The next time you choose a ready-made bouquet of flowers, see a garden hedge full of flowers, or select flowers for a special arrangement, spare a thought for the story behind the bloom.
Through ancient texts, biblical stories and historic fables, different flowers have been given different meanings, with some blooms boasting magical powers or the ability to pass on secret messages.
Here’s a rundown of 5 of our most popular flowers, and the myths behind them.
According to ancient legends, the humble carnation, often found in generic bouquets from petrol stations, has a far more auspicious history, as it’s believed that it was in bloom at Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. Carnations also have a long association with the U.S. Mother’s Day, when Anna Jarvis of West Virginia started the very first Mother’s Day service in 1908. To commemorate the day, she carried her mother’s favourite flowers – carnations.
Who hasn’t made a daisy chain as a child? The daisy is another flower with a story that stretches back to biblical times. Said to have sprung from the tears of Mary Magdalene, the daisy is also known as ‘God’s smile’. It’s also a popular flower from Anglo Saxon times, where it was named ‘day’s eye’, as it opened and closed its petals as the sun rose and set.
And if you’re wondering why we make daisy chains – the daisy chain originated when women made them for the Knights to wear as they rode into battle or at jousting tournaments, as a sign of affection and in defence of their lady’s honour.
As the name implies, the pretty Forget-Me-Not symbolises undying love and eternal friendship and acquired its name from an old Austrian legend. The legend tells the tale of a betrothed couple who were taking a stroll along the River Danube on the evening before their wedding.
The woman saw a tiny blue flower sail past them on the current and cried because such a lovely flower was floating away. Her fiancé leapt into the river to catch it, but the current swept him away too. He did, however, manage to rescue the flower and threw it onto the riverbank to his love, shouting ‘forget-me-not’ as he did so.
The Lilly of the Valley
A popular flower with brides, the tiny bells of the highly scented lily of the valley are said to have been created by Eve’s tears as she was driven from the garden of Eden – hence the name ‘Our Lady’s Tears’.
The Irish believe that they form ladders for the Fairie so that they can reach the reeds used to plait their cradles, while another myth tells the story of the love between the first Lily of the Valley with the Nightingale.
According to folklore, the Lily of the Valley was so shy that she hid in the long grass to listen to the Nightingale sing. Feeling very lonely, the Nightingale refused to sing until the Lily of the Valley bloomed so that everyone could see her. The Lily of the Valley now blooms every May for her Nightingale.
The beautiful rose is the most magical of all the flowers, and has the most symbolism and meaning. The Druids called it ‘the enchanter of the wood’; the Christians claim that the rose bloomed in Bethlehem near to the stable where Jesus was born, and a carving of a rose was found on a silver medal in an ancient tomb in Siberia, dating back 7 thousand years.
Roses also feature heavily in Greek mythology. After the Greek goddess Chloris came across a beautiful dead nymph, she turned her into a flower. Aphrodite gave beauty to the flower; the three graces gave brilliance, joy and charm, while Dionysus infused the flower with a fragrant nectar.
Meanwhile, Zephyrus, the west wind, blew away the clouds so that Apollo could bathe the rose in his sunlight. Once the creation was finished, the beautiful flower was given to Eros, God of Love, who gave it the name ‘Queen of Flowers’.
Another ancient Greek myth tells us how all roses were once white, until Athena caught her foot on a sharp thorn, staining some of the roses with her blood.
So the next time you have flowers in your hand, spare a thought for their own unique story, and how revered they’ve been over the centuries.