July 13, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Andrew Purcell

Given that many Christians will be celebrating Easter this weekend, I thought it would be interesting to use an image of a passion flower I took a couple of years ago in France for this week’s science behind the photo.

To be honest, I just stumbled across this fascinating story of how the flower got its name and I wondered if someone could confirm it. It’s a story which is quite common online, but I can’t seem to find it from a reputable source. Anyway, the story goes…

In 1620, a Jesuit priest in Peru came across the plant we now know as passion flower. Enthralled with its beauty, that night he had a vision likening its floral parts to the elements of the Crucifixion or Passion of Christ. The five petals and five sepals became the ten apostles (omitting Peter and Judas). The three pistils became the nails of the cross; the purple corona (or filaments) was the crown of thorns, and the stemmed ovary was the Lord’s goblet. The vine tendrils were also supposed to represent the whips that were used to scourge Jesus.

I know there’s not a lot of science here. But, despite not being religious myself, I think it is an interesting story. Generally, I think it’s interesting just how much species’ names (both their Latin and common names) can reveal. So, despite the popular quote from act 2, scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, perhaps names really do make a difference.


For example, did you know…

Echinodermata, is a phylum name that means ‘spiny-‘ (echino-) ‘skin’ (derm), or the ‘spiny skinned’ animals

Arthropoda, is a phylum name that means ‘joint-‘ (arthro-) ‘foot’ (pod), or the ‘jointed-foot’ animals

Archaeopteyx, is a genus name that means ‘ancient-‘ (archae-) ‘wing’ (pter), or the ‘ancient-winged’ animals

Amphioxus, is a common name that means ‘double-‘ (amphi-) ‘pointed’ (oxus), or the ‘double-pointed’ animals (originally it was a genus name for the lancelets, which are pointed on both ends)

Homo erectus is a genus & species combination that means ‘man’ (homo) ‘upright’ (erectus), or ‘upright man’


Also, on the subject of etymology, I recently came across this awesome map!

(Promise, more actual science next week).


Image from Wikipedia.com