This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
There is no more interesting study than the study of words, and when in connection with floral history the study of words is quite-fascinating.
In the early Anglo-Norman times the word trace is used to signify a cord - and ropes and cords used in ploughing or hauling came to be called traces as such parts of harness now are termed. This we learn from old dictionaries extant.
It is curious to note how words change their application in time. Hose, in those days was the upper part of the leg of a stocking, and was attached to the body of the breeches. When it was separated the whole stocking in time became hose, and what was hose in the former times, became the leg of the pantaloons.
So this connection of braided cord with trace became so entirely lost, that when Mr. Curtis wrote the Flora Londoniensis, he could see no meaning to "Ladies' traces "in relation to the pretty wild orchids of that name, and he wrote " the protuberant germina, placed regularly one above another, somewhat resemble plaited hair, whence, perhaps, its name of Ladies' traces, or, if this conjecture be correct, Ladies' tresses".
Dr. Prior, and other authors have adopted this guess, evidently without thought, using indeed almost the same language, changing merely the term "germina" to "ovaries," but omitting the words "perhaps," "if," and "conjecture," and Curtis is then made " authority" for the word tresses, instead of the original traces. It is much more in accordance with the olden language to guess that "Ladies' traces" may have been white silken cords; as against plow or horse traces which were of braided hemp or braided leather.
Tress has rarely if ever been used in England in the sense of " braided hair." Moore, Shelley and other poets, in fact use both words in separate senses in the same sentence. The old French and perhaps the old English used tresse to signify the clasp or cord which kept braided hair together; while trace in France was used precisely as in the old English times. Tress in connection with human hair seems to have been used in only recent times, just as it seems to have been in England. The oldest French dictionary at our command Le Didionnaire Royal, does not mention it at all in connection with humanity, but says it is the curly hair of horses, or the curly wool of sheep. There are some indications that it was used by the old Romans in connection with braided hair, but in this sense it does not seem to have been employed in old England wherein the word "Ladies' traces" originated for our pretty plant.
Halliwell's dictionary of English localisms gives no support to the idea that "trace" is a corruption of "tress".
The statement made in the "Flowers and Ferns of the United States," that there is no reason for changing the good old English "ladies traces" for ladies' tresses, has been considerably commented on in England, and the "Authority of Withering, Prior," etc, adduced against it. We have been thus moved to go a little more fully into the matter here, hoping it may interest those who love to look into the histories of things.