Color-blind botanists

Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated by the native orange-flowering (NY south to Mississippi) annual bog plant, Polygala lutea. The brilliance of the orange color nearly glows in the garden, but how in the world did the folks who named it, come up with the idea to use the specific epithet “lutea”, as this means yellow. Since it was named by Carl Linneaus in 1753, we can only wonder if he was, in fact, color blind, or if he just had an opthamologist who finished in the bottom of his class and fitted him with some dud glasses. Since most of the early botanists work was done based on herbarium (dead, flattened) specimens, perhaps it just dries looking yellow. It’s probably too late to argue for a name change to Polygala aurantiacus, although the genus recently got changed to Senega, after some DNA studies.

Polygala lutea

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