It’s strange the things you remember. I recall an English lesson once when we read a poem that was about your senses sometimes being heightened when you are grieving.
In this case, the poet casts himself on the ground, distraught, and notices for the first time that “The woodspurge has a cup of three”. You can read the poem, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, at the end of this post.
Many Euphorbias have a “cup of three” – hopefully illustrated by my pictures. But it is a huge and diverse genus including more than 2,000 species.
The example pictured here is a big cultivated Eurphorbia, but the spurges mentioned earlier are small British wild flowers.
To me, typical Euphorbias have a distinctive bright lime green colour. But clearly not all of them do, as I hadn’t realised that bright red Poinsettia is also a Euphorbia.
Over the last few months I have been watching the new Euphorbia characias (possibly subsp. wulfenii) in my neighbour’s garden. It’s so photogenic…
This big Euphorbia is in Cardiff’s city centre…
Euphorbus identified a certain plant as a powerful laxative, always a useful thing to have, so in 12 BC, Juba named the plant after him. This was perhaps in response to the Emperor Augustus dedicating a statue to Antonius Busa, his own personal physician.
Botanist and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus later assigned the name to the entire genus. I must admit I had thought the word Euphorbia related to some feature of the plant, as is the case with many botanical names beginning with eu- . This little Greek word means “good” or “well” or “pleasing”.
Here are some examples of plant names starting with eu-, the first two from my own garden.
EUCOMIS – The name Eucomis is of Greek origin, eu- meaning “pleasing” and kome “hair of the head”, referring to the tuft of leaf-like bracts that crown the inflorescence of the species in this genus.
EUONYMUS – The name Euonymus is an ancient Greek and Latin name for the spindle tree, eu- meaning “good” and onoma “name”. The word also came to mean “lucky”.
EUCALYPTUS – The genus name Eucalyptus comes from eu- meaning “well” and kalyptos meaning “covered,” referring to the operculum on the calyx that initially conceals the flower.
EUCRYPHIA – The genus name Eucryphia means “well hidden”, because the sepals are joined at the top. These shrubs grow in the southern hemisphere.
EUSTOMA – One of my favourite cut flowers is Eustoma grandiflora, perhaps more commonly called Lisianthus or prairie gentian. The name means “lovely mouth”.
There are a couple more eu- plants named after people:
EUPATORIUM is named after Mithridates Eupator, a king of Pontus, who first used the plant as a remedy – its common name is “boneset”.
You may have noticed there are several other words in the dictionary that begin with eu-:
EUKARYOTE - meaning “characterized by well-defined cells (with nuclei and cell walls)”, from karyon, “nut” or “kernel”.
EUPHEMISM - use of a favourable word instead of an inauspicious one, from pheme, “speaking”.
EUPHORIA – meaning “bearing well”, as originally it meant the power of enduring illness easily, although now it means “feeling well”.
Finally, that Euphorbia poem I promised you at the beginning…
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The wind flapped loose, the wind was still,
Shaken out dead from tree and hill:
I had walked on at the wind’s will,–
I sat now, for the wind was still.
Between my knees my forehead was,–
My lips, drawn in, said not Alas!
My hair was over in the grass,
My naked ears heard the day pass.
My eyes, wide open, had the run
Of some ten weeds to fix upon;
Among those few, out of the sun,
The woodspurge flowered, three cups in one.
From perfect grief there need not be
Wisdom or even memory:
One thing then learnt remains to me,–
The woodspurge has a cup of three.
Who would YOU name a plant after?