The zinnia is named for Johann Gottfried Zinn (1727-1759), a German botanist and physician who was a professor of medicine at Gottingen University. Zinn accomplished much during his short life, including completion of an influential text on the anatomy of the eye, published in 1753.
Zinn’s name was immortalized by the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who named the zinnia genus after him. Zinn’s life was reminiscent of the life of the Zinnia species elegans, which grows profusely and blooms but quickly succumbs to the first frost. Dr. Zinn died at age thirty-two, but his brief career had been productive as a botanist and a physician.
There are fifteen species of zinnias. The tall forms, with showy, variously colored flowers called zinnia elegans, native to Mexico and the Southwest, are particularly widely cultivated.