It is unclear exactly why the Gerbera genus takes its name from the German doctor, Traugott Gerber (1710 to 1743). Gerber practiced medicine in Russia from the mid-1730s, and was director of the oldest botanical garden there. He also led expeditions in Russia in search of medicinal plants and herbs. Today, the gerbera genus decribes about 29 different daisy species, all of which are members of the Asteraceae or aster family.
The Gerbera jamesonii species is commonly called the African, Barbeton or Transvaal daisy. It takes its name from a Durban based Scottish botanist, Robert Jameson (1832 to 1908). Jameson discovered this species near Barbeton in South Africa, during the 1880s (several sources list different years).
Today, gerbera daisies are a very popular, worldwide ornamental favorite, with pink, red, orange, yellow and white blooms that flower all year round. Most of them originated in Cambridge, England, from a 19th century cross between Gerbera jamesonii and Gerbera viridifolia.
The Gerbera viridifolia species exhibits cream and purple blooms. Like the related species Gerbera ambigua, it has variable leaves. This parent of numerous gerbera species is widespread.
In the eastern Cape area, it is called "the herb of milk" in reference to its use to enhance milk production in cattle. Additionally, it is an ingredient in a local soured milk product. There is also a medicinal use for gerbera viridifolia, which produces an inhalant for head colds.
The Gerbera ambigua species is common throughout Africa. It is hardy, and thrives under the cold and dry conditions of the grasslands and woodlands where it grows.
"Ambigua" derives from the Latin for "uncertain." This refers to the colors of the flowers and to the variable appearance of the leaves, which differ in shape, size, length and hair covering. The flowers are white or yellow in color with dark or light centers, usually blooming year round. Zulu traditional medicine for tapeworm and stomach ache utilizes the leaves of Gerber ambigua. The plant roots combat heart and abdominal problems in babies.
The Gerbera aurantiaca species is commonly called the Hilton daisy. "Aurantiaca" derives from Latin for "orange yellow." Hilton is the name of a place where this species of gerber daisies once grew in large numbers. Today, it is a threatened species.
Hilton daisy blooms can be crimson, orange, pink or yellow with dark centers that turn to yellow when pollinated. These color variations may be due to hybridization with Gerbera ambigua, which has similar variable characteristics. There is evidence of natural hybridization between gerbera ambigua and gerbera aurantiaca, resulting in orange or pink blooms.