The scent of a gardenia is unmistakable, the sweet delicate perfumy aroma brings to mind intoxicating light flowery smells of fresh-cut flowers. Just a waft in the breeze is a signature scent that can be identified immediately by anyone who has ever smelled it before.
Gardenia is such a classic Southern plant that many Southerners assume it originated here. It did not. Traders in the Far East discovered it growing in China, Korea, and Japan. So sweet were its blooms they decided to bring it back to Europe. Before it got there, the traders stopped at the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa and planted it there. That’s how it got its other common name, “Cape Jasmine.” (Even though it’s not a jasmine, its scent reminded them of it.)
From Africa, gardenia, not yet given a botanical name, showed up in Europe. It didn’t like the climate there and was pretty much relegated to growing in hothouses. Meanwhile, in Charleston, South Carolina, botanist Alexander Garden was busy trading American native plants with English merchant, John Ellis, and Carl Linnaeus in Sweden. Ellis persuaded Linnaeus – the creator of the two-word system for botanical nomenclature – to name the new plant after Garden. Thus, Gardenia jasminoides was born.
In 1752, Garden became the first person in the United States to successfully grow gardenia outdoors. The plant was a big hit. Today, gardenias in the South are ubiquitous, growing all the way from Virginia to the tip of Florida.
Article from SouthernLiving.com