Flower Talk

Flower Talk

July 05 2020

Poppies are the stuff of dreams. Even Dorothy fell asleep in a field of poppies. Considering that opium comes from poppies, it’s not an altogether surprising reference and may explain why one of the flower meanings for poppies is to dream.

I have a delightful little book called ‘Kate Greenaway’s Language of Flowers’ first published in 1884. It’s filled with charming illustrations of flowers, women and children of the Victorian Age; when giving flowers with meanings became very popular. It’s kind of a lost art these days, so if you want your gift of flowers to have these meanings, you’d best include a note.

It seems strange to me that some flowers have negative meanings, for instance, if you want to tell someone she is heartless, give her hydrangeas, or if she’s insincere send foxgloves. Kind of hard to imagine sending an insult through flowers.

But giving floral messages is a charming custom and I’ve read of a few florists who are reviving it. One problem anyone who wants to send a floral message will encounter is that there are multiple meanings for most flowers. Let’s take bluebells whose meaning in several books is constancy, which I like because it is sort of my name. The common name ‘bluebell’ can refer to either the species Mertensia (lanceleaf bluebells) or many varieties of Campanula, the bellflower family, and the floral meaning of bellflower is gratitude. Another name and meaning is fairybells because the fairies were said to ring them to announce a death in the mortal world. For this reason it was considered unlucky to bring them in the house. It was also considered unlucky to walk among them during the witching hours when the flowers could be full of spells, giving rise to another meaning-“you have put a spell on me.”

To confuse things further, there is another species, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, a common English garden flower, also called bluebells. And! In Scotland bluebells are actually campanula rotundifolia or harebells, which is a North American wildflower found from the Yukon to New Mexico. Interestingly, the Navajo supposedly rubbed harebells on their bodies for protection from witches. It’s incredible to imagine how the Medieval English and Native Americans had the same flower stories. Perhaps carried with Homo Sapiens as we spread around the world!

Don’t even get me started on creeping bellflower, campanula rapunculoides, which I’ve seen called lilyleaf ladybells, or rampion from which came the name Rapunzel. Yep, that one. But don’t plant these! Really, don’t, they are incredibly invasive and hard to get rid of.

So should I ever give a bouquet including bluebells, I’m just going to stick with the constancy thing. The rest is a bit much, really.

Campanula- 'Birch’s Hybrid', many more available