Picea abies

Fir-tree, also known as the green gold. The word fir is found in Old Swedish and it has an Indo-European root meaning "stick out", "to be sharp."

Earlier it was thought that the fir immigrated to Sweden through Russia and Finland, but resent findings show that the fir-tree came from the Norwegian Atlantic coast to early melted mountain peaks about 11 000 years ago. 4 000 years later, the tree expands south. Fir-tree immigration story goes thus, unlike many other plants, from north to south.

Fir-tree is a secondary tree category, which means that it happily grows up with or in the shade of other trees. When the tree has grown up it closes itself, and it becomes difficult for other species to grow in the same place and these are competed out. But what they now call a "fir-ification" of the Swedish landscape is due to that the fir-tree has been favored in forestry. Fir is also one of Sweden's most important exports.

As the climate changes, the guidelines for how old a tree in the forest/forestry industry have gone from 100-120 to 60-70years. This is due to a concern for extreme weather with mild winters, plenty of water and sometimes periods of drought resulting in both storm damage and risk of fires. If a fir-tree stand untouched, it may become 400 years, relatively young for other tree species. Although, one of the world's oldest living tree is a fir standing at an undisclosed location in Dalarna. Parts of the root system are 9 500years old.

In the past, hedges of fir were common feature in gardens, but today, apart from in parks, we look at the fir as something that belongs to the landscape around the city and the tree becomes a boundary between urban and rural areas. This boundary is exceeded every year when we bring a Christmas tree in our homes. To worship trees is a very old tradition, but to acquire a fir-tree for Christmas is something that first started in the 1700s after the German model.


The Latin name is probably referring to an Etruscan god named Tages. Why this god has given its name to a Mexican plant is unclear. In Swedish there are two local names, Velvet-flower or Velvet-rose, but very few use them. In English the local name for the plant Marigold is commonly used.

Marigolds are originally from Central America and Mexico. The Aztecs believed that the color came from the blood of those killed by the Spaniards. The plant was used by the Aztecs, for medicine, in ceremonies and as decoration. In Mexico today the flower is also called flor de muertos (death flowers) and used in large quantities at the Day of the Dead.

After the plant had come with the colonizers to Europe it soon spread over the planet. Tagetes minuta include a species used commercially for "marigold oil" and the plant has now been neutralized in Africa, Hawaii, Australia and is regarded as an invasive species in many of these regions. In other locations Marigolds are given a higher status, the plant is very popular in Nepalese culture and garlands of marigolds decorate almost every household and is widely used at festivals. In Ukraine the plant is seen as a national symbol and is often mentioned in songs, poetry and stories.

As well as for ornamental and oil, the plant is used in medicine, perfume, and insecticides and cooking. In the EU it is also used as a coloring agent in food and is known under the name E161b.

There is a variety of Marigold that has been given the additional name "Linnaeus" as it comes from seeds they managed to subtract from Linnaeus's own herbarium. This happened in the 1920s when they restored the Linnaeus Garden in Uppsala and the variety has grown in the garden ever since. It is quite remarkable that the seeds are cultivated in Sweden as nearly all the commercial seeds we buy today come from southern or central Europe.

Allium schoenoprasum

The species name schoenoprasum comes from the Greek skhoinos (bulrush, seaweed) and prason (onions) The Swedish name for chives (gras-onion) can be seen as a direct translation or just a interpretation of the plant. It is a common plant in Sweden, natural on Öland and Gotland, but grow in most gardens around the country. Despite this, there is little information available about this spring veggie.

Chives originate in the northern parts of Eurasia and North America and have been cultivated in Europe since the Middle Ages. Researchers have been able to date the use of chives in some places as far back as 5,000 years. Despite its long time as a cultivated plant only little changes occurred during the plant's domestication.

To domesticate a plant means the process that occurs when a wild plant is transitioning to become a cultivated plant, a plant grown by man. During plants domestication humans affect the natural selection. Some varieties and qualities are given priority over others, some mutations are appreciated and preserved, and with time the plant can change characteristics.

Domestication can be described as a spontaneous result of a selection and it happens slowly. What we call plant breeding is more deliberate and focused and it goes a little faster to change a plant or to develop a hybrid. During plant breeding one tries to get as many desirable properties to a single plant and then get that plant to multiply. To genetically modify organisms, or GMOs, is made with the same desire to get as many to man (humans) positive qualities into the same plant. When genetic modification individual genes are pulled out from different plants, could be plants that otherwise cannot be crossed, and those genes are then placed in another plant's natural genes. The speed of changing a plant has now increased significantly.

Aegopodium podograria

Goutweed is a very common plant in Sweden and was early on a garden plant and should be called a true “culture plant”. Sometimes it is said that goutweed was spread from the monasteries but it is not likely, because goutweed has been in the country for about 2500 years. Other crops such as wheat, spelled, oats, rye, peas, beans, grapes and opium poppy was introduced in the country during the period between the Stone Age and Late Bronze Age. Goutweed, pigweed, dandelion, dogwood, wild strawberries, raspberries, rose hips, celandine, nettle, all seem to have been part of the food at that time.

A lot of plants came to Sweden via the Viking boat-trips but it is the medieval monasteries that had the main role of introduce new plants. In recent years, studies have showed that also nobility garden plants and rural food production played an important role. Various research centers have also contributed to the spread of plants.

The first botanic garden was founded in Pisa in 1544 and was attached to the University in the same city. High profile research was then in botany and other universities followed close behind and founded their own botanical gardens. Uppsala, built a garden in 1655, also connected to the university. A few years earlier in Amsterdam the rulers did not only understand the importance of studying medicinal plants but also to ensure supply. Land was allotted in the city and the garden was laid out in 1638 in order to keep doctors with medication. (Gothenburg Botanical was built in 1923 in connection with a jubilee exhibition but is not considered completed until 1948)

Throughout history, one of the big gest problems has been to correctly determine the species of a medicinal plant. To confuse two plants could have unpleasant consequences.

Goutweed has no known side effects and can be used as analgesic and anti-inflammatory agent for rheumatoid arthritis and gout. It is also good for hemorrhoids, insect bites, burns and wounds.


The name comes from the Greek word "stork" because the flower resembles a stork's beak. Pelargonum is a genus in the family geraniaceae and in everyday speech in Sweden it’s called pelargonior eller pelargonier, in English geraniums.

Most species comes from South Africa, some from Australia, and a few originate in Madagascar, Yemen, Iraq and Turkey. The genus has more than 250 species and consists of herbs, semi bushes and shrubs, and plentiful of hybrids that are primarily sold as potted plants. Of all the different varieties of geraniums we have in Sweden they all originate from only four different species that grows wild in South Africa: Hjälmpelargon, Hängpelargon, Hästskopelargon och Smutspelargon
The plant was introduced in Europe in the 1600s and quickly became popular in Sweden. The plant received a further boost in the late 1700s when it was cultivated in castles and mansions; it was then a real aristocratic flower. Around the turn of the century, 1800 - 1900, the artist Karin Larsson arranged a few pink geraniums in a windowsill, an arrangement her husband depicted. These illustrated interiors created a new "Swedish" style and presented an ideal home popular to copy. The geraniums became widely appreciated and subsequently a typical flower for the Swedish welfare state.

That particular hybrid Karin Larsson used, now called Mårbacka or Sundborn, is the most famous and widespread of all geraniums, but it has an unclear origin. What is known is that the name or the hybrid is not from Lagerlöfs home Mårbacka, although it is mentioned as Mårbacka already 1955. The same sort is sold in a nursery-garden outside Ystad and called Sundborn. The geraniums that are grown in the nursery came from a cutting that Carl and Karin Larsson's daughter Kersti donated to the owner of the nursery’s grandmother when she lived in Sundborn. Selma Lagerlöf lived for a time in Falun, not far from Sundborn and sat model for Carl Larsson, perhaps Selma got a cutting with her home? In any case, the geraniums now sold at Mårbacka are at least cuttings from Selma’s own plant.

Bellis perennis

Bellis perennis literally means beautiful perennial. In Sweden we call them “Thousand beauty” and then think of the white or pale pink flowers in the lawn that occasionally is run over by the lawnmower. When we call it Bellis it is when we meet them at the nursery-garden. It is then a little bigger, a little more colorful, a lot more expensive and meant for planting.

The species is originally from southwestern Asia, the Himalayas and North Africa but now grows throughout Europe and has also spread further to America and Australia.

The first Swedish note of the plant is from Skåne in 1737 but is now a common plant in culture influenced land such as lawns. The lawn is a European invention and fits Europe's mild and slightly humid climate. Some of the earliest lawns were areas around the medieval castle in France and England - the guards could then easily see approaching guests or potential enemies. In the 1500s in England green areas for games and play was also made, and in the 1600s when gardening became an hobby for the rich and noble, lawns became an element in both parks and small gardens. Like today, it was high status to have a well-kept lawn. In the 1700s, the English park style was popular throughout Europe and included came the concept with large grass areas. Before the lawnmower was invented in 1830, it was only the really wealthy that could afford to have employees to manage their lawns. The grass was then cut with with a scythe, sickle or sheep shears, but sometimes they just released animals that went loose and ate the grass short.

Daisy (Thousand beauty) is said to cure toothache, if you eat the three first flowers in spring you would make it throughout the year, the juice from the flower was also good for acne. The flower is said to have an astringent effect on body tissue. In the ancient Roman Empire slaves were ordered to pick sacks full of daisies, they were then pressed and in the blossom juice they dipped bandage. The bandages where used for cuts and stab wounds.


Iris plants or sword lily plants are a large family of 70 genera and about 2000 species. It grows almost worldwide but is especially represented in South Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and Central- and South America. In the iris family familiar garden plants like crocus and gladiolus are also included.

The most common species in Sweden is Iris germanica, German iris or garden-iris, and the popular sort 'Mme. Chereau" that came to Sweden in 1910 from a nursery in Belleville outside Paris. The nursery was known for its cultivars and that they gave specific names to their plants. This is the reason that a plant originated far south and called a German name in Latin got named after a French lady. Iris is a popular garden plant, and since then various kinds and hybrids has flooded Sweden.

Historically the plant has had many names, including Iris Illyrica, Theklpida, Urania, Catharon, Thaumastos, Radix Marica, Opertritis, Consecratix, names that somehow connects the plant to the rainbow. (Except in Skåne, Sweden, where it is called hästapung - horse testicals)

In Egypt you find the earliest depiction of the plant. In Thomtes III tomb from 1450 BC there is a room called the Botanical garden or the Botanical chamber. Unlike the tombs other violent war images this shows a variety of strange plants where they only been able to identify seven varieties, one is the iris. In Greek mythology, Iris was the messenger goddess that traveled between heaven and earth via the rainbow. Iris was also used as the symbol of the Virgin Mary when they wanted to portray her as the Queen of Heaven when she (also) traveled on a bridge to heaven.

The plant has not only been cultivated for its beauty and fragrance but it’s also said to be a super plant that is good for diverse ailments such as cough, insomnia, snake bites, headache and sunburn, but at faulty or abundant intake it can be toxic. The gin Bombay Sapphire includes extracts from Iris germanica and Iris pallida.


It is unclear when columbine moved to Sweden. Some sources write that the plant is known since the Middle Ages, had the name “Fairygloves” and that it was the flower for the goddess Freya and fairies. That information indicates that the plant existed in the country before Christianity was introduced. Other sources say that the first records of the plant are found at the end of the 1400s, and that monks brought the plant from German monastery. A third source says that the first note is found in Helsingborg, Skåne in 1744. Today, it is safe to say that the plant occurs throughout the country and one can find wild plants in southern and central Sweden.

There is also confusion around the name. The Swedish name Akleja or Akvielja is a Swedish version of the Latin name for the entire genus Aquilegia. The most common variety is Aguliegia vulgaris (vulgaris Latin for common). The word Aquilegia is said to either have come from the Latin aquila (eagle), aqua (water), or from the Roman city of Aquileia. The flower's name is often associated with birds that might partly be due to the appearance of the flower resembles a beak or a birds claw but also blue flowers were said to provide sharp vision, like for example a bird.

Columbines is native to the northern hemisphere except to the North American continent. Despite this, it is especially the migrating North American columbines that has the strongest link to birds. The flowers shape and size lower has adapted to different birds or insects mouths.

Columbine has been used against various ailments, primarily for cleaning wounds and as anti-lice treatment, columbine are rejected also by deer and killer snails.

Rheum rhaponticum

The Latin name comes from a Greek plant name rha or after Rha, which is another name for the Volga River and the Latin barbarus. The name could be translated into "barbar-root" or "foreign roots".
The rhubarb comes from Asia, where it has a long history, but the species' origin is unclear. The plant cannot be found in nature; most likely it has developed when different species crossed spontaneously or consciously when grown together. The rhubarbs root is mentioned in the Chinese writing "The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic", which is said to have been written about 2700 years ago.

Today, rhubarb is a very common plant in gardens all over Sweden but before it was cultivated in Europe, it was brought here from Turkey and through the legendary Silk Road. It was then called "Turkish rhubarb". The cost of transportation of rhubarb in the middle Ages was very high. The root, that was then primarily used, was several times more expensive than other herbs and spices at that time, such as cinnamon, opium or saffron.

A little further ahead in time, when the trade route instead went over Russia, the name changed to "Russian rhubarb". The rhubarb spread in Russia and for hundreds of years rhubarb now grows wild along the Volga River.

In Asia they have used the plant as a vegetable for a long time, the French began cooking it in the 1700s and in Sweden it became publicly known at the end of 1800 and the early 1900s with the “egnahem” movement. But it was not until the price of sugar fell and became widely available for common people that this sour plant got it’s final breakthrough.

Perhaps, the first cultivation of rhubarb that occurred in Sweden was in Majorna, Gothenburg. Somewhere it’s written that "because it is said that the rhubarb first time in Sweden was grown on Kungsladugårds estate".

Helianthus tuberosus

Helianthus from the Greek helios (sun) and anthos (flower), as the plant is in the family with sunflower, and tuberosus from Latin tuber (tuber, tubers).

In Swedish the plant is called Jordärtskocka (earth artichoke). The name artichoke is also used to the completely separated species Artichoke and the word artichoke is borrowed from German artichocke. The German word is in turn borrowed from dialects in northern Italian articiocco but originally the word comes from the Arabic word al-harsof. In France, called the plant Topinabour because year 1613 six Brazilian Indians from Topinambous tribe was in Europe and somehow the plant and tribal members became linked. In English the name is Jerusalem artichoke and it is believed the name was first introduced in the United States as a distortion of the southern Italian immigrants name of the plant, girasole, sunflower in Italian. The plant first got to be called girasole artichoke that in time became Jerusalem artichokes, a plant that since long had the suitable and local name Sunroots.

Jerusalem artichokes are native to North America and were cultivated by the indigenous people long before the Europeans came to America. Jerusalem artichokes came to Sweden in 1640, which was before the potatoes. The potatoes eventually became more popular and Jerusalem artichokes have gradually fallen a bit into oblivion. The root's popularity has gone up and down over the years. The plant was an important food for the settlers in North America when it was first described in 1603 for a European population it was written that the taste was just as delicious as the artichoke. The plant has also been called Canadian truffles, named "Best vegetarian soup" (with the ironic name of Palestinian Soup) simultaneous been relegated to pig feed and as a coffee substitute.

Jerusalem artichokes can sometimes be found in the Swedish ruderal land, most likely the root followed when earth has been moved. It spreads through the root system and once you have received the amazing sunroot in the garden plot, it is always exciting to see where it pops up next year.

Helianthus annuus

Sunflower genus includes 67 American species, and is a plant that early on became domesticated. The earliest findings are in San Andres in the Gulf of Mexico about 4100 years BC and the process of refining the plant has been going on since then.

Until the 1560s, most flowers that grew in the European gardens where native or from the Mediterranean. But in April 1559 a tulip bloom in a rich man's garden in Augsburg, it was the beginning of a time when everyone wanted the pompous and colorful plants you could buy from Turkey. Towards the end of that same century, a wave of other kinds of plants came from the "New World" (America). Plants that have come through Turkey came through trade; the plants that came from America came because of European colonialism.

Sunflower, a sacred plant among the Aztecs, had already an established name but was forgotten or changed when introduced in Europe. Sunflower instead became known as "flos Solis peruvianus" or "Sol Indianus" but finally renamed to Helianthus annuus from the Greek helios (sun), anthemon (flower) and annuus (annual).

The Sunflower quickly became popular in European gardens, first among the rich but in the late 1600s the sunflower was so common among ordinary people that it was no longer welcome in fancy gardens. In Sweden, it took some time, first in 1718's we can read about the sunflower. At the same time the plant was introduced as a decorative plant in Russia, but when the Orthodox Church banned all plants rich in fat during Lent, the poor began to chew sunflower seeds and the plant became an important food source. The church had failed to put the plant on their black list.

Today Russia produces half of all sunflowers in the world. Argentina is on second place, where production took off during the Spanish Civil War when the export of Spanish olive oil stopped. The US also has a high production, but rather using native varieties it grows Russian or European seeds.

Urtica dioica

Stinging nettle, it stings when touched and nettle from the old Germanic and ancient Nordic word netla, which in turn is related to the word for a net.

The Urtica dioica belongs to a genus that occurs all over the world (except Antarctica) and consists of 55 different families and a total of 1650 species in the form of herbs, shrubs, vines and trees. Our stinging nettle is defined as an herb but it is unclear when the plant spread across the country. Finds from the Neolithic period have shown that nettles was used for yarn or rope and in graves from the Bronze Age fabrics of nettles have been found. Until the First World War it was written in the household books about the nettle excellence as domestic textile plant. Nettle was then outcompeted by flax, flax was in turn out qualified by other natural and synthetic fibres. Today the nettle is grown industrially in China and Brazil, but in Sweden, only on a smaller scale.

In an old time peasant garden, they often had a special place for nettles, a nettle yard, cultivated nettles was an important vegetable and picked often so that it had small fine shot not only the spring but for most of the growing season. When you read about nettle it’s easy to understand why, the plant is good for almost everything: to whip paralyzed parts of the body, cure for gout, relief for coughs and bronchitis. In iron deficiency, urinary tract diseases, kidney gravel, to clear the stomach from waste products. Against scabies, itching wounds and dog bites. Rheumatism, prostate enlargement, during menopause and to stimulate the sex drive. (For elevated libido for all adults: 3msk dried nettle powder in 7dl grapefruit juice, drink half or share with someone) But as with all exceptionally beneficial plants, the nettle should be taken in moderation and not overdosed.

If someone happens to be burned by a nettle, then this person has gotten some histamine, 5-hydroxytryptamine, and acetylcholine under the skin, the best way to ease the trouble is my grandmother's advice to smear egg white over the sore area and let dry.

Ribes uva-rispa

In Swedish we usually call this berry Gooseberry but in southern Sweden and Finland they still use the name stickelbär (“stingingberry”), which refers to the bushes thorns and resemble the Danish stickelsbær and the German word Stichelbeere. Gooseberries are today not the most appreciated berry bushes but there is a passage in Carl Jonas Love Almqvist About Swedish rhyme (1838) where the specific Swedish gooseberries are praised.

"Who has on the earth wide space, enjoyed the taste / of gooseberries and large, sweet, red stickelbär / and that then do not cry out: I never tasted the taste! / A shipload stupid oranges is nothing. / Even mandarins  / I hardly think./What sincerely can Africa offer? / What can America show? / What Asia? / What all of Europe? / I defy openly everyone./But Scandinavia - it is grand! / Only Sweden Swedish gooseberries have. "

The icing cycles that have characterized Sweden and set the framework for our vegetation. Over the past two million years the glaciations lasted about 100 000 years and with ice-free periods between for about 10,000 to 20,000 years. No plants can handle such a long time with ice, frozen.

Some species, however, had the ability to quickly advance south to what is called refuge area (refuge - protected location) in Southern Europe, particularly the Balkans, Italy and the Iberian Peninsula. A re-colonization of vegetation to Northern Europe came largely from these places as the ice melted and the climate changed. But at every period of re-colonization the species composition changed and how the plant community looks today was not the same as in previous periods of no ice. All plants in Sweden have immigrated from outside, the time without ice is too short for a specific Swedish or Scandinavian plant to have evolved.

More recent immigrated plants often come here with human help, both consciously, for the plants utility or beauty, and unconsciously, by transport of other freight. Because of the rapid climate changes, some species will thrive while others perish, all in anticipation of the next big freeze.


A box reserved for a yet unknown plant.

Climate change, the movement of people and goods will certainly give us something new to plan in our gardens in the future - if we continue to grow.

Growing plants and keeping animals is a relatively new invention in the history of humans. During most of our time we have been hunters and gatherers, but as humans began to cultivate we became settle, many could live together and everyone in this community didn’t need to be occupied to find or produce food. We could start distributing tasks. It also became worthwhile to build houses and acquire possessions.

The first traces of cultivation is found in the "Fertile Crescent" and dated to about 10 000 BC. It is the area that spreads out like an arc north of the Syrian Desert but below the high mountain ranges. Early findings of cultivating are found below the Zagros Mountains, in the Euphrates and Tigris area and in the Levant from southern Turkey to Sinai.