Q: How do religious names of flowers originate?

A: It should be kept in mind that those who express their veneration for Jesus, Mary and the Saints with flower symbolism are not botanists, but have virtual symbols in their minds from scripture and popular oral tradition which they then apply to newly encountered plants of similar appearance - plants which they may encounter on relocating or on missionary travels, or plants which may be imported from elsewhere to where they are. Vast numbers of Latin American plants were given religious names in this way by European missionaries. Notable in this respect is the American plant, Tagetus, now commonly known as Marigold (MaryGold), whereas the original MaryGold (referred to by Shakespeare, "when winking Marybuds begin to open their golden eyes") is the Calendula, of Europe, which closes at night.

As the white, or Madonna Lily is so widely associated with immaculate Mary, it would appear to be reserved for her, and the lilies applied to St. Joseph are those with some coloring to distinguish them. In this respect, it is interesting to observe that both St. Joseph Lilies referred to here are white with red markings - perhaps one named from the virtual image of the other, or both from a third source. White lilies were originally associated with Mary, as "lilies," and then from religious paintings as "Annunciation Lilies." Actually, the name "Madonna Lily" is of relatively recent commercial origin.

Another example of how religious names originate is that of Hosta plantaginia - white day lily - a native plant of China which when imported to the north temperate climate of Europe was found to bloom around the liturgical feast of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, and accordingly acquired the name "Assumption Lily." The South African Pelargonium, Florists' Geranium, is the recipient in Europe of the name, "Beautiful Lady," now bringing to mind Bernadette's description of Mary in her appearance at Lourdes.


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