Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pinxterbloom Azalea

The photos of this lovely plant were recently sent to me by a reader. This plant's common and scientific name are both mouthfuls: Pinxterbloom Azalea, or Rhododendron periclymenoides.

With such great, multisyllabic words like that, I think we can keep this post simply to etymology.

Rhododendron, in Greek, literally means rose-tree (rhodo: rose; dendron: tree). Periclymenoides means 'looks like periclymen.' -Oides is always a great clue in nomenclature; it means 'looks like.' But this is only helpful if one knows what periclymen means. That's a species name for a honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymen. This rhodi looks like that honeysuckle. Both have flowers that change in color as they age, and that's the reason they are given this species name. Periklymenon was a Greek argonaut who was also a shapeshifter.

Okay, so that settles the scientific name. But why a clumsy word like pinxterbloom? Pinxter is Dutch for Pentecost and this plant has the common name as it blooms during the liturgical holiday. The word azalea is from the Greek azaleos, which refers to the ability of this plant to withstand dry climates.


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