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What's a "Green Thumb"?

Melissa Dunlap is a writer, editor and blogger specializing in lifestyle communications. Fueled by curiosity, and a tad too much coffee, Melissa enjoys dissecting current trends for the modern woman. When she's not having dance parties w...

Curious about the origin of this gardening phrase?

For gardeners and non-gardeners alike, the definition of green thumb is pretty easy to explain. The phrase generally refers to a person who has a gift for growing plants. But, have you ever though about where the phrase "green thumb" came from?


For gardeners and non-gardeners alike, the definition of green thumb is pretty easy to explain. The phrase generally refers to a person who has a gift for growing plants. But, have you ever though about where the phrase "green thumb" came from?

As a writer, these are the things I think about all the time---word origins. "Green thumb" actually has a pretty interesting history.

According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, the phrase's origin has two plausible sources:

  • Its origin may be linked to the reign of King Edward I of England, who enjoyed fresh green peas so much that he had half a dozen serfs working to keep him supplied. He gave a prize to the worker with the greenest thumb, presumably stained from hours of shelling;

  • or it comes from the fact that repeatedly handling clay pots encrusted with algae will stain a gardener's thumb (and probably fingers) green.


Other sources credit chlorophyll (the green stuff in plants) for the phrase that became popular in the early 1900s. It links green thumbs specifically to the green stains you'll get under the fingernails and on the hands from handling and cutting lots of plants. I've seen this happen, so even though it's not the most romantic phrase origin, it's probably the most accurate.

Although today's green thumbs may not always have green thumbs, the phrase has stuck for centuries. And it's a nickname I don't mind having.
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