Have you ever rejoiced in the fact that you’ve got a green thumb, or listened to a friend or neighbor bemoan the fact of having a “black thumb?” Did you ever wonder why we bestow the shade upon that body part and not the rest? After all, you’re gardening with your entire arm, not just the hitch-hiking digit.
Thumbing a Ride Back in Time
Way back before hydroponics was even a seed in some eco-friendly minds, there were actual green thumbs. This was before gardening gloves became more common, so plant enthusiasts often found themselves at the mercy of chlorophyll. That’s what makes plants green, but it started to get all over hands, too. Mostly, the green appeared under peoples’ nails – there weren’t folks with verdant green thumbs walking around (that would be more likely to be “gangrene thumb” and require a trip to the hospital, not the hydroponics retailer).
There are also various legends and tales about why we’ve taken up the term “green thumb.” In the Old Farmer’s Almanac it is reported that serfs who worked under the reign of King Edward I competed for having the greenest thumbs due to their constant pea shelling. The Almanac also cites algae as a culprit, creeping its way onto clay pots (and gardeners’ hands thereafter).
Ye Olde Thumbs Up
Still, it doesn’t quite explain why the thumb gets all the credit. Perhaps it just sounds best. Green Pointer Finger is sort of a mouthful, and Green Pinky sounds like a rage rock band. Our fellow plant enthusiasts across the pond may have gotten it a little closer: The term used in the UK is actually “green fingers,” dating back to 1925. While people skilled with plants truly have “green fingers,” the term’s not as likely to catch on in the United States, where hydroponics enthusiasts continue to give their hobby two (green) thumbs up.