Sunday, May 27, 2007

Dame's Rocket in Olin Park

In various times and places also known as Damask Violet, Dame's Violet, Dames-wort, Dame's Gilliflower, Night Scented Gilliflower, Queen's Gilliflower, Rogue's Gilliflower, Summer Lilac, Sweet Rocket, Mother-of-the-evening or Winter Gilliflower.

A traditional English garden flower, Dame's Rocket came to America in the 1600s and made itself at home to such an extent that some consider it an invasive species. Others welcome it and are driven by their interest to track down the origins of its unusual name.
I consulted The Herbal or General History of Plants by John Gerard (first published in London in 1597) and found it listed under the name Dames Violets or Queens Gillofloures, where he remarked that it was grown in gardens “for the beauty of their floures.” and “The distilled water of the floures hereof is counted to be a most effectuall thing to procure a sweat,” implying that it was used to help break a fever. As to the common name of rocket, I was perplexed. Surely there were no rocket-ships in the days of Gerard! I hunted around to see if I could find the origin of its name. Finally, I looked the dictionary and learned it is derived from the French roquette, or what we know today as arugula.

Though considered an invasive species by some, I welcome Dame’s Rocket every Spring as she lights up the woodland edges with her festive blossoms, providing nectar for hummingbirds, moths and butterflies, and fragrance for the soul.
A flower with a long history, in a Madison park with its own interesting history.

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