I've been quite interested in names of the plants both in English and in Japanese. Before I came to Kauai, I didn't care even if I didn't know the name of the plant but now I cannot leave it unknown. Especially after I started working as a tour guide for Japanese tourists, knowledge on plants are very useful and well-received by tourists. As soon as I encounter the plant I've never seen before, I take a photo and look for the name.
As you know, every plant has its binomial name which is usually Latin and also each language has its own common names. I feel so interesting how plant was named. Usually there are more than one common names and they are named after what it looks like or the characteristics of the plant. Therefore the more common names I know, the deeper I get to know the plant.
The photo above is a plant called "Jatropha podagrica." It was at the parking of Kaua'i Kookie Factory in Hanapepe when I first saw this plant. At that time I didn't know the name but soon I had a chance to find out the name because Botanical Garden was selling this plant for their fundraiser during their Cinco De Mayo. Then I was lucky to know this common name as "Buddha Belly" and started growing it.
The binomial name "Jatropha podagrica" in Latin literally means "Jatropha (iatros +trophe) =physic nut", "poda=foot" and "grica=gouty." It seems that the name of podagrica was named after the puffy swollen stalk or stem which is very distinguished.
Therefore, other common names such as "gout plant", "goutystalk" , "bottleplant" are considered to be named after this distinguished stalk, too.
Another common name "Buddha Belly" is same thing. Puffy stalk of the plant evokes typical image of "Happy Fat Buddha" whose belly is puffy.
People call this image as "Buddha" however the model of this fat laughing person is not Buddha but a Chinese monk called "Budai" or "Hotei" in Japanese.
Budai (布袋) which literally means "Cloth sack", allegedly lived around the 10th century in China. His name refers to the bag that he is conventionally depicted as carrying as he wanders aimlessly. His jolly nat”ure, humorous personality ,and eccentric lifestyle distinguishes him from most Buddhist masters or figures. Chinese nickname "笑佛” which means "smiling Buddha" must be source to call it "Buddha Belly."
On the other hand, Japanese name of this plant "Sango-aburagiri" came from the red flower, not fat stalk. "Sango" means "Coral" and "Aburagiri" means "Vernicia" or "tung-oil tree." Because red flower looks like Sango or Coral, "Sango-aburagiri" was named. All common names represent characteristic of this plant. But common name "Buddha Belly" sounds most positive and happy. I'm very happy to see my blooming "Buddha Belly" and look forward to getting seeds in the future.