The first seeds I ever sowed were red salvias (Salvia splendens) and Livingstone daisies. Neither were the easiest of plants for a child to grow but I didn’t know better at the time. They were Bee’s seeds, a company long gone, and bought from a supermarket (Finefare I think – also long gone). Livingstone daisies were popular bedding plants in the 60s but are far less often grown now. As bedding plants they have their failings: they are shortlived plants and do not bloom for as long as we expect bedding plants to flower and they are very straggly in their pots or trays, suffering damage when handled. But their glossy, satiny petals have a unique charm and the low, fleshy plants, that look as though they have been sprinkled with sugar, are pretty too. And, of course, they thrive in dry, sunny sites – in fact it is a requirement.
Just to warn you – the rest of this post may mess with your head or cause severe drowsiness.
You may have noticed above a) that I have not mentioned a botanical name and b) I did mention petals and not ray florets as I should with daisies.
That is because, despite the common name, this is not a daisy at all and instead of being in the Asteraceae, where a ‘flower’ is composed of many individual flowers – the older name of Compositae had a quiet logic – this plant is in the Aizoaceae, a family of largely succulent plants with daisy-like flowers that open in the sun and close in rain and often have seed pods that do the same. The family is most famous for the genus lampranthus and mesembryanthemum, and the Livingstone daisy is often known as Mesembryanthemum criniflorum, enough of a mouthful in itself, but this humble little annual has had more than its fair share of name changes and now has a (relatively) new name, the reason for this convoluted post.
Mesembryanthemum is a curious name in itself. It was originally coined in 1684 as Mesembrianthemum meaning midday-flower but it was later found that not all of them bloomed at noon but some bloomed at night. The name was changed to mesembryanthemum, by the botanist Dillenius who, in 1732 stated that the first name the plant was given was Ficoides but he preferred the longer name but that it was unsuitable because of the less rigid than expected flowering period. He thought about splitting up the genus but decided, in the end, to change the name to mesembryanthemum. In an amazing piece of Latinisation of Greek, the new name, with just one letter change, is otherwise exactly the same! It means ‘flower with a pistil in the centre’ – don’t ask me how one letter change can change the meaning so entirely but still sound the same! I didn’t believe it myself so I checked it with the ‘Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information, RBG Kew 1928. It is right.
Anyway, that all seems fair enough even though mesembryanthemum is a hell of a name to say. But then it was changed again, to Dorotheanthus bellidiflorus. This post is turning into a taxonomic nightmare! Why this name? Well there is a lithops, another South African succulent genus, that has a species names after Dr. Dorothea van Huyssteen, the daughter of Mrs. Aletta Helena Eksteen a plant collector in the Western Cape who died in 1987. It seemed logical that the genus was named after her. But my searches were in vain. The reason? Because it was actually named by Gustav Schwantes, a specialist in Aizoaceae, after his mother!
Which brings us up to date. I did say was; because the plant is not even a Dorotheanthus any more. It is Cleretum bellidiforme. Why, I have no idea. The best I can find is that ‘Kleros’ means ‘fate’ or ‘chance’. So maybe the name is just random? Well I won’t put any money on the name not changing again! This is one time I think the common name is a lot less confusing than the botanical name!