Goodeniaceae’s Fan Flowers

Scaevola ‘Sitting Pretty’, Pink Fan Flower in Goodeniaceae or Fan Flower Family at the Eden Project, Cornwall.
© Karen Andrews

There is nothing like being unfamiliar with a plant family in a botany test to leave that family permanently etched in your brain. Goodeniaceae somehow escaped me during my MSc Plant Diversity course. To add insult to injury, there was a whole wall of Fan Flowers on arrival in the Mediterranean Biome at the Eden Project during the MSc field course shortly afterwards.

I could perhaps be forgiven as the Goodeniaceae family’s distribution is largely confined to Australia. On the other hand, Scaevola or the Fan flower has a much wider distribution and is sold in the UK as plug plants for summer hanging baskets, bedding and containers. I cannot explain how I overlooked it, because its one-sided flowers seem remarkably noticeable now.

Goodenough to Goodeniaceae

There is always so much to learn about plants. Maybe there is a message that this botanist stumbled over the plant family named after Samuel Goodenough (1743-1827). He was the Bishop of Carlisle and an amateur botanist with a particular fascination in sedges and seaweeds. He struck up a lifelong friendship at Christ Church College, Oxford with Joseph Banks. Goodenough was a Fellow of the Linnean Society, its first Treasurer, a later Vice-president and instrumental in framing its constitution. He was scandalised when Linnaeus published his sexual system. The man of the cloth wrote to founder James Edward Smith (1759-1828) about the gross prurience of Linnaeus’s mind.

After James Northcote / Public domain. Northcote, James; Samuel Goodenough (1743-1827), Former Pupil of the School; Henry Box School;

Botanical Latin

It was James Edward Smith who named the Goodenia genus in Goodeniaceae after Samuel Goodenough. Gooden is his recognised botanical abbreviation, so it would appear that a shortened version of his surname was already in use. It was common for men of the time to have latinised versions of their names, although I have not found this in my research. Reading Stearn’s Botanical Latin on the formation of names, the ‘enough’ ending could fall foul of Linnaeus’s system on several counts. Linnaeus preferred names from Latin or Greek roots or could be made to sound like them. He rejected compound names like Good + Enough unless Greek compounds. Goodenough probably falls into the barbaric category with its problematic pronunciation of an -ough ending that always cause issues for non-native English speakers. Linnaeus favoured shorter names that sound good on the ear. Thus, Goodenia and Goodeniaceae make sense.

Scaevola’s Legendary Roman Origin

The genus Scaevola, Fan Flower, was first described by Linnaeus in 1771. Although he did not explain its origin, it is believed to pick up the Latin for left-handed or awkward. Legend refers to Gaius Mucius Scaevola as an assassin who burnt his right hand away to demonstrate his determination during the Roman Republic’s early years. The term alludes to the one-sided shape of the flower with its 5-lobed, fanlike corolla.

Hawaiian Legend

Scaevola spreads into the Pacific region beyond Western Australia. The flower has even entered Hawaiian legend. Its Hawaiian name is Naupaka, after a beautiful Hawaiian princess. There are multiple versions of the legend, but it remains a sad tale. Princess Naupaka was sad because she had fallen in love with a Kaui, a commoner. It was strictly forbidden for Hawaiian royalty to marry outside noble ranks. They prayed to the Gods but the rain fell. They were not to be permitted to live together.

Princess Naupaka took a a flower and tore it in half. She gave Kaui one half, telling him to go and live down by the water, while she would remain separated from him in the mountains. The nearby flowers began to bloom in half flowers in recognition of their sad separation.

Saline-resistant Coastal Plant

There are about 10 species in Hawaii, attributed to a single colonisation event. Nine are considered endemic, although some are of hybrid origin. They are primary used as robust coastal shrubs to bind against beach erosion. The seeds remain viable drifting in seawater for extended periods. They can use the ocean’s currents to colonise at distance. The fruits are also eaten and dispersed by birds. This has led to complaints about the invasiveness of the shrub in coastal Florida. Although the plant can resist salt water, it needs fresh rainwater on the sea shore to germinate.


Beyond the one-sided flowers already mentioned, Scaevola is botanically distinctive and fascinating for another reason. The style elongates and grows through the stamens and anthers with its cup-shaped indusium. An indusium is a term more commonly associated with ferns, where it is a flap of tissue that covers sori. In Goodeniaceae and the Scaevola genus, the indusium has a brush-like appearance. It collects pollen as it grows and presents it above the corolla to visiting insects.

Slide showing positioning of indusium above Fan-flower’s corolla. © Karen Andrews

I wonder if we will all now notice and become fans of the Fan Flower in 2021?

© Karen Andrews

References and Further Reading

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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