by Jennifer Heath


Jean Nicot – Nicotiana. A French scholar and diplomat, Nicot was ambassador to Portugal from 1559-1561, where he was introduced to tobacco, which had been brought back from the new world in 1558. Nicot acquired seeds and when he returned home, raised tobacco on his country estate and promoted the fashionable new custom of smoking among the members of the elegant French court, as Sir Walter Raleigh did later in London.


Michel Bégon – Begonia. Bégon first encountered the flower in the French Antilles in 1681, where he was posted and brought them back to the botanists of Europe.


Joel Roberts Poinsett – Poinsettia. Poinsett served as the first U.S. Minister to Mexico from 1825 to 1829. His was quite a story of supporting revolutionaries in South America (where he was promptly recalled from his posts) and delving into Mexican politics, so that he was asked to leave the country. He took poinsettia cuttings back to his South Carolina home.


W.H. De Vriese – Vriesia. Vriese was a 19th-century Dutch botanist, who proved that plants, like animals, absorb oxygen and use it in converting food into heat energy. He spent time in Batavia in the Dutch East Indies and set a collection of native plants o the British Royal Gardens at Kew.


Fabio Colonna – Columnea. Named for the botanical star of a talented Roman family that included statesmen, generals, cardinals, popes and poets. Colonna is noted mainly for compiling in 1592 all the botanical data then known.


L.A. de Bougainville – Bougainvillea. The brilliant blooming bougainvillea commemorates the French navigator and commander, who explored much of the world for King Louis XV in 1766-1769. He and a companion, Philibert Commerson spotted the plants when their ship put in on the coast of South America.


Otto Brunfels – Brunfelsia. Also known as the chameleon plant, with showy flowers that turn color from deep purple to white as they mature, it was named for an obscure 16th-century botanist, a Catholic monk who “turned color,” when he became a Protestant during the Reformation. He published the first German herbal in 1530, including some of the earliest renderings of lifelike quality done directly from nature.