Ranunculus to You, Almond to Angel’s Trumpet

ALMOND   “Indiscretion, Heedlessness”*


            The problem, see, is that the almond blossoms way too early in spring. If there’s a late frost, the blossoms are killed, and there will be no almonds.  Optimists, therefore, see the almond as a symbol of constant hope, while the pessimists make it represent indiscretion, stupidity, and even perfidy.  Later floriographers used both meanings, giving one to the almond and another to the almond in flower, though they are not at all consistent in which meaning goes with which.  Claire Powell blames the pessimistic meaning on the horrid old Victorians, though Mme. De Latour thought of it that way, and Fulvio Pellegrino Morato, of whom more later, was writing about it back in 1545.  Richard Folkard, Jr., who compiled an excellent book of plant lore, says the optimistic view is Muslim, and the pessimistic one Hebrew.

ALOE   “Bitterness”

            Aloes are bitter, that’s all.  Popular minority opinions make it “Grief”, which is bitter, or “Religious Superstition”, from a late Egyptian belief that if you brought aloe home from your pilgrimage to Mecca, and pinned it over your door, evil spirits would stay out.  It apparently worked so well that eventually Jews and Christians in Egypt were also pinning aloe over their doors.  Easier to keep up there than a horseshoe, I suppose.


Althaea rosea: see HOLLYHOCK, DOUBLE

ALTHEA, or ROSE OF SHARON   “Consumed By Love”

            When a botanist says althaea, that botanist means a hollyhock.  When a gardener says althaea, or althea, what is meant is the Rose of Sharon, which is neither hollyhock nor althaea (or rose, for that matter.)  I’m glad we got that cleared up.

            The original Althaea was a sister of Leda, the world’s most famous birdwatcher.  You should be prepared by that for a story of unnatural history.  Althaea had a son, Meleager, of whom the fates foretold that he would grow up to be trustworthy, brave, clean, reverent, etc.  BUT, they added, he would live no longer than that log burning on the hearth.  Like any mother, Althaea hauled that piece of timber off the fire, stamped out the flames, and locked it away.

            Meleager grew up to be one of the Great Greeks.  All-around athlete, darling of the public, he was a celebrity with thousands of adoring fans, all of whom found it fitting and proper and romantic that he should fall in love with the greatest female athlete of the day, Atalanta.  Meleager’s wife wasn’t all that thrilled about it, but there’s always something.

Meleager and Atalanta galloped side by side in the Calydonian Boar Hunt.  The boar was the wildest wild game of all time, and the hunt was the greatest chase in history.  Every hunter in the civilized world joined in the adventure.  Of course, it was Meleager who finally slew the boar single-handed.  He was awarded the boar’s hide, which was the most glorious athletic trophy in the history of mankind.

He gave it to Atalanta.

The public loved it, but his uncles were scandalized.  They tried to talk Atalanta into giving it back, which made Meleager so mad, he killed every one of them.  This was very wrong of him, but he was a celebrity, remember.  Back home, his mother (remember Althaea?) heard that all her brothers had been murdered by her son, and being just as impetuous as Meleager, she ran to her trunk of souvenirs, grabbed out that charmed log, and hurled it into the fire.  She was sorry about this later.

Anyway, the log burned up, and so did Meleager.  Thus, you see, he was CONSUMED because of his LOVE for Atalanta.  Why the flower was not, therefore, called Meleager, I am not in a position to say.

*ALUM ROOT   “Undesirable”

ALYSSUM, SWEET   “Worth Beyond Beauty”

This is a fragrant medicinal plant some people obviously don’t consider pretty.  Charles E, Brown, however, states that it is much admired by fairies.  Charles E. Brown does not explain how he came by this information.

AMARANTH  “Immortality”*

Long-lasting flowers made the amaranth a symbol of long life.  If you want a ten-dollar word for “durable”, you can say “amaranthine”.  The following meaning is obviously related.

AMARANTH, GLOBE   “Unchangeable”

AMARYLLIS   “Pride”*

The amaryllis stands straight and tall, flaunting its flower.  Some floriographers go so far as to call it haughty, because it sometimes refuses to flower at all.  More charitable floriographers, following the lead of Dorothea Dix, feel it’s simply timid.

AMBROSIA   “Love Returned”

Ambrosia was the food of the gods, and very sweet.  Love returned is sweet, too, you see.  Hilderic Friend claims that ambrosia is the name of any flower which can turn a human into a fairy.  Not all floriographers take an interest in fairies; it’s a matter of personal taste.

AMETHYST   “Admiration”

This is a type of Browallia, not the gemstone.

Ampelopsis: see IVY, JAPANESE

ANDROMEDA   “Self-sacrifice”

            Andromeda is the ancestor of every storybook damsel in distress.  The books I have consulted do not suggest that she volunteered to be chained naked to a cliff in expiation of her mother’s misdeeds, but maybe they just left out that part.  It would have made the meaning “self-sacrifice” reasonable, but they may have had other sea monsters to fry.

            As long as you asked, she was an Ethiopian princess.  Her mother, Cassiopeia, claimed to be better=-looking than the sea nymphs.  You might think sea nymphs would be too busy frolicking in the surf to take notice, but they were offended.  Taking their complaint to the sea god Poseidon, or his local affiliate, they got a massive sea monster sent to ravage the countryside.

            Cephus, the King of Ethiopia, consulted an oracle, which told him to sacrifice his only child.  He had just had her stripped and chained to the rocks when who should he see but the hero of our story flying past?

            This was Perseus, riding the winged horse Pegasus.  He had places to go and things to do, but got a good look at Andromeda on the rocks and made a quick U-turn to talk things over with Cephus.  The king promised Andromeda to Perseus without batting an eyelash.  He was very good at this.  Not only had he already promised Andromeda to the monster, but before the story started, had promised her to another prince.  This prince turned up later to kill Perseus, though he had shown no interest in killing the monster.  Perseus, having just slain the sea creepy, was worn out and would have been easy prey had he not also been carrying the head of Medusa, whom he

had also recently slain.  He pulled out this head, which turned all his enemies to stone, and flew off on Pegasus with Andromeda.  They had a son named Perses, who grew up to be the father of all Persians.

            Andromeda does not get so much as a cry of “Help help!” in the whole story, as far as I can see, but she did get a flower named for her and, after she died, she was put in the sky as a constellation.  In those days, practically anybody could become a constellation.  Cephus and the sea monster and even Cassiopeia all became constellations.  Poseidon was still sore about what she’d said about the sea nymphs, though, and decreed that for much of the year, Cassiopeia would be visible in the night sky on her back, with her legs up in the air.  Mention this to your scoutmaster on the next campout and see what happens.

ANEMONE   “Expectation”

ANEMONE, FIELD   “Sickness”*


            This is the first of several flowers we will discuss where the floriographers picked out one meaning for the basic flower, and then something else for the different varieties.  They are not consistent on which anemone means what, but this seems to be the most popular distribution of meanings.  George H. O’Neill in 1917 suggested using the first meaning if you had a bouquet of several kinds, and one of the others if you had a nosegay of all the same kind.

            The “expectation” meaning comes from the anemone’s flowering so early in spring.  “Forsaken” may be an extension of this, since the anemone is fragile and easily killed.  This may also be responsible for the “sickness” meaning, but there was for many years a tradition that the wild (or field) anemone was poisonous.  Claire Powell says it merely smells sickening, but the

ancient Persians believed that just inhaling a breeze which had passed over a field of anemones would kill you.  I doubt this.  I have not checked it out myself, no, but I would have, had there been a breeze and a field of anemones handy, and if I hadn’t been rather busy this morning.

*ANGEL’S TRUMPET   “Inform Me”

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