German names denote many diverse species of flowers, trees and plants that grow all over the world. In some cases, it is possible to trace or to deduce a flower’s origin and characteristics through its German, Latin, English, botanical and common names. It is also possible to put these puzzle pieces together to form a true picture of its history.
Edelweiss or edelweiß in German is originally from Asia, although the song of the same name from the 1965 film, “The Sound of Music” provided a strong alpine image befitting its long presence in Europe. Its botanical name is Leontopodium alpinum. In German, edelweiss means “noble and white,” which is an apt description of this pretty mountain bloom found at altitudes between 5,500 feet and 8,800 feet. Historically, young men sought to gather edelweiss bouquets, the difficulty of doing so in such steep terrain being symbolic of their true love. “Flowers of emperors and kings” is the descriptive term for these silver-white rosettes with golden yellow centers, reflecting the high esteem in which German and Austrian royalty held the edelweiss.
There are over 30 known species of tilia, large deciduous flowering trees that can reach about 100 feet tall, and are native to Europe and North America. In North America, their common names are basswood or linden. Linden derives from the German “lind/linde” which means “yielding,” and denotes wood or wooden. According to legend, centuries ago, the Empress Cunigunde, wife of Emperor Heinrich II of Germany, planted a tilia tree in the courtyard at the Imperial Castle in Nuremburg. Legend also has it that an even older tilia tree once existed in Baden-Wurttemberg, living to the age of over 1,000 years. Tilia cordata, commonly called greenspire and native to Germany, is a medium-sized deciduous tree that bears light yellow flowers. American lindens also feature yellow flowers, usually blooming in July. Tilia trees are preferred wildlife trees and valued for their wood.
In German, the cornflower or bachelor’s button is known as the knapweed.and its botanical name is Centaurea cyanus. The bright blue flowers of this plant inspired the term “cornflower blue” although today, the cornflower also blooms in white, pink and red. This plant has medicinal properties and herbalists use it to treat eye inflammations, fevers and other ailments.
A wild iris called yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus) has the German name, Lieschblume. During the Middle Ages, “Liesch” was also spelled “lies” or “leys.” It is a logical conclusion that in France, the German name became fleur-de-lis, and that the flower in question was an iris rather than a lily. Although the kings of France adopted the fleur-de-lis as their coat-of-arms by around the 12th century, it was already prominent as a stylized floral emblem in ancient Mesopotamia, appearing on coins and seals from about the 10th century.