Gardenia is the name of a genus of tropical trees and shrubs. The name "gardenia" is eponymous, coming from the name of the Scottish naturalist, Dr. Alexander Garden. Dr. Garden was a medical doctor and amateur scientist, who loved botany and practiced his avocation in Charleston, South Carolina from the early 1750’s until the Revolutionary War broke out.
Dr. Garden worked closely with Carl Linnaeus, sending plants, as well as animals in the insect, fish, and reptile classes to Linnaeus in Sweden. Dr. Garden did not discover the perfumed, primarily white flower that bears his name, but Linnaeus named it in his honor in 1760. He did, however, discover other plants, which were not named for him.
The plants named for Dr. Garden, also called the Cape jasmine, are members of the Rubiaceae family, also called madder. The gardenia is native to China and Japan. Now, with over 200 species, most of which are hybrids, they can be found all over the globe, including North America, South Africa, and Pacific Islands. The most common species is Gardenia jasminoides, so-named for its jasmine-like fragrance.
Though mainly white, the blossoms can run the gamut through pale yellow, and come in both a single and a double form. In nature, most gardenias flower in winter or early spring. In North American growing conditions, as in South Carolina, a gardenia can bloom for three months, from May to July, or longer.
People often choose the gardenia to use in landscaping, not only on account of its fragrant flowers but also because its foliage is considered handsome, being glossy and a deep green. The gardenia is used in China for herbal medicine in which it is used to treat irritability, as well as anxiety, inability to sleep, and a range of other disorders. The gardenia can form the focal point in corsages or be grown as a houseplant, and the berry that follows the flowers is the source of a dye for silk.