them have also received common names in the local language. A common name is an English name that usually describes the look of the flower or translates its name from Latin into English. Good examples would be the Chequered Fritillary or Glory-of-the Snow. But what often happens is that the names become so confusing that you can lose sight of the flower bulbs themselves! Don’t be put off by this, however. Just take a look at ‘Help with those difficult flower bulb names’. You’ll soon be saying, ‘Eureka – so that’s it!’
- Allium is related to the onions we eat. Because these alliums are no longer served up on a plate but add visual appeal to our gardens instead, they are also known as Ornamental Onions.
- What we call an ‘Amaryllis’ is actually the Hippeastrum. (And we had just managed to memorise a difficult name…)
- Camassia got its name from the Native American word camas which means ‘fruit’. The Indians once used Camassia bulbs as a dowry for weddings. Their leaves were used in mattresses, and their bulbs were boiled and mixed with honey to create a cough syrup. So the Camassia also became known as the Indian Quamash.
- The name Chionodoxa was derived from chion and doxa which are Greek words for ‘snow’ and ‘glory’. So its English name is simply a translation: Glory-of-the Snow.
- Eranthis flowers while winter still has a grip on the land – they even burst through a covering of snow! So that’s how it got its common name of Winter Aconite.
- The name given to Eremurus comes from Greek. Eremos means ‘solitary’ and oura means ‘tail’. It’s a good description of the beauty of this flower: a tail that proudly stands erect. The beauty of the Eremurus has also led to its equally beautiful common name of Cleopatra’s Needle.
- Fritillaria meleagris The Dutch name for this elegant flower bulb is Kievitsbloem because its speckled flowers resemble the eggs of a kievit (lapwing). Its English name (Chequered Fritillary) also refers to this speckled look.
- The Fritillaria imperialis produces bell-shaped flowers that encircle the top of the stem like a crown, so its common name – the Crown Imperial – is quite apt.
- Galanthus is the first flower bulb to bloom in early spring – sometimes as early as January. So it’s no wonder that its common name is the Snowdrop.
- Because Hyacinthoides non-scripta is a bulb that naturalises so easily and thrives beneath trees, it can often be found in the woods. Although its Dutch name, forest Hyacinth, refers to the plant’s habitat, its English name refers to its appearance: Bluebell.
- The common English name for Leucojum aestivum is the Summer Snowflake. This is a bit puzzling, however, since it actually flowers in May.
- Leucojum vernum is known as the Spring Snowflake. This flower bulb is more aptly named since it starts to bloom in March just as spring begins!
- The inflorescence of the Muscari looks like an upside-down cluster of little grapes. Since most Muscari flowers are blue, they have received the easy-to-remember common name of Grape Hyacinth.
- The flowers of Ornithogalum nutans stand upright when they first emerge from the bulb. Later, however, the top of the inflorescence bends over, thus giving rise to their common name of Nodding Star of Bethlehem.
- Oxalis deppei has leaves that resemble lucky four-leafed clovers so despite their pretty Latin name, they are also known as Good Luck Shamrocks.
- The Puschkinia produces clusters of striped hyacinth-like flowers at the top of its flower stem. Its English common name of Striped Squill is easier to pronounce than its Latin name!
- Scilla siberica gets is easier-to-remember common name of Siberian Squill from its original habitat.