G. K. Chesterton once pointed out, "The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly."

Angels v. Devils: Revealing Plant Names


By —— Bio and Archives February 9, 2017

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Back in the 19th century, an English clergyman wondered whether the number of common names applied to plants in the name of angels exceeded those credited to the devil. His research revealed that the devil, botanically speaking, won out.

Updated delving into the subject confirms the man of the cloth’s investigation—with a few strange twists. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is known to some as Angel Flower. However, it has also been labeled both the Devil’s Nettle and the Devil’s Plaything, perhaps because it naturalizes so easily.

More understandably, Datura also appears in both lists, and several times at that. Valued for their magnificent trumpet-shaped blooms they are also known to be hallucinogenic even causing fatalities. Thus, Datura sanguinea, a fragrant shrub from southeast Brazil may carry name Angel’s Tears but Angel’s Trumpet, D. inoxia, might also be the Devil’s Trumpet. D. stramonium doubles as both the Devil’s Apple and Devil’s Weed

Perhaps we shouldn’t take these juxtapositions too seriously though. As G. K. Chesterton once pointed out, “The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly.”

The Angels

“Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of the character, though few can decipher even fragments of their meaning,” wrote Lydia M. Child.

  • Angel Flower Achillea millefolium Yarrow
  • Angel’s Eyes Veronica chamaedrys God’s Eye, Bird’s Eye; Eurasia; ornamental
  • Angel’s Fishing Rod Dierama pendulum S. Africa ornamental perennial
  • Angel’s Tears Daffodil Narcissus triandrus albus sw Europe; tepal white, corona yellow
  • Angel’s Tears Billbergia nutans Queen’s Tears, Friendship Plant; S. America bracts pink
  • Angel’s Tears Billbergia x windii after Wind, a gardener
  • Angel’s Tears Datura sanguinea (syn. Brugmansia sanguinea) fragrant; shrub; se Brazil
  • Angel’s Tears Helxine (syn. Soleirolia soleirolii) Baby’s Tears, Corsican Curse
  • Angel’s Trumpet Brugmansia sanguinea Red Angel’s Trumpet; sm. Tree; S. America
  • Angel’s Trumpet Datura arborea, D. suaveolens, D. inoxia Downy Thorn Apple s. n. am
  • Angel Wing Begonia B. aconitifolia x B. coccinea; hybridization by California plant breeder Eva Kenworthy Gray in 1926; cane begonia; flowers edible with a tart taste; B. ‘Dragon Wing’ lacks variation on leaves
  • See also: B. Lucerna, B. coccinea, B. rubra, B. acutangularis. B. arneteo-guttata
  • Angelwing Cactus Opuntia microdasys albata Bunny Ears Cactus; Mexico; glochids detach easily
  • Angelwing Jasmine Jasminum magnificum India; hardy to -4C
  • Angel-wings Caladium Elephant Ears
  • Angel-wings Opuntia microdasys albata Bunny Ears Cactus; Mexico; glochids detach easily

Should this somewhat foreshortened list be bulked up by added heavenly references? “I’m no angel, but I’ve spread my wings a bit,” observed the loquacious Mae West. However, as John Keats observed, “Philosophy will clip and angel’s wings.” Still, angel comes from Greek angelos, a messenger—and an angel in theatrical parlance is the backer of a performance, a rare bird indeed in today’s bleak economy. So, we offer as something of an addendum:

  • Cathedral Windows Calaythea makoyana
  • Christ Plant Euphorbia splendens
  • Christ Thorn Euphorbia splendens
  • Christ Vine Porana paniculata
  • Heavenly Bamboo Nandina domestica
  • Heavenly Blue Thunbergia grandiflora
  • Heavenly Blue Ipomea tricolor
  • Heavenly Twine Crassula perforata gigantea

Somewhat more scathingly, Jack-in-the-Pulpit is the Arisaema triphyllum of northeastern North American woods and unfortunately the ‘Parson’s Nose’ the part of the turkey that went last over the fence

More appealingly, an angel cake is a sponge cake made without shortening or egg yolk.

The Devils

The Greek diabolos, originally a slanderer, later came to mean the devil, but it certainly has gained more associations, to give the devil his due as you might say, leaving angels between the devil and the deep blue sea. A printer’s devil: is (or perhaps was in these enlightened ages) an apprentice or errand boy, while a devil’s advocate is a person who argues perversely. Geographically, Devil’s Island, or Ile du Diable off the northern French Guiana Atlantic coast was a former notorious penal colony. But perhaps\‘s we’d best leave it there lest we be accused of having a devil-may-care attitude.

Continued below...

  • Blue Devil Echium vulgare Viper’s Bugloss, Blueweed, Blue Thistle; naturalized
  • Devil Cactus Opuntia schottii Schott’s Prickly Pear, arid desert hills
  • Devil Grass Cynodon dactylon Couch Grass, Bermuda Grass, Middle East
  • Devil-flower Tacca chntrierii Bat flower, Cat’s Whiskers tropical s. Asia
  • Devil in the Pulpit Tradescantia virginiana Spiderwort e. N. America
  • Devil’s Apple Datura stramonium Jimson Weed, Thorn Apple, hallucinogenic
  • Devil’s Bit Chamaelirium luteum Blazing Star, Fairy Wand, Unicorn Root Europe
  • Devil’s Bit Scabiosa succisa (syn. Succusa pratensis) Pincushion Flower
  • Devil’s Bit Succusa pratensis (syn. Scabiosa succisa) Pincushion Flower, Blue Buttons
  • Devil’s-gut Spergula arvensis Pickpurse, Sandweed, Corn Spurrey; weed, worldwide
  • Devil’s-Tail Persicaria perfoliata Mile-a-Minute Weed, invasive, e. Asia
  • Devil’s-Tearthumb Persicaria perfoliata Mile-a-Minute Weed, invasive, e. Asia
  • Devil’s Backbone Kalanchoe daigremantianum Mother-of-Thousands Madagascar
  • Devil’s Backbone Pedelanthus tithymaloides Slipper Flower, Bird Cactus, Am. shrub
  • Devil’s Candlestick Glechoma hederacea Ground Ivy, Ale Hoof Eurasia
  • Devil’s Claw Harpagophytum procumbens grapple plant, wood spider s. Africa
  • Devil’s Claw Physoplexis comosa rock garden ornamental Alps
  • Devil’s Claw Sclerocactus whipplei Navajoan Desert se Utah, w. Colorado, n. Arizona
  • Devil’s Club Oplopanax horridus Devil’s Walking Stick; Pacific nw large shrub
  • Devil’s Darning Needle Clematis virginiana Woodbine, Virgin’s Bower e. N. America
  • Devil’s Finger Echinocereus blanckii ne Mexico s. Texas
  • Devil’s Guts Convolvulus arvensis Field Bindweed persistent weed Eurasia
  • Devil’s Guts Cuscuta spp. Dodder pandemic
  • Devil’s Guts Equisetum arvense Common Horsetail temperate regions
  • Devil’s Hair Cuscuta spp. Dodder pandemic
  • Devil’s Hand Chiranthodendron pentadactylon Monkey’s Hand Mexico
  • Devil’s Head Echinocactus texensis (syn. Homalocactus texensis) Horse Crippler
  • Devil’s Helmet Aconitum Wolf’s Bane, Monkshood, poisonous, N. Temperate areas
  • Devil’s Ivy Epipremnunum aureum (syn. Scindapsus) Golden Pothos Solomon Islands
  • Devil’s Nettle Achillea millefolium Yarrow, Milfoil, naturalized
  • Devil’s Paw Notocactus pampeanus (syn. Parodia mammulosa) s. America
  • Devil’s Paintbrush Hieracium aurantiacum Orange Hawkweed, noxious weed
  • Devil’s Pincushion Echinocactus texensis (syn. Homalocactus texensis) Horse Crippler
  • Devil’s Plague Daucus carota wild carrot Eurasia
  • Devil’s Plant Tacca chntrierii Bat flower, Cat’s Whiskers tropical s. Asia
  • Devil’s Plaything Achillea millefolium Yarrow, Milfoil, naturalized
  • Devil’s Potato Echites umbellate Rubber Vine ornamental e. N. America
  • Devil’s Root Lophophora williamsii Peyote Cactus, sw N. America
  • Devil’s Root Solanum tuberosum; Potato 18th century Russian peasants
  • Devil’s Tobacco Verbascum thapsus, Common Mullein, Flannel Plant Eurasia
  • Devil’s Tongue Amorphallus rivierii Snake Palm, Umbrella Palm Indonesia to Japan
  • Devil’s Tongue Hydrosma
  • Devil’s Tongue Sanseveria lanceolata Snake Plant, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
  • Devil’s Trumpet Datura inoxia Angel’s Trumpet, Horn of Plenty sw USA
  • Devil’s Walking-stick Aralia spinosa Hercules Club e. N. America ornamental
  • Devil’s Weed Datura stramonium Jimson Weed, Thorn Apple n. America
  • Devilwood Osmanthus americanus American olive se N. America small tree

Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Click to view Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

Wes can be reached at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)