Ranunculus To You: A to Allspice


ABATINA   “Fickleness”

            Despite its appearance in eight of the flower language books consulted, abatina is still a mystery to me.  The best io can tell you is that once upon a time, the conifers, or trees with cones, were referred to as “abietinae”.  But see the next entry.

ABECEDARY   “Volubility”

            Almost everyone who listed abatina followed it up with the abecedary.  As a flower, abecedary is another mystery.  However, it is a word referring to any book in alphabetical order, like a flower language dictionary, so it could be a ringer.  Reference books often include joke entries, so people who make them can find out what other reference books just swiped the data word for word without doing any original research.  This entry appears in seven books, so six of those nice floriographers…but perhaps I’m overlooking something obvious.

Abele: see POPLAR, WHITE

ACACIA   “Platonic Love”*

            The floriographers go into a number of variations on this theme, but all boil down to a quiet kind of love, a chaste love.  Sarah Josepha Hale, the flower language pioneer now best remembered for writing “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, says the meaning comes from the way the acacia blooms unnoticed in the wilderness.  Mme. De Latour was plainer: the acacia did its blooming far away in savage lands (specifically Canada.)  Henry Phillips, among others, explains North American Indians themselves considered acacia a symbol of chaste love.  And Laura Peroni, a twentieth century Italian floriographer, says that chaste love is so hopelessly outdated that we should drop this meaning and make acacia an emblem of the Women’s Movement.  There are people like Laura Peroni all over the world; it isn’t Italy’s fault.

Acacia, Pick: see ACACIA, ROSE

ACACIA, ROSE:   “Elegance”*

            Claire Powell attributes this to the flower’s resemblance to a woman in a ball gown.  Um, okay, fine.  A lot of floriographers, swiping from Me. De Latour, list this under the roses, as the Acacia Rose.  Forgetting their high school French, which taught us that the adjective follows the noun, they assumed it was French rose, whereas it actually means “Pink Acacia” (which appears in dictionaries by floriographers with better French).

            You didn’t ask, but Acacia was also the name of the most elegant fraternity on campus in my college days, a house of four-point scholars who got together for cribbage and beer.  They went after any freshman who might raise the grade point average.  Yeah, they asked me to pledge.  Spelled my name wrong in the letter.

Acacia, White: see ROSE ACACIA

Acacia, Yellow: see ACACIA

ACANTHUS   “The Arts”*

            Do kids in school still have to memorize the styles of capitals on Greek columns?  There were three, as you recall, and our teachers thought this information was vital to our understanding of the universe.  Doric was plain, Ionian was mildly interesting, and Corinthian was a real bear to draw on the test papers: all swirls and curlicues.  Well, the swirls and curlicues represented the acanthus.  Callimachus, an ancient Greek who still carries some clout, spotted acanthus plants twining around a woman’s tombstone, and thought they were amazing.  According to Will Cuppy, who is generally to be relied upon except in the matter of fried bananas, Callimachus was a critic whose word was law.  If he said acanthus was artistic, you were simply null and void if you didn’t include some in your work.  Greek artists started twining so much acanthus in their sculpture that it was remembered centuries later by Mme. De Latour.

Achillea millefolia: See YARROW


            This old-fashioned plant was also known simply as “The Pearl”.  A resemblance of tears to pearls is implied.

ACHIMENES CUPREATA  “Such Worth is rare”

Aconite: See MONK’S HOOD

Aconite, Winter: see FAIR MAIDS OF FRANCE

*ACORN: “Goodness”

ADAM’S NEEDLE   “Mend Your Ways”

            Also called Spanish Bayonet, or Yucca filamentosa, this was believed to have been used to sew fig leaves into the first lingerie.  (Note that Adam was doing the sewing.)

ADDER’S TONGUE   “Jealousy”

ADONIS   “Sorrowful remembrances”

            Adonis was simply the best-looking Greek of his day.  The Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, fell for him hard, though he was the rugged outdoorsy type and she ran more along the lines of “Beulah, peel me a grape”.  Isn’t that always the way?  Adonis was gutted by a wild boar on one of his hunting trips.  This flower allegedly sprang from his blood.  (Aphrodite’s tears became the anemone.)

            Adonis has been a symbol of male beauty ever since, and, to some, of beauty that dies young.  One of the practices of the cult of Adonis was a perverse sort of gardening in which flowers were planted in shallow soil so they would spring up, blossom, and then wither, allowing everyone to grieve for the memory of glories that had died.  Well, it passed the time on a Sunday afternoon.

            Floriographers also call this Flos Adonis, Adonis Flos, Adonis Vernalis, and Pheasant’s Eye.  Others insist that Adonis Flos and Adonis Vernalis are different plants (but give them similar meanings.)

AGERATUM   “Indispensable for Progress”

AGNUS CASTUS   “Coldness; To Live Without Love”

            People go on about aphrodisiacs, potions alleged to improve the sex drive, but you don’t get nearly as much literature these days about anaphrodisiacs, or sex suppressants.  This plant was popular for such uses during the Middle Ages.  Its seeds were considered contraceptive, while monks and nuns supposedly made britches and girdles of the stuff to insure chastity.  It would insure something.

AGRIMONY   “Gratitude”*

            The floriographers are not as clear on how they thought this up as I’d like.  A modern floriographer, Claire Powell, says the plant is actually called “Gratitude” by gardeners, and does nothing about it.  She goes on to say that its blossoms are shaped like little bells.  This makes people think of church bells.  That in turn reminds people of medieval monasteries, which granted hospitality to weary travelers, who were then Grateful.  Well, of course.  Obvious, when you think about it.

*AILANTHUS   “Have Faith”

*ALDER   “Baffled, Bewildered”

*ALDER, BLACK   “I Wait Help”

*ALDER, DWARF   “Convenience”

Alfalfa: See LUCERNE

ALLSPICE   “Compassion”

            A twentieth century floriographer, Lesley Gordon, says this is because whenever you cut off one bud, two grow back.

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