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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/75

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71
NATURE NAMES IN AMERICA

And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue,
Do paint the meadows with delight,

Shakespeare, however, never once mentions 'buttercup' and we are left to infer the fact that it was buttercups that he had in mind, for it is given as such in old vocabularies. Cuckoo-bud is a charming name, and in England is suggestive of the time of year when the cuckoo begins to sing. But, alas, our American cuckoo is a dismal failure as a vocalist, though his morals are unimpeachable, and we have no good reason for calling flowers after him.[1]

A number of familiar plant names occur in the writings of the old herbalists, as in Gerarde's Herbal (1597), and in Parkinson's Paradisi In Sole (1629), which contains 'The Garden of Pleasant Flowers.' Here we find such names as crowfoot, toad-flax, snapdragon, columbine, dittany, golden-rod, dog's-tooth violet and many more that sound pleasantly of wayside places. A large class of names are adoptions, applied to plants more or less different from those that bore the original names in England. Thus 'wake robin,' given locally in Great Britain to a species of arum, has been transferred in America to the species of Trillium. 'Jack-in-the-box,' a local name of the English arum, appears in America as 'jack-in-the-pulpit,' bestowed upon a closely related plant. Name after name of familiar American herbs and trees may thus be traced back to the provincial speech of England.[2] It might even be possible to trace certain of the settlers back to the district in England from which they emigrated by the local names which they gave to certain plants in America. This at least offers an inviting field for the student of folk-lore.

Of the names that are purely American in origin we have a few wellknown examples that have been derived from the Indian peoples. Puccoon seems to have been a general name for plants that furnished a juice used by the natives for dyeing and for decorating their bodies. Clayton in the 'Flora Virginica' (1739) thus designates the bloodroot (Sanguinaria), and it is the common name of several species of gromwell (Lithospermum) which yield a yellowish juice, of the yellowroot (Hydrastis), and also of the poke-weed (Phytolacca) the berries of which stain a deep purple. The word 'poke' is probably a corrup-


  1. A great variety of English wild flowers have been called after the cuckoo, but few if any have survived in American speech. The cuckoo's name appears not only among plants, but in numerous other objects and customs as a survival of old English rural life. Thus, the term 'cuckoo-ale' which is found in provincial dialects, is 'ale drank to welcome the cuckoo's return.' "A singular custom," according to Wright, "prevailed not long ago in Shropshire, that as soon as the first cuckoo had been heard, all the laboring classes left work, and assembled to drink what is called the cuckoo ale." The sweet influence of the hedge-row was evidently close to the heart of these simple country folk.
  2. Dogwood, for example, is a name having no reference to the animal, but is derived from the old English dagge—a skewer, the wood having been used by butchers for this purpose. Witch-hazel has nothing whatever to do with witches, notwithstanding its reputed powers in divination, but is borrowed from the wych-elm, the wood of that tree having been used in making chests called 'wyches.' (Prior.)