Twin Peeks

     Being funny on a regular basis is no joke.  A man who worked behind the scenes during the Golden Age of radio comedy wrote a book about this, called “Funny Men Don’t Laugh”.  Among the issues he discusses is the fact that he and his boss (whom, for legal reasons, he could not mention by name in the text) were largely unknown.  Writers got no credit whatsoever because everyone wanted to believe those comedians thought of everything they said all by themselves.

     I had a large library of jokebooks, once upon a time, which I read on a regular basis (hence my knowledge and, indeed, frequent use of antique gags.)  One jokebook, dating to 1900 or thereabouts, is graven in my memory because I saw one of the jokes appear in the Monday episode of one of my favorite comic strips.  This mattered little to me: jokes do wander through the world without tags, and are caught and released on a regular basis.

     But on Tuesday, I frowned over the comic strip,.  Surely I remembered that day’s joke from the same book.  Interesting coincidence.

     There’s a saying in the military community: “Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence; three times is enemy action.”  When I remembered Wednesday’s joke, I got the book out shelf and thumbed through it.  Not only were all three jokes there, but they were on the same page.  In fact, Monday’s gag was at the top of the page, Tuesday’s was right under it, and Wednesday’s was next.

     I waited with bated breath for the Thursday paper.  Yes, eggplant éclair, the fourth joke on the page was the fourth gag of the week.  Friday, however, was a gag not in the book, and from there the cartoonist went on to other things.  There’s no reason he should NOT have used jokes from a book that was sixty or seventy years old, but it was an eye opener.  (And it prepared me for a time, years later, when another comic strip I enjoyed swiped an entire two week sequence, word for word and move for move, from a comic strip by someone else.)

     So I suppose I should not have been surprised when I found that postcard humorists were no different.  The postcard at the top of this column is a fairly common joke in folk literature, to say nothing of postcards: the bachelor completely fuddled by “woman’s work”.  I would have thought nothing of it, if I hadn’t run into this postcard.

     Um, that’s the same joke, and an excellent artist’s rendering of the original photograph.  No, my innocent, they were NOT published by the same company.  Somebody at the second company decided the joke would do just as well for them as for someone else, but decided not to run the risk of stealing a copyrighted photograph.

     I like it better if there’s at least a LITTLE adaptation of the original.  This play on words entertains me.

     Even if the main character is swiped from another postcard.

     I do try to stay open-minded about these things, but I admit to a little prejudice.  I assume the tighter, better printed image of these two is the original, though I have no proof of it.  Neither of these cards was actually mailed, but both are from the 1901-1907 period.  I say the second card was by a less interested artist just intent on a quick buck.

     But the next two leave me undecided.  The first card is a more elaborate production, from a company which liked to put that definite block of color behind its protagonists.  The joke is simple and could easily be copied by an artist desperate for that quick sale.

     Hang on, though.  The second is exactly the same picture, NOT redrawn.  The background (and the back of the postcard) is different, and someone has come up with another punchline.  Was this a steal?  Or did the artist simply sell the same picture to two different companies?  Anybody who can come up with two different captions for one drawing—and sell them both—is truly a master of the comic arts.

Getting a Handle On It

     So why is the person in the street who asks you for money a “panhandler”?  We were discussing, not so long ago, the difference between a hobo and a bum.  Of course, a beggar is someone else entirely.  A hobo may have an accustomed route for his travels, but a beggar is often to be found at a usual spot, like the lady we used to encounter three blocks from here, who for three or four years could be heard explaining to passersby that she just needed another dollar to be able to afford a bus ticket to take herself and her nine children back home.  We always wanted to suggest to her that if, in all that time, she hadn’t made one dollar, she might consider some other line of work, but we are not such poor sports.

     Anyway, if one is going to be a panhandler, does one need a pan for this?  Apparently, the pan is considered optional by most dictionaries.  The pan is merely figurative: a person with an arm out looking for a handout looked like a pan, which always had that handle out.  The noun came first, apparently just before the Gold Rush days, and the verb followed a generation later.

     Of course, our postcard cartoonists could not let the opportunities offered by the word to get away unnoticed.

     Although in this case, it is not the asker who is handling the pan,.  (And, in fact, this chap is the passerby instead of the person being passed.)

     The postcard makers were divided into the same two classes we have today.  We have those who admired a panhandler who was as shameless as this chap asking for a minor bit of sewing.  (I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the panhandler I was passing with a nod but no donation who shouted after me “I’ll tell your mother!”)

     And there have always been those who hold the mendicant in contempt, feeling the beggar is an able-bodied person who simply doesn’t want to work.  This panhandler is being extra careful about what sort of charity he is being offered.

     Of course, we all have our ways of dealing with panhandlers.  One of my friends would always refuse politely when asked for money on the street, but would frequently mutter “Why doesn’t he get a job?” as he moved on.  (Yes, I am the one who would point out “He does have a job.  That’s it.”)  Those who are interested in telling us what to say carry this to another level, reminding us that neither “beggar” no “panhandler” are complimentary terms, and should not be used, as these people have their own troubles and should not be loaded down with the weight of unpleasant labels.  I don’t know how they would have felt about my use of “mendicant”, which is more properly applied to those members of mendicant religious orders.  I could look it up, I suppose, but there’s no money in that.  Anyhow, our postcard publishers didn’t mind kindness to a panhandler, especially if a pun was made available thereby.

     But they also appreciated those who put the beggar in his place at once.  It does take all kinds.

Ranunculus to You: Rosebud to Snowdrop

ROSEBUD   “Young Girl”

            This symbolism ought to be obvious.  If you want complication, there is a system of messages which can be sent using rosebuds, agreed upon by just about everybody who goes in for such things.  If you present your lover with a rosebud with a stem that has all its leaves and thorns intact, you are saying “I Fear But I Hope.”*  That is, you’re afraid he/she doesn’t love you, but you haven’t given up yet.  He/she takes the rosebud from you and then hands it back.  And it is here that things get complicated.

            If you get the rosebud back upside-down, you are being told, “You Must Neither Fear Nor Hope”, which is presumably the equivalent of “I’ll always be a friend.”

            If it comes upside-up, with all the leaves torn off, you are being told “There Is Everything to Fear”.*  (Pull up yer socks, honey; yer runnin’ dead last in the race for my heart.)

            If you get it back with the thorns plucked off, the message is “There Is Everything to Hope”*.  (Ain’t sayin’ out loud, kid, but you made the finals.)

            If the leaves AND thorns are picked off, you are being told “There Is Nothing to Fear or Hope”.  (I’m really more into video games.)

            If your lover instead rips all the petals off and hands you what’s left, the message is “I Hate You.”  But you may have deduced that while they were hurling the petals down and stomping on them.

ROSEBUD, MOSS   “Confession of Love”

ROSEBUD, RED   “Pure and Lovely”

ROSEBUD, RED, SEVERAL   “Seek an Opportune Moment”

            Notice how long I waited before I mentioned Citizen Kane?

ROSEBUD, WHITE   “A Heart Ignorant of Love”*

            Catherine Waterman reports that before love came into the world, all roses were white.  I find this legend sadly lacking in detail.  Whose love?  What kind of love?  Were the roses blushing when it happened, or what?  A few floriographers make it plain that their meaning refers to someone who is too young for grand passion, rather than someone who lacks a notion of any kind of love.

*ROSEBUD, YELLOW   “Jealous of an Old Admirer”

*ROSE BUSH, LEAF   “Dream Elsewhere”

ROSEMARY   “remembrance”

            This meaning has been traced to at least the fifteenth century.  Some floriographers attribute it to a tea made of rosemary, which was intended to revive the memory.  Others trace it to a habit of the ancients (they do not specify which ancients) of carrying it to wedding and funerals, both of these being occasions to be remembered aside from storing memories of the people involved.  Lucy Hooper tells the story of the Countess Eleanora of Denmark, who saw her lover’s body arrayed for burial, strewn with rosemary.  By all accounts, Lady Eleanora was not the frail, fainting type, but forever after could not smell rosemary without going into convulsions.

            A popular minority meaning, almost as popular as the other, is “Your presence revives Me”.  Mme. De Latour preferred it, but in English-speaking countries she was overruled by Shakespeare.  In Hamlet, Ophelia goes into one of the most famous bits of flower language in literature, including the line “There’s Rosemary; That’s for Remembrance”.  It may be worth noting that Ophelia only goes in for flower language after she’s slipped over the railings into madness.

Anyway, be sure to check out the whole speech for information on what flower language was like in Will’s day.  I’d’ve included more of it in this book, but the experts are still wrangling over just what flowers he was talking about.

Rose of Sharon:   see ALTHEA

Rowan:   see ASH, MOUNTAIN

RUDBECKIA   “Justice”

RUE   “Disdain”

            The flower is bitter, and anyone who has sampled it is expected to disdain a second taste.  According to people who study such things, medieval flower symbolism used Thyme as a symbol of virginity, and Rue for its loss.  As the neighbors looked on in disdain, you rued the day, I expect.

RUE, GOAT’S   “Reason”*

            Claire Powell tells us this is another herb that was believed to calm madness.

RUE, WILD   “Morals”*

RUSH   “Docility”

            These are pliable plants which were strewn all over the floor during the Middle Ages, and walked upon in lieu of a carpet.  What with our ancestors at dinner tossing food to the dogs—dogs which were not housebroken, in those days—you can see why they’d prefer something disposable as floor covering, in contrast to, say, a shag wall-to-wall carpet.  Rushes were also cheap and of little account, as in the old phrase “I don’t give a rush”.


SAFFRON   “Beware of Excess”

            Claire Powell says this comes from its use as an additive to alcoholic beverages.  I think the explanation is easier than that: Saffron has always been one of the most expensive plant products in the western world.  See, it’s gathered from crocuses about a beelionth of an ounce at a time.  A workable amount of it could easily cost more than the average working man’s salary, so it was genuinely an excessive luxury.

            I’ve seen some sex manuals which recommend a saffron massage for your lover.  I think that’s excessive.  I’d settle for the money.

SAFFRON, MEADOW   “My Best Days Are Past”

            Or, as Mme. De Latour put it, “My Beautiful Days Are Past”.  This is a crocus which blooms in the autumn, when the best days of summer are past.  (Some experts claim that the Rose of Sharon mentioned in the Bible is not Rose of Sharon as we know it, but actually Meadow Saffron.  This is to keep life from becoming too easy.)

            Meadow Saffron is bare of foliage, suggesting the defenselessness of old age.  It has also suggested other things.  Geoffrey Grigson, lists some of its folk names as Naked Virgins, Naked Ladies, Naked Boys, Bare Bottom, Naked Nannies, and, from the Assyrian, Come Let Us Copulate.  I always knew those Assyrians to be a rowdy bunch.  He hurries on from there, though, to point out that Meadow Saffron has a host of medicinal and culinary uses, concluding on the felicitous note “The Naked Lady…is generous in all her parts.”

            Her best days may be past, but she’s still in there pitching.

SAGE   “Esteem”*

            There was a saying about this plant, asking “Why should a man die who has sage in his garden?”  Its uses in cooking and medicine were so numerous as to make it a regular shopping mall in the back yard.

            On seed catalogs, and some flower language books, it is listed as Salvia.  (Red Hot Sally is one variety.)  A few floriographers separated Salvias by color, assigning meanings to each one, but there never does seem to have been much agreement about it, so it’s safer to go with the general meaning approved by Mme. De Latour.

SAINFOIN   “Agitation”*

            Another plant that shakes a lot.

SAINT JOHN’S WORT   “Superstition”

            Some experts claim there are more superstitions about this plant than any other, while others claim that honor for verbena.  The floriographers know all about it, and go on at length about the Rosicrucians and white magic and so on.

            To me, one of the most interesting things about this plant is that almost none of the floriographers get it alphabetized correctly.  I counted three.  Spelling it “St. John’s Wort”, they stick it down among the plants starting with ST, pushing it next to the Starwort.  And they were doing this in the days BEFORE you could just blame it on the computer.

Salsify:   see OSYTER PLANT

SARDONIA   “Irony”

            A sardonic smile is humorless: bitter, ironic.  Some have suggested the very word comes from someone who tasted the plant and found it so bitter they made a face.

Satin Flower:   see HONESTY

*SAVIN   “You Could Die Laughing”

*SAVORY   “Nothing is Too Good”


SCABIOUS   “unfortunate Attachment”


            Dorothea Dix said that because Scabious is dark blue, it became associated with mourning.  In fact, both this plant and the one above are also known as Mourning Bride or Mourning Widow.  So the floriographers generally assign them meanings associated with sorrow and misfortune, leaning especially to “Unfortunate Love” or “Unfortunate Attachment”.  They imply that any love is unfortunate because it must one day end.  As Ernest Hemingway, just to drop in a name you never expected to find in a flower language book, points out, all love ends unhappily: either the lovers stop loving each other or they die.  No other ending, as he saw

it, was possible.  The whole business is covered in a song called “When You Come to the End of a Lollipop.”

*SCABIOUS, SHERPHERD’S   “You Have Brought It To Me”

Scarlet Dragon:   see SAGE

            This is the Red Salvia.

SCHINUS   “Religious Enthusiasm”

            The Lehners tell me this was sacred to the Incas, hence the meaning.  This would make it the only time I’ve noticed the floriographers taking an interest in the Incas, particularly.

*SCHIZANTHUS  “Word for the Deed”

            This means “Well, you said you’d do it, so we’ll all act as if you did do it, because we know you’d have done it if you had the chance to do it” or “”You said you were going to do it, so though there’s no proof that you’re the one who did do it, I’ll make as if you did done do it.”  Or something.

*SCILLA SINIRICA   “Pleasure Without Alloy”

            This means there is nothing else mixed in with the pleasure; the pleasure is pure pleasure, not a combination of pleasure and thoughts of “I am sure going to hate myself tomorrow.”

*SCILLA, WHITE   “Sweet Innocence”

Scorpion Grass:   see FORGET-ME-NOT

SCRATCHWEED   “Roughness”*

            Mme. De Latour didn’t always go for a meaning hidden in obscure, ancient knowledge.  She could pick up on the obvious.

SEDGE, SWEET   “Resignation”

            This is the old meaning of the word, about how you’re prepared to put up with something.  So instead of “I quit”, this flower means “I accept my fate”.

*SENNA, AMERICAN   “Assiduous”

Senna, Bladder:   see BLADDER SENNA

Sensitive Plant:   see MIMOSA

SENVY   “Indifference”


SERVICE TREE   “Prudence”
            This tree sets its fruit late in the season, long after the possibility of frost, and is generally dependable.  Thus it provides another contrast to the imprudent Almond.

SHAMROCK   “Lightheartedness”

            Only two floriographers mention Ireland, and they are two of the more recent ones.  On the other hand, a couple of floriographers make this meaning “Lightheadedness” instead.

SHEPHERD’S PURSE   “I Offer You My All”

            To give one’s all to a project is the same as that “giving 110%” people talk about, dedicating oneself to it body and soul.  You may consider this an offer of one’s worldly possessions, from the symbolism of a purse as a holder of money, OR the offer of one’s virginity, tasking the purse as physical symbolism.  In literature, a lady who threw away her reputation for passion had “given her all”.  James Branch Cabell warned young men against women who gave you their all even when you didn’t particularly want their all..  Forever after, he warned, they would remind you of that all they gave you.

Shooting Star:   see COWSLIP, AMERICAN

*SIDESADDLE FLOWER   “Will You Pledge Me?”

            I’m not at all sure of this, whether it comes from the days of chivalry, with ladies riding sidesaddle and their boyfriends drinking to their honor (pledging them) or whether the young lady is asking for a promise in exchange for her all.  Asa Gray, early scientist still remembered for the book Gray’s Anatomy, said in one of his botanical writings that this flower  had “a most unmeaning name.”

SIPHOCAMPYLOS   “Resolved To Be Noticed”

            This is Skunk Cabbage, a plant you can hardly fail to notice.

Silverweed:   see POTENTILLA

*SMOKE TREE   “Still Doubtful; Wait”

*SNAIL PLANT   “Sluggishness and Stupidity”

Snakesfoot:   see SERPENTARIA

SNAKE’S TONGUE   “Slander”

            The snake is, of course, all wickedness, and its tongue is naturally used for spreading nasty gossip.  See also ADDER’S TONGUE

SNAP DRAGON   “Presumption”

SNOWBALL  “Thoughts of Heaven”

*SNOWBERRY   “Thankful”

SNOWDROP   “Consolation”*

            Another common meaning is “Hope”, from the way this blooms in cold weather.  Also known as Fair Maids of February, it supposedly blooms on Groundhog’s Day, just to let everybody know Spring really is on the way, comforting if you happen to have a snow shovel in your hand at the time.  Katherine M. Beals, another floriographer who knew lots of stuff, says that when Eve stepped out of the nice, warm garden of Eden into the frigid, rocky world, this flower popped up to console her.  This may have been an early bloomer; another legend has it that Adam and Eve were evicted from the garden on December 24.

Physical Development

     Once upon a time, there was….

     Well, actually, we have discussed him in this space ere this, so this is probably fourth of fifth upon a time.  Anyhoo, once there was an artist named Walter Wellman, who made his mark in the postcard world, producing hundreds of cartoons for the enjoyment of postcard buyers, many of which he published himself, being somewhat of an independent soul and, besides, someone who wanted the majority of the profit to come to him, and not to some sorporate entity which in general didn’t allow the artists to put their names on the pictures they worked so hard to produce.  (George Salter led a campaign among artists who did covers for paperback books to allow them to sign their work; I haven’t heard if there was a similar protest leader for postcard cartoonists.)

     Wellman did his work for over thirty years, and his work covers the foibles of mankind extensively, and gave plenty of material for collectors in many areas.  But one subject he worked with extensively was the American woman, and the clothing thereof.

     He began in the era of big hats and big hair, as seen at the top of this column, and, as mentioned hereintofore, used an impossibly pompadoured young woman as his trademark, putting her on the address side of the postcards he published.  This was in an era of fashion now largely ignored by students of pop culture, who see the world jumping from bustles and multiple petticoats to bobbed hair and short skirts, completely ignoring the idiosyncratic silhouette favored at the beginning of the twentieth century.

     It was a sort of Art Nouveau figure, less adorned than the full Victorian habitude.

     Until the lady turned sideways, of course.  We have discussed Walter Wellman’s look at the bosoms of the 1910 era before.  But to refresh your memory, you’re looking at fabric here.  The bodice of the period called for a great deal of extra cloth which draped low, looser than the high-corseted form of the previous generation.  Walter thought this was hilarious.

     Though his ladies could dress in a tighter, more formal style as well.

     Have I mentioned his sense of humor before this?  Look closely.  The lady has an arm around the finial of the gatepost and is not nearly as outgoing as she seems.

     Let’s go to the beach to discuss the passing of years.  Here is one of Walter’s bathing beauties around 1909.

     And here we have moved into the Roaring Twenties, when women could dress in abbreviated clothing more appropriate to sporting pursuits.  (Though they now aspired to a boyish silhouette even more slender than that of the belle of 1910.)

     Walter was completely comfortable with the freer fashions, even if his male characters were sometimes stymied.

     He completely reinvented his heroine as the 1930s came on, combining the more abbreviated costume with a return to curves.  In fact, Walter took alarmingly to curves, finding them as entertaining as he had the dangling bosoms of the fashions of the earlier period.

     His ladies, once so much taller than their prospective mates, were now more likely just wider.

     And they knew what they wanted.

     Postcard artists are hard to document, and I can’t find out exactly how long Walter Wellman produced his fashionable ladies, among all his other postcards.  He may have done some work, as years went by, for companies that removed his indecipherable signature, which makes it more difficult.  But he WAS still going strong during World War II.

     As were the ladies, joining in the vengeful Axis-bashing.

     If I learn more about Walter Wellman and whether his work was published on into the Fifties or whether he inspired imitators who did his kind of work when he himself was gone, I will let you know.  But I’m sure we can all agree that his heroines, however they wore their hair and stockings, never came to an end.

Food and Whine

     All right, all right, all right!

     I’m glad this isn’t one of those online influencer blogs, which prompts thousands of contradictions each day whenever I write something.  But enough people have pointed out to me that THEIR grocery stores still stock the classic frozen orange juice with metal ends on the can, just waiting to be purchased and put in the freezer so it can dent the toes of unwary Americans.  Serves me right for checking my facts on the Interwebs instead of just walking over to the convenience store.  And, anyway, I keep telling you this is not a food blog.

     But while we’re on the subject, I don’t suppose anyone knows where I can buy Hi-C in metal cans.  That always used to be the great attraction for us: the beverage was just colder coming out of a metal container, somehow.  I have gone into this at some length, and find I can still buy Hi-C in completely different flavors and containers than the ones I knew in olden days.  My childhood, which was back in the days before Covid, came before the controversies concerning Lavaburst orange or Ecto-Cooler (both of which caused great anguish when they were axed by unfeeling executives.)  So it’s not about THAT.  It’s just…well, since I haven’t drunk any of the stuff in a couple of decades, I could go on without it, I suppose.  I can also go on, I suppose, without Choo-Choo Cherry drink mixes, or Sir Reginald Lime-Lime beverage powder, or even Diet Coke with Lime.

     But I do still quest, now and again, for an analog to Roma Pizza, a frozen pizza I ate a great deal of in the days when pizza was still a mild novelty in any form, and frozen pizza was the only way most of us could experience it.  Roma made a thin crust pizza which took, oh, twelve minutes to cook in an average Midwestern oven.  It probably formed my adult judgment of pizza, which involves great quantities of cheese and sausage, in that order.  Besides the flavor, which was salty and greasy and unique, it featured several aspects lacking in modern frozen pizza which were of great interest to a discerning diner whose age had only recently moved into two digits.  The cheese was pure white.  Not yellow, not golden-brown: it was pure white unless you left it in the oven too long, whereupon it would start turning black.  It WOULD, if allowed to cool long enough after cooking, turn slightly green, but I deduced after some examination that this was the grease from the thick round wafers of sausage.  Who knows what other discoveries I might have made in food science had the makers not decided, under the pressure from newer brands of frozen pizza on the market, to change the recipe?  The new Roma Pizza would turn golden brown, and the pools of green grease disappeared.  And it never tasted the same ever again.  I seek solid white slightly plastic cheese on my pizza to this day (and DID succeed for one year in a college cafeteria in Milwaukee.  Did NOT think to ask for their secrets, and they would probably deny it all now.  Oddly, this is also the only place I ever had roast Cornish hen.)

     There are other taste sensations from that distant century that I miss.  Mr. Salty and his pretzels disappeared long ago (and the thin twists which were standard seem to have been replaced by mini-twists, pretzels rods, filled pretzel bites, and other variations.  Yes, I know: a few companies still make the classic, but I regard it as an endangered species.)  It was a great moment for me each spring when I could buy my first pack of baseball cards and find that unique pink wafer of bubblegum.  (I actually set aside the very first one each year, dated it, and put it with my collection.  There is an artist who went further and actually created art works by drawing on the brittle pink canvas.  Is he still around?  And where does he get his supply now that cards do not soil their collectability by including food products?  Do grandparents have to explain Lucy’s joke about Beethoven not being on bubblegum cards?  Do you understand, you food executives, how you disturb our culture at its very roots when you make these decisions?)  And if you want to discuss candy bars, which….

     But we are out of space and this isn’t a food blog.  And, anyway, I’m getting hungry.

Ranunculus to You: Rice to Rose

*RICE   “Happiness, Prosperity”

*RICE, WILD   “Influence”

*RING FLOWER   “Marriage”

ROCKET   “Rivalry”

ROCKET, QUEEN’S   “You Are the Queen of Coquettes”

ROSE   “Love”

            The pioneer floriographers, including Mme. De Latour, leaned more toward “Beauty” for the Rose.  “Love” may have originated in Frances S. Osgood’s second book.  (She has “Beauty” in the first.)  But the twentieth century floriographers really took to it, and gave it precedence, though many list “Beauty” as a second choice.  This may all be a result of the custom of giving red roses to your Love.

            When it comes to roses, flower language is a little redundant anyhow.  Rose-growers have a language all their own as it is.  Such people seem so normal at first meeting…if you meet them outside the garden, that is.  They are the reason some flower language books go crazy in the number of roses they list.  And there are flower language guides which handle ONLY roses, leaving all other plants out of the dictionary.

            As you might suspect, if you’ve read this far through the book, some of the roses listed below are actually roses, and some are not.  People sometimes just felt like calling a flower a rose whether it belonged to the genus Rosa or not.  In defiance of every botanical guide I have seen, then, I am listing them all under “Rose”.  Bushels of floriographers list Red Rose under R and Yellow Rose under Y, but it’s my library training, I guess.  I find that kind of system hard to follow.  So you will find them all below, the generic uses of “rose” first and then the varieties after.  Please don’t write in to complain.  I just don’t care any more.


            George H. O’Neill, however, says this sort of crown is for women only.  Men are supposed to earn a crown of Laurel.  George H. O’Neill is the only floriographer who gets picky about this.


ROSE LEAF   “I Never Importune”*

            In the mysterious Orient, where people speak in riddles, or so I keep getting told, a great thinker once travelled miles to a secluded monastery where he could study at the feet of a master and become an even greater thinker.  Alas, the master had all the students his monastery could hold.  He handed the newcomer a glass of water so full that not one drop could be added.

            The visitor didn’t want to be pushy about it.  (He did not want to importune, see?)  But he reached over to a rose that was in a vase on the master’s desk, plucked a leaf from it, and floated it on top of the water, showing that there is always room for one more.  The master was so impressed that he relented, and took on the new student.

            (I have it on no authority whatsoever that one of the other students whispered, “This will never work,.  They’ve done nothing but argue since they met.”)

ROSE, FADED   “Beauty if Fleeting”


ROSE, SINGLE   “Simplicity”*

            This refers specifically to a rose that grew with one blossom per stem, rather than several.  When referring to what Dorothy Parker called “One perfect Rose”, floriographers used the phrase “Unique Rose”.


*ROSES, TWO ENTWINED TO FORM A SINGLE STEM   “Upcoming Marriage, or Engagement”

ROSE, UNIQUE   “Call me Not Beautiful”

            “What does one rose mean when it’s dipped in bronze, steel-tipped, and shot at you?”  Willy, Willy ‘n’ Ethel, Sept. 27, 1989.

ROSE IN A TUFT OF GRASS   “There is Everything To Be Gained By Good Company”*

            This is one of those improving stories they may have skipped telling you in school.  See, these two scholars walk into a bar.  A peasant asks if he can sit with them, and maybe learn something.  They tell him he probably couldn’t keep up with their conversation and they don’t want to waste a lot of time explaining things.

            The peasant goes back to his own seat, but he asked the bartender to take them a little bouquet he’d made up of a tuft of grass and a rose.  This roused their curiosity, and they ask him over to tell them what it’s supposed to mean.  He replied “As the grass, though a common plant,

is scented through its association with the rose, so I had hoped to be improved by associating with you.”

            They were so impressed by this that they invited them to dine with him, and even let him pick up the tab.

                                                            TYPES OF ROSES

*ROSE, AMERICAN BEAUTY   “Intended Visit”

            George H. O’Neill really went into all kinds of floral messages with which you could conduct your social life, different ways of saying “I am coming to see you”, “Can I come and see you?” or “Why don’t you come up and see me some time?”

ROSE, AUSTRIAN   “Thou Art All That is Lovely”

ROSE, BRIDAL   “Happy Love”

ROSE, BURGUNDY   “Unconscious Beauty”

ROSE, CABBAGE  “Ambassador of Love”

            This, according to J. Ramsbottom, a rose fanatic, is also the Provins Rose, or Provence Rose, the most common rose in literature and/or poetry.  King Midas, he says, grew Cabbage Roses.  Claire Powell notes that the first one sprang from the tears of Lycurgus.  There seem to have been several Greek heroes named Lycurgus, and I have been unable to determine which one wept roses.  You’d think people would have noticed.

ROSE, CAROLINA   “Love is Dangerous”

*ROSE, CHARLES LE FIEVREEE  “Speak Low if You Speak of Love”

*ROSE, CHEROKEE   “Indian Love Song”

            I think they’re just kidding around with this meaning, really.  As a matter of fact, this rose was well known in Europe long before the Cherokee people had been heard of.  So why is it called the Cherokee Rose?  ONE explanation can be found in Modern Eloquence, one of those massive sets of books which were foisted off on libraries at the turn of the last century, containing chunks of great literature and other prose and poetry.  It has a quaint little story about the origin of the name of this rose in Volume 10.  But you don’t NEED to know it, do you?  All about  the Seminole maid who fell in love with a Cherokee captured by her father, and how she eloped with him and went to his people carrying this rose as an emblem of her place among this other nation?  I didn’t think you did.

            I was more interested in another little story in the set, perhaps a little less alarming when people had cleaner minds.  It seems the young man was wondering why man was created before woman, instead of both being created at once, whereupon the young lady replied “Was it not natural for the stem to come before the flower?”

ROSE, CHINA   “Beauty Ever New”

            The China Rose has also been called the Monthly Rose.  Until the late eighteenth century, Europeans had to make do with roses which bloomed just once a year.  Then these roses were imported from the Orient, and their habit of blooming more often made them a smash hit.

*ROSE, CHINA, DARK   “Forsaken”

ROSE, CHRISTMAS   “Relieve My Anxiety”

            This is also Hellebore, but Christmas Rose sounds so much nicer, it gets a nicer meaning.

*ROSE, CORAL   ‘Desire”

ROSE, DAILY   “Thy Smile I Aspire To”

            I don’t know for certain whether there is a variety of rose known as the Daily Rose, or if this just refers to you bringing someone a rose every day.

ROSE, DAMASK   “Brilliant Complexion”

            To have a damask complexion was once the ambition of every young lady, and what with all the research connecting sun tans with skin cancer, it probably will be again.

            There is some argument about whether the Damask in Damask Rose refers to the city of Damascus.  I expect people with damask tablecloths face the same thing.

ROSE, DOG   “Pleasure and Pain”

            Some people give this meaning to all roses, covering the beauty and aroma of the rose versus the stabbing of the thorns.  The Lehners go on to add some other, similar pairs: “Hope and Fear” as well as “Love and Poetry”.

            Speaking of pleasure and pain, it was once considered the height of luxury to scatter rose petals everywhere at a party.  One Roman emperor filled his banquet hall with them, to the extent that he smothered all his guests.  He enjoyed this so much that he added it to his permanent repertoire of party tricks.

*ROSE, FRENCH   “Be Elsewhere”

            You might consider going to the Isle of Rhodes, which is named for roses, or possibly Rhode Island, which is named for the Isle of Rhodes.

ROSE, GLOIRE DE DIJON   “Messenger of Love”

ROSE, GUELDER   “Winter, Age”

            This is also known as the Snowball, from its looks as well as for when it blooms, which is also where it gets its meaning.


            One expert sniffs a little over this, saying that it is, after all, only a Cabbage Rose.  Another claims a less graceful rose it would be hard to find.  I say if Mme. De Latour thought it was graceful, what business is it of theirs?

Rose, Inermis: see ROSE, THORNLESS

ROSE, JAPAN   “Beauty Is Your Only Attraction”

            The floriographers didn’t think this flower smelled very interesting, making it the symbol of good-looking people who lacked accomplishments.  Do not confuse it, please, with the Camellia, which is sometimes called a Japan rose.  The floriographers did know the difference, and made it clear this meaning applied only to the Japan Rose, NOT the “Japan Rose”.  So there, too.

ROSE, JOHN HOPPER   “Encouragement”

ROSE, LA FRANCE   “Meet Me By Moonlight”

            Thomas Christopher, an expert on what are known as Old Roses, defines the Old, or Antique, Rose as any rose that was cultivated before 1867, when the first hybrid tea rose, the La France Rose, was bred.


            See also ROSE, YORK AND LANCASTER

ROSE, MAIDEN’S BLUSH   “If You Do Love Me, You Will Find It Out”

            The maiden is blushing, see, because she is too modest a girl to come right out and TELL him that he is in love with her.  But she is getting a little tired of waiting around for HIM to say so.

            According to Anne Raver in the New York Times, the name of one rose of this type was originally La Cuisee de la Nymphe Emu, or Thigh of the Aroused Nymph.  This made too many people blush, so the name became the Great Maiden’s Rose.

ROSE, MAY   “Precocity”

            In the days when roses bloomed just once a year, June was the month for roses.  Any rose that bloomed before that was obviously precocious.

Rose, Monthly: see ROSE, CHINA

ROSE, MOSS   “Superior Merit”

            E.W. Wirt came up with this, and Sarah Josepha Hale passed it along, completely bypassing Mme. De Latour’s original meaning, “Voluptuous love”.  Lucy Moore put “Voluptuous Love” in HER list, but it didn’t catch on. The floriographers didn’t want to discuss it.


This is also the Bramble-Flowered China Rose,  How graceful is THAT?

            In the 1930s, this rose was promoted by the government as a good plant to have on your farm, to provide shelter for wildlife and prevent erosion.  This worked, the rose spreading so efficiently that in several states it is now classed as a noxious weed.


            J. Ramsbottom claims this is the same as the French, or Garden, Rise.  Others say it is a separate multicolored variety of French Rose.

ROSE, MUSK   “Capricious Beauty”*

            This is another plant that doesn’t bother to bloom in some years.  J. Ramsbottom calls it the very favorite rose of the Elizabethans, and the rose Shakespeare liked to go on about.


*ROSES, NEU  “You Are Paying Attention, Aren’t You?”

ROSE, NEPHITOS   “Infatuation”

*ROSE, PERPETUAL   “Mine through Sunshine, Storms, and Snows”

            Now, you just know she made that up to rhyme with “Rose”.

            The book which mentions the Perpetual Rose (would that be the China Rose under an alias?) is Written For You, or The Art of Beautiful Living, compiled by Marta L. Rayne in Detroit in 1884.  It attempts to give you the data you need in life: what books you ought to read, how to avoid drowning, why it is best to marry for love, and what to do if your son starts smoking or using slang.  How have you lived this long without it?

ROSE, PINK   “Your Love is Perfect Happiness”

            Here’s what you do, according to John Ingram.  On Midsummer Eve, you walk backward out to the garden without saying a word.  Pick a rose, place it in white paper, and set it away until Christmas.  Do NOT open the paper before Christmas, as this will break the spell.  On Christmas Day, take it out of the paper: it will be as fresh as the day you plucked it.  Place this in your bosom.  The person who picks it out is your destined spouse.  (I should jolly well hope so.)

*ROSE, PINK, LIGHT   “Grace, Gentility”

*ROSE, PINK, DARK   “Thank You”

ROSE, POMPON   “Genteel, Pretty”

            “He who would grow beautiful roses in his garden must have beautiful roses in his heart.”  Stephen R. Hole, A Book About Roses

*ROSE, PROVENCE   “My Heart Is In Flames”

Rose, Red: see ROSE

            Most floriographers, when discussing the basic Rose, gave it the same sentiments as a Red Rose.  Admit it, when you think of roses, you automatically think of the red ones.

ROSE, RED, DEEP   “Bashful Shame”

            In Europe, it says here, you should always present roses unwrapped, and preferably in odd numbers, say five or seven.  But you cannot give them to just anybody, as they are exchanged only between lovers.  So don’t bring them to your hostess if you’re only coming for supper.

            George H. O’Neill says that if a gentleman wishes to accept a lady’s invitation, he should send a red rose with nutmeg geranium leaves.  But if a lady is accepting a gentleman’s invitation, she must send red rose petals with plain geranium leaves.  Just tossing someone your front door key may bypass all this leaf plucking.

ROSE, RED-LEAVED   “Beauty and prosperity”

Rose, Rock:   see CISTUS

*ROSE, SENSITIVE   “Too Young To Leave My Mother Yet”

            This comes from Marta Rayne again.  The flower language in her book, by the way, is not listed in the table of the contents, but only on the cover.  You’ll need to flip to the back of the book and find it for yourself.


            This is the consensus, though various books create all kinds of complications with the Eglantine, the American Sweetbrier, the European Sweetbrier, and so on.  (Floriographers who distinguish between the American and the European versions apply “Simplicity” to the first and “I Wound to Heal” to the second.  The choice between “brier” and “briar” seems to be a matter of personal taste.)  John Ingram and Claire Powell agree that the “Poetry” meaning comes from the days of Greek poetry competitions, at which a silver eglantine was awarded as first prize.

ROSE, SWEETBRIAR, YELLOW   “Decrease of Love”

            Elizabeth W. Wirt specifies that this decrease of love is caused by “better acquaintance”.  You know: that point at which your sweetheart’s cute little mannerisms becoming annoying habits.

ROSE, THORNLESS   “Ingratitude”

            According to a legend, which Elizabeth W. Wirt traces back to a romantic tale called “The Leper of Aost” by Lemaitre, roses never had thorns until people started growing it in gardens.  The rose was apparently ungrateful for their attentions.  I’m not sure why, in that case, floriographers take it out on the thornless variety, but life’s not fair.

ROSE, WHITE   “Silence”

            Although a large contingent prefer the meaning “I Am Worthy Of You”, the vast majority associate the white rose with the rose in “sub rosa”, or “under the rose”.  Some ancient ruler—each version picks a different one—had a big rose painted on the ceiling of his council chamber.  Everything said there would be kept secret: nobody would ever repeat a word of it outside the chamber.  What I mean to indicate is that they would be SILENT about anything discussed under the rose.  To this day, when you are confiding in someone, you say you are hoping to tell this “sub rosa”.

            And why did this monarch choose a rose?  Well, it seems Cupid was up to some rascality or other, and bribed Harpocrates, the God of Silence, to keep quiet about it by giving him a white rose.  I don’t know how you feel about it, but, I regard this as one of the more ridiculous stories they’ve fed me.  If Harpocrates was the God of Silence, how come he had to be bribed to keep silent?  And how come the ancients had a God of Silence anyhow?  And why did they give him a name so much like Harpo Marx’s?

ROSE, WHITE, DRIED   “Death is preferable to Loss of Innocence”

ROSE, WHITE, WITHERED   “Transient Impressions”


            Mme. De Latour preferred “Fire of the Heart” for this combination: the white rose showed how pale you were from yearning while the red one showed how fiery was your passion.  British floriographers, however, replaced this with “Unity” from considerations of history.  See ROSE, YORK AND LANCASTER

ROSE, WILD   “Simplicity”

ROSE, YELLOW “Infidelity”*

            Popular minority meanings include “Jealousy” and “Decay of Love”.  All three come from the tale of the prophet Mohammed, and his doubts about his second wife.  Ann Landers and Dear Abby not being available, he consulted the archangel Gabriel.  Gabriel recommended he take the roses his wife had given him that morning and toss them into the river.  They were red roses, but when they hit the water they turned yellow, confirming the prophet’s suspicions that his wife was unfaithful.


            Once upon a time in England, a pair of families argued about which had a better right to the family inheritance which, in this case, was the throne of England.  The family tree here is a bit complex, so it’s best to do as the average schoolchild does, and remember them as the Yorks and the Lancasters.  Each side took a rose as its symbol: the Yorks a white one, the Lancasters a red.  And so this family squabble is known to this day as The Wars of the Roses.

            The wars didn’t really end until just about every family member of each side had been killed.  Henry Tudor, a kind of illegitimate connection of the Lancasters, married a plump good-looking princess, Elizabeth of York.  This joining of the roses is regarded as one of the most romantic ending of any war in history.  King Henry consolidated his victory by knocking off most of the remaining Yorks, and then made his place in history secure by becoming the father of Henry VIII, which set up a whole nother ball game.

            Anyhow, this all feeds into the meanings for this rose, the Lancaster Rose, the White and Red Rose Tied Together, and so on.  Beats me why the Tudor Rose doesn’t get a look in, but so it goes.

Another Flock of Postcards

     There are graphic artists whose work is designed to hang on the wall, and there are artists whose work tends in other directions.  Some artists find their niche in comic strips while others find it in magazine covers.  Some illustrate books and some customize cars.  There are artists known for skulls etched on people’s arms and others who do portraits on paper money.

     And some artists have careers which are for the birds.  For some of these artists, like the anonymous artist above, considered in a previous blog, was known for his roosters.  Others painted birds which flew higher but which perched briefly on postcards.

     They didn’t even HAVE postcards in the days when America’s most famous birdman, John James Audubon, was pursuing a career in nature paintings.  But his paintings and prints, intended for the world of frames on walls, were just the right proportion for reproduction on postcards a hundred years after the death of the artist.  (The Bohemian Chatterer is now known more widely as the Bohemian Waxwing, by the way.  Buy this one for your Bohemian girlfriend and you may hear a lot.)

     As significant to American birdlore in the twentieth century as Audubon was in the nineteenth, Rioger Tory Peterson worked his way through art school painting furniture.  He combined his studies with an interest in birdwatching and what ust have been a massive flurry of painting and in 1934 invented the natural field guide, a small volume of silhouettes and paintings which made it possible to answer the question “What IS that thing in the oak tree?”  Postcards were a mere sideline to all this activity which, among other things, saw him nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.  (According to the Interwebs, anyhow.  I find this hard to figure, myself, but hey, other birdbrains…let’s move on.)

     Postcards were, however, a major move for the National Wildlife Federation, a private organization pushed into existence by Jay N. “Ding” Darling when he found he couldn’t nag Congress into doing anything much.   (Darling’s bird paintings ornamented the annual duck stamps for many years; I have not found any postcards by him, however.)  Once it was founded, like any intelligent not=-for-profit, the society’s mind turned to fund raising.  Not long after it began to exist, it began producing wildlife postcards.

     Walter A. Weber was an artist whose use of color made him a natural for these postcards (as well as the annual National Wildlife stamps).  Weber was not as much of a bird specialist, as his wildcat paintings and paintings of various dog breeds for National Geographic also had wide popularity.  Some of his popular later work included eagles for the Apollo missions and U.S. Mint.

     The NWF postcards were also a natural for the paintings of Lynn Bogue Hunt, best known for his covers on Field & Stream magazine.  His work also graced at least one of the federal duck stamps, and could be found in limited edition books like “Grouse Feathers”, a volume for “brush worn partridge hunters” which will now run you a couple hundred.

     (See, some people are squeamish about this, but a lot of conservation work is done by and on behalf of people who want to conserve wildlife for rifle and rod.  It’s a perennial question: who gets more joy from wildlife: the person who gets up at three to sit in cold water in hopes of shooting a duck or the person who orders Peking Duck Pizza at the Peter Piper’s Pizza palace?  But that’s a whole nother blog, not to mention a whole nother blogger.)

     There are plenty of other bird artists whose work on postcards we haven’t hit yet (some folks did nothing but owl paintings for postcards.)  But let’s finish with a realistic bird painter, whose ducks pleased a whole generation and never even saw a shotgun.

Going Going Bygone

     I wonder, every now and then when I have finished wondering if we will ever own cars as energy-efficient as Fred Flintstone’s, how much longer television will continue.  My television provider (remember when you used to just turn on the set?) has let me know I can renew service at a higher price OR stream everything they have onto my phone or computer.  I realized that I tend to watch only when going to bed at night or getting up in the morning.  Most of my TV-style entertainment comes from YouTube, where I can summon up what I want to see without worrying about schedules.

     One of the things I watch regularly are videos about what parts of our society have disappeared and which are about to disappear: important stuff like typewriter erasers and rotary phones.  They’re kind of cute, since they are put together by beings thirty years younger than I, so some of the phenomena they observe are things I never heard of in the first place.  But this sort of discussion always makes me wonder about the things which didn’t make their list.

     For example, I recently discussed groceries with someone older than I am (there are two or three of these people left) and she was recalling the shock and trauma which afflicted her, oh, once a week when she would forget to open the freezer carefully.  They had the style of fridge which was standard in my years, with the freezer on top.  The stuff in the door would shift and that little can of frozen orange juice concentrate would come sailing down to bash her toes.

     At our house it was mainly frozen grapefruit juice concentrate, and I was maybe a little quicker to jump out of the way, but I do remember those frozen missiles.  But I haven’t browsed the frozen food cases lately and wondered: do they still….

     The Interwebs tell me the answer is “Well, kind of.”  One or two companies make a container that LOOKS the same, but it is now made of plastic and peels open.  Americans prefer the real thing out of a carton or plastic bottle: easier to drink without thawing and mixing it up and probably much more natural (even if the fine print says “Made from concentrate”.)

     While I was at it, I looked up airmail stamps, those wildly expensive (ten cents!) devices you licked and put on a letter if it was going overseas or if you wanted it to go really really fast.  The U.S. Postal Service suspended this sort of thing in 1977, saying most mail that went a certain distance traveled by air anyhow.  Well, kind of.  There were still airmail options available right up until 2012, when the USPS stopped it all over, provoking the same complaints from people who collect airmail stamps.

     This lack of solid fact is pandemic on the Interwebs.  I wondered about my wardrobe in the Sixties, which, on cool days, included zipping myself into a parka.  I knew these still existed, but had they all been rebranded as hoodies?  A definite answer came from the Ones Who Know These Things: parkas exist.  They have linings, see, while hoodies do not.  Well and good, until I ran into the store selling lined hoodies for cool winter wear.  This world is filled with trouble-makers, marshmallow manicotti.

     I take it for granted that drugstores no longer exist (drugs are evil, so these establishments are now called strictly ‘pharmacies’) and postage stamp machines survive only in supervised areas (since the quarter that used to buy you three first class or six ‘vintage’ stamps now wouldn’t buy you enough postage to mail a postcard).  And I understand why the current generation will never understand the phrases “ten cent cone” or “penny for a gumball”.  I fear for the future of the flashlight (why use something you know you’ll have no batteries for when you need it if you can just use the app on your phone?) and the glove compartment road map. 

     But there is hope.  The car cigarette lighter was reborn as a charging dock for phones, and craft projects requiring pipe cleaners can continue since these are now marketed as straight craft items, bypassing the whole tobacco accessory business.

     So bygones don’t HAVE to go by.  A few dedicated people with imagination can bring a dying institution to life again.  With that in mind, I think I will watch some television during prime time tonight.

     If I can remember where I put those cables for my VCR.

Ranunculus to You, Polyanthus to Rhubarb

POLYANTHUS   “Pride of Riches”

            This has so many rich flowers that everyone assumes it’s proud.

POLYANTHUS, CRIMSON   “The Heart’s Mystery”

            Elizabeth W. Wirt calls this the Crimson-Heart Polyanthus, which would explain why the floriographers had hearts on their minds.

POLYANTHUS, LILAC   “Confidence”

            Confidence is another word which has almost entirely changed its meaning since the floriographers used it.  A confidence was a secret, something you only confided to someone you trusted.  This person was your confidant.  Eventually, the word switched to the feeling you had for that person, and confidence came to mean that trust.  We use the original meaning nowadays only when we say “I am telling you this in the strictest confidence”, which most of the people I know translate to mean “You can pass this on to members of your immediate family, your five best friends, and your barber, but that’s ALL.”

*POLYPODIUM   “Accord”

POMEGRANATE   “Foolishness”*

            I think this is because pomegranate seeds have traditionally been considered an aphrodisiac.  But Robert Tyas says it stems from the flower, which is beautiful but has no aroma.  Claire Powell attributes it to eighteenth century fops who wore pomegranates on their heads to ward off the smell of the people they met.  Maybe all these suggestions are a bunch of foolishness.


POPLAR, BLACK   “Courage”*

Hercules wore a crown of this when he went down to visit Hades, and the leaves came to represent courage thereby.  I have been unable to track down just which of Hercules’s tours led to this symbolism, because he seems to have gone down several times, just because he could.  He did, after all, live before the days when a man could prove he was something by posting a video of himself crushing a beer can on his forehead.


These leaves are white on one side and black on the other, representing day and night and, thus, the passage of time.  And do you know WHY the leaves are like that?  Well, it seems that while Hercules was in Hades (see last entry), his sweat bleached one side of them white while the heat of Hades scorched the other side.  Now you know.

POPPY  “Consolation”*

This means the consolation of sleep, considered Nature’s Healer, a cure for all ills, and so on.  Dorothea Dix reports this meaning, but disapproves of it, though she does not explain what she has against sleep.  It may have been because the poppy symbolizes sleep and comfort as a result of being the source of opium, once one of our only anesthetics.  People abused it regularly even by Dorothea’s time, and taking drugs as a form of comfort would naturally have seemed foolish to a go-getter like her.

Poppy, California:   see ESCHOLZIA

POPPY, RED   “Consolation”

POPPY, SCARLET   “Fantastic Extravagance”

            Obviously the more expensive brand.

            John Ingram, by the way, says you should take a poppy petal, set it in your left palm, and smack it with your right fist.  If it breaks, your lover if faithful; if not, unfaithful.  It seems to me it would work the other way, but Ingram generally knows his stuff.

POPPY, WHITE   “Sleep”

POTATO   “Beneficence”*

            Because, Robert Tyas points out, it is kind to the poor.  In his day, there was no cheaper food than potatoes.  Roughly ten years after Tyas’s first book, the potato crop in Ireland failed,

and a lot of poor people who had depended on it had to starve or leave the country.  Once in a while, the history of the human world is altered by the vegetable one.

POTENTILLA   “I Claim, At Least, Your Esteem”

            What, exactly, is the benefit of saying “I expect you to admire me, whether you like me or not”?  If it’s just a matter of sour grapes, why not send sour grapes and be done with it?

PRIDE OF CHINA   “Dissension”

            This is also known as Pride of India.  To many of our ancestors, any place out east was pretty much the same as any other.

PRIMROSE   “Early Youth”

            Another of the early bloomers of spring, the primrose collected all kinds of stories and symbolisms.  The original primrose is supposed to have grown up from a beautiful boy, son of Priapus and Flora, who died young.  In England, it was a symbol of conservative politicians, carried by the followers of William E. Gladstone (Lord Beaconsfield.)  When Gladstone fell ill, his followers sent him thousands of primroses, which made it so difficult to breathe in his bedroom that he had no chance of recovery.  Let’s all learn something from this.

PRIMROSE, Chinese   “Lasting Love”


            I suspect this might have been a misprint somewhere along the line for PRIMROSE   “Early Youth”.

PRIMROSE, EVENING   “Inconstancy”

            Catherine Waterman says this is because the flowers don’t last very long.  Lesley Gordon, however, says the Evening Primrose disappears from time to time, only to reappear somewhere else in the garden.

            This may also be a reference to someone who has been led astray, or “down the primrose path.”

PRIMROSE, RED   “Unpatronized Merit”

*PRINCE’S FEATHER   “I Am Humiliated”
            To wear someone’s feather meant you were a fan or a follower of his.  The meaning may be a reference to Beau Brummell, a friend of the Prince Regent of England until he ticked the prince off and wound up completely out of the fashionable circles he had once led.

PRIVET   “Prohibition”

            Hedges and enclosures, blocking the view, are often made of privet.

PUMPKIN   “Bulkiness”

*PURPLE FRINGE   “Doubtful”

*PUSSYWILLOW   “The Future a promise Yet Unrealized”

            Another plant that appears early in spring.

*PYRETHRUM   “I Am Not Changed; They Wrong Me”

PYRUS JAPONICA   “Fairies’ Fire”

            The name might seem to refer to the burning flames of a pyre, appropriate to fairies as a fire in the plant kingdom.  In fact, “pyrus”: in the name means it’s a member of the Pear family.

*PYXIE   “Life is Sweet”

            From fairies to pixies: what is this, Children’s Hour?  Pyxie is actually short for Pyxidanthera, which sorely needs shortening.


QUAKING GRASS   “Agitation”

QUAMOCLIT   “Busybody”

            Also known as Quammoclet, or simply Busybody, this is a vine, obviously the kind which climbs all over everything.

*QUEEN ANNE’S LACE   “Purity In the Blood Cannot Be Obtained Except By the Absence of Desire”

            This is what I mean about some of our modern floriographers: no sense of language.  The reference to blood is from the little bit of red on the flower, implying that Queen Anne pricked her finger while making lace.  No hint which Queen Anne did this, but I like to think it was Anne Boleyn, who is also supposed to be the maid in “The maid was in the parlor, hanging out the clothes” when her nose was snipped off.  She seems inclined toward such mishaps.

QUINCE   “Temptation”

            At some point, Biblical scholars grew worried about the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or Forbidden Fruit, munched by Eve and Adam.  Calling it an apple suddenly

didn’t suit them, and they decided that the fruit must actually have been a Quince.  This did not catch on.  People prefer apples in their Edens.

            Scholars retort that the only reason we believe it was an apple is because some writer in the early days of Roman Christianity confused the fruit in Eden with the very dangerous apples which grew in the garden of the Hesperides,  That writer was so popular that the story caught on and we’ve all been wrong ever since.

            Some Classical scholars, however, have decided that the fruit in the Garden of the Hesperides cannot have been apples at all, at all.  Guess what they really were.  That’s right: they were quinces.

            I refuse to get involved in this argument in any way.  How do you like them quinces?


‘RADISH   “Coming of Spring”

Ragged Lady:  see LOVE-IN-A-MIST


*RAGWORT   “I Am Humble But Proud”

*RAMPIONS   “Don’t Misjudge Me”

            Once upon a time, a pregnant woman came down with one of those unaccountable cravings.  She had to have rampions.  She sent her husband out to find some, even though it was the dead of winter and the nearest fresh rampions were probably in the street markets in Istanbul.  The bloke went out into the snow and came across a garden where beautiful rampions were growing.  He snitched a couple for the wife and was immediately hauled in as a thief by the owner of the garden, who was, naturally, a wicked witch.

            He claimed she was misjudging him; he was not a thief but a devoted husband.  The witch let him go, but only on his promise to deliver the unborn child to her once it was able to

travel.  Once she got the baby in her clutches, she named it Rampions, which, in German, is “Rapunzel”.  And maybe you can take the story from there.

RANUNCULUS   “You Are Radiant With Charms”*

            Some sources distinguish between this, meaning “You Are Radiant With Charms”, and the cultivated Garden Ranunculus, which they say means “You Are Rich in Attractions”.  Pshaw.

RANUNCULUS, WILD   “Ingratitude”

            See also BUTTERCUP, which is a ranunculus.

RASPBERRY   “Remorse”

            This probably goes back to the Bramble and all those little stickers.

Red Hot Poker: see FLAME FLOWER

RED SHANKS   “Patience”


REED   “Music”

            Pan invented the Pipes of Pan by making this musical instrument out of Reeds.  We will be coming back to Pan presently.

*REED, DRIED   “A Shrill, Scolding Voice”

            Maybe the author of this one had someone specific in mind.

REED, FLOWERING   “Confidence in Heaven”

REED, SPLIT   “Indiscretion”*

            This goes back to the old story of King Midas.  No, the OTHER story of King Midas.  He was asked to judge a music contest between Apollo with a lyre and Pan with his pipes, the God of Music versus a demigod of dubious reputation.  Midas went and gave the prize to Pan. 

Apollo, infuriated that anyone would choose a self-trained amateur over an experienced professional with all the right moves, up and told Midas he was an ass, with the ears of an ass at that.  By gum, when Midas reached up to put on his hat and leave, he found these long, fuzzy ears growing out of his head.

            Being a king, Midas could afford a bigger hat to cover up this addition to his royal looks,

But of course his barber knew what was there.  The barber also knew that if a single word about this reached the gossip columns, Midas would order the barber a haircut right down to the shoulders.  (If the king was in a GOOD mood.)

            Even in those ancient days, barbers were known for loving to talk.  When he was nearly ready to explode with this untold secret, he rushed down to the river, dug a hole in the bank, and shouted into the hole, “King Midas has ass’s ears!”  Then he covered up the hole and went back home, very much relieved.

            But reeds grew from that hunk of ground (some stories make it bulrushes, so “Indiscretion” is applied as a meaning there, too) and to this day, when the wind blows across a clump of reeds, they whisper “King Midas has ass’s ears”.  This is supposed to tell us something about ever being indiscreet with any secrets we happen to know.

            By the way, if you go around listening to plants, you are likely to get a fairly strange reputation.  Unless your friends are discreet, of course.

*REED, WATER   “Unlucky Dealings”

*RENNET   “Treason”

RESTHARROW   “Obstacle”*

            This plant gets its name from the same situation that gives it its name.  The plant has tough roots, so tough that when a farmer who is plowing hits it, he has to stop, resting his harrow until he can clear the obstacle.


            Once upon a time, great jungles of this stuff filled gullies and valleys across the North American continent.  Most of the early floriographers simply ignored it; it was considered a bothersome weed.  Those who did notice it saddled it with meanings like “Distress”, “Beware”, and, most often, “Danger”.  Only after about 1876 did it start being planted in American gardens.

            The thing is poisonous, as you might have gathered from the meanings.  But as long as you don’t munch on the leaves or use them in your hand-rolled cigarettes, you might be okay.  “Might” is the best we can do, because you need to take “Loony Honey” into account.  I would LOVE to spin a story right here about Loony Honey, the Johnny Appleseed of rhododendron, who planted it across the land, but the real story is more sinister.

            Dorothea Dix mentions it in her book, and it has been known since at least 400 B.C.  (see the Journal of the American Medical Association, April 1, 1988, page 2009 for further history.)  Bees pick up nectar from the rhododendron, see, and produce a honey so potent it has been used as a weapon.  This is just the sort of thing that would offend a floriographer: the honey was poisoned not by the hand of man or even by the bees but by the very plant itself.  I know how they felt: can’t trust anybody nowadays.

RHUBARB   “Advice”

            My personal advice is that all you folks who deal in those drab strawberry-rhubarb pies pack it in and turn to rhubarb meringue pies instead.  That is the opinion of this author only, and is not endorsed by any floriographers, but it seems like common sense to ME.

Teen Book List, 1973

     As noted heretofore, this is another one of them new years, a time when this column generally looks back to the world of books marking significant anniversaries.  I thought I might start with things which are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary, and now I wish I hadn’t.  The last thing I really need, when considering a new year full of hope and promise, is to remember that I was looking forward to the same sorts of things fifty years ago, and was old enough then to generate thoughts which are still present in my memory.  This suggests I was more than two or three in 1973, which they tell me was fifty years ago.  But I will deal with that elsewhere.  You want to know about the books.

     I noticed right away two books on the list which at least half my classmates picked up and read during 1973.  Each was a pioneer in its own way, though the authors, honored in their fields, have seen their reputations continue in odd ways.  One was Tim O’Brien’s memoir of the Vietnam War (a.k.a. the War in Viet Nam) If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, which was banned from a number of school libraries as the decade went on, and won its author mighty praise.  The Other was Lois Duncan’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, which set off a new wave of teen thriller novels and movies, few of which really earned a lot of stars from critics.  So that’s what folks in my age group wanted: books their elders would disapprove of.

    Not quite so popular but still gobbled up by certain of my classmates was the 16-personality heroine Sybil, whose story was told by Flora Schreiber in 1873, while others were fascinated by the grit of a well-thumbed copy of Serpico by Peter Mass.  A small number of my adventurous colleagues found their way into Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden.  They must have picked that up at a bookstore, since it would not have been available at the school library.  Nor would Jacquelinne Susann’s record-breaking Once is Not Enough (which made her the first author to have three consecutive novels hit #1 on the bestseller list) though this MIGHT have been in the Adults Only cupboard at our public library.

     As far as I can recall, my classmates and I had no notion of other disreputable classics of the year 1973: Equus by Peter Shaffer or Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon).  Later in life, I knew someone who never traveled anywhere without his copy of Gravity’s Rainbow.  He didn’t especially relish flying, but after working his way into the first chapter of that classic he knew he’d be fast asleep.  This is not what brought it its fame, but each reader reads a book for themself.

     More vital to me personally at the time were the deaths of two authors who did a lot to make me what I am today (whatever that was), Walt Kelly and J.R.R. Tolkien.  I had been familiar with Walt Kelly’s Pogo since shortly before birth, but I had only recently finished The Lord of the Rings, which set me off on a quest for more fantasy literature, which was exceedingly rare in those days, as publishers everywhere knew such junk didn’t sell.

     This would lead me eventually to a book first published in 1973, William Goldman’s The Princess Bride.  Not only is this an amazing and inimitable novel (though people have tried), but I treasure the paperback I picked up in 1974 or thereabouts, which bears along the top of the cover the words “Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture”.  The movie, which became a classic as well, appeared in 1987, and I have always wondered what the record is for “Soon” to be a major motion picture.

     Other classics appeared in 1973, but these are the works which jumped at my memory.  When next we cover this topic, we will move to a year comfortably in the past.  (Though 1923 is actually headlined by another disreputable book I read when I was…never mind how old I was in 1973.  Far too young to be reading so subversive a tome, I’m sure.)