Botanic Names: Hedgehogs or Sea Urchins?

The Greek word “echinos” is sometimes translated as “hedgehog,” sometimes as “sea urchin.” Either way you look at it, where the word occurs in botanic names, look for a flower group or seed head that is round and prickly. 

So the next time you see Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower, notice how much more round and spikey its disc of flowers is than that of other coneflowers.

Pinus echinata, short-leaf pine, bears prickly pinecones that echo a hedgehog. while Echinops sphaerocephalus, globe thistle, with its spherical head of flowers, suggests a sea urchin. I can thank the Grass Bunch for calling my attention to Cyperinus echinatus, globe Flatsedge, with its many spiky balls of first flowers then seeds.

Echinochloa crus-galli, barnyard grass, translates as sea urchin grass with cock’s spurs. In this plant one needs at least a hand lens to observe the hedgehog shape, which is found not in the inflorescence as a whole, even though bristly awns abound on its branches, but in the individual seeds, which are covered with rows of spikes.

Margaret Chatham

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