Ranunculus to You: Daffodil to Eyebright


DAFFODIL   “Regard”

            The pioneer floriographers could not agree on whether the Daffodil meant Chivalry, Uncertainty, or Mistaken Hope.  In 1867, the Lover of Flowers declared it stood for Regard, and that meaning has prevailed ever since.

DAHLIA   “Instability”

            Tradition tells us the Dahlia came from mainland Europe to England twice.  The first plants were brought over just as the French Revolution was building up.  These all died, and a second set was imported about the time Napoleon named himself Emperor.  The dahlia thus symbolized to the British the unsettled political atmosphere of its time.

            In this country, its reputation is tied up with the death of Elizabeth Short in 1947.  This was one of those nasty unsolved crimes, in which each part of the body seemed to have been killed separately.  It became especially famous, according to one of the investigators, mainly because Elizabeth had taken to dressing all in black and calling herself the Black Dahlia.   Her

 death, according to him, would have been just another one of those things had she not associated herself with “an exotic and mysterious flower”.

DAISY   “Innocence”*

            Almost all floriographers mention the daisy.  Of the ones who do, some 79% agree on “innocence” or some variation of that as the meaning, making it one of the most agreed-upon flower language meanings.  What the floriographers cannot agree upon is which flowers are daisies and which are not.  See, some daisies are really asters, while others are chrysanthemums.

            By the way, Laura C. Martin notes that most daisies have an odd number of petals.  So if you are working on “He loves me, he loves me not”, and use a daisy, you almost always end up with “He loves me.”

*DAISY, AFRICAN   “Fearless”

DAISY, DOUBLE   “Participation

On a bicycle built for two, I suppose.

“DAISY, EASTER   “Candour and Innocence”

DAISY, GARDEN   “I Share Your Sentiments”

            Claire Powell traces this and the meaning for the Wild Daisy to the days of jousting and tournaments, where a fair lady would give one of these tokens to a knight, accepting or postponing his offer of tribute.

*DAISY, GREY   “Content Yourself”

            I have never, myself, seen a grey daisy, so I suppose I have mistranslated Mr. Morato again.

*DAISY, MEADOW   “You May Hope”

Daisy, Michaelmas:   see ASTER

*DAISY, MOUNTAIN   “Meek Loveliness”

            As long as we have so many other nineteenth century female poets on hand, let us consider the case of Emily Dickinson.  Emily’s poetry went largely unpublished in her lifetime because it was too much unlike that of real poets, say, Lydia H. Sigourney.  But there is plant life sprouting throughout her poetry, especially daisies, roses, daffodils, and clover.  Daisies are her favorites for homely, comfortable scenes.  Her flowers have almost no resemblance to those found in flower language; the only two symbolisms they have in common were probably taken from the same places the floriographers found them, rosemary for remembrance and asphodel for the abode of the dead.  Her mind didn’t run much to dictionaries: too orderly.  She did use her flowers as measuring sticks, though: a person who had died has gone “beyond the rose”, a grave is “just a daisy deep”.

            Nowadays, Emily’s poetry is seen all over the place while hardly anyone of sense bothers with Lydia H. Sigourney.  It’s as a friend of mind told me, “You’ll get what’s coming to you if you live long enough, even if it comes after you’re dead.”  She may be the same person who advised me, “You have to take what you can get, but you can’t always get it.”  Sometimes I wonder if these statements are profound, and sometimes I just wonder.

DAISY, OX-EYE   “A Token”

DAISY, RED   “Beauty Unknown to the Possessor”

            What you are telling the person who gets this flower is “You’re prettier than you think.”


DAISY, WHITE   “Innocence”

            “Youth without virtue is like spring on a windblasted peak; it lacks the very thing that makes spring joyful.”  P. Coelestin Muff, “The Maiden’s Wreath”, in The Young Catholic Girl’s Guide, 1906.  Mr. Muff made up his flower language to fit his homilies.

DAISY, WILD   “I Will Think of It”

DANDELION   “Oracle”*

            There are whole heapy handfuls of fortune-telling games to play with dandelions, possibly because they’re often the easiest flower to come by.  We kids always used them when they were still yellow, to check whether people liked butter.  You rubbed the bloom under someone’s chin, and if the chin turned yellow, the person liked butter.  Precisely why it was so important to discover a person’s dairy preferences I am not certain, but it passed the time, particularly if you got a kid who objected to having plants rubbed under his chin.  The British appear to have used buttercups for the same purpose.

            Most other methods involve a dandelion gone to seed, covered with those little white feathers.  Some say that if you attach a message to each feather, and blow them in the direction of your lover, the messages will be received.  Blow again, and if a single feather remains attached to the blossom, your lover has not forgotten you.

            Others say you blow the feathers off and those which are left on the flower will tell you what time it is.  Sure they will.  Some ladies blow the feathers away and count what’s left, as that will predict how many children they will have.  Another tradition says if you make a wish and blow, and all the feathers blow away, you will get our wish.  I can see connecting those last two, but I suppose it’s pretty low even to suggest it.


Daphne:  see LAUREL

Daphne Mezereon:   see MEZEREON

DAPHNE ODORA   “Painting the Lily”

DARNEL   “Vice”*

            Rye Grass and Ray Grass are forms of Darnel; in either form it is a weed which will grow quickly and destroy good wheat, as vices can overwhelm virtues.

            You see that this is one of Mme. de Latour’s original meanings, and it remained part of floriography not only in English-speaking countries but in France as well.  It appears in L’Esprit des Fleurs, by Emmeline Raymond.  Mme. Raymond tried, in 1884, to revive flower language with this book.  It’s a beautiful volume so long as you don’t try to READ it: all the beautiful pictures, with their brown paper protectors, keep getting in the way.  Anyway, Emmeline’s feeling was that the modern generation was rejecting poetic sentimentality and flower language because floriography had never had much substance, much depth.  She tried to remedy this by providing as logical base for floriography: a story in which the flowers get together and talk over what it’s like to be flowers, and how their flower language meanings suit them.  This may have solved the problem so far as Mme. Raymond was concerned.  You wouldn’t get far with it today.

Datura:  see ANGEL’S TRUMPET

Daylily: see LILY, DAY

Delphinium:   see LARKSPUR

*DEUTZIA   “Gentleness, Inspiration”

DEW PLANT   “Serenade”

*DIDISCUS   “Modesty”

*DILL   “Protection”

DIOSMA   “Uselessness”


            This is a vine, a creeper and climber.  The floriographers liked clinging plants—generally having them represent endless love or friendship—but climbers made them nervous.


DITTANY   “Birth”*

            Also called Dittany of Crete, this plant, Richard Folkard Jr. tells us, was sacred to Lucina, goddess of Childbirth.

DITTANY, WHITE   “Passion”

            Which might bring us back to Dittany.  This is known sometimes as White Dittany of Crete.

DOCK   “Patience”*

            In fact, some gardeners know this as Patience Dock.  I am told the seeds of Dock can stay viable for up to sixty years.  That is patient.

*DOCK, YELLOW   “Brief Expedition”

DODDER   “Meanness”

            A parasitic plant, dodder can devastate a field of wheat or flax.

DOGWOOD   “Durability”

            Geoffrey Grigson calls this a very solid and versatile wood, ideal for use since ancient times in tools, arrows, and toothpicks.  Toothpicks?

DOGWOOD, FLOWERING   “Am I Perfectly Indifferent to You?”

            Geoffrey Grigson goes on to say, however, that dogwood berries are perfectly useless.


DRAGON WORT   “Horror”

            Also known as Snakesfoot, for reasons which doubtless seemed good at the time.  I might be struck with horror myself at finding a snake with feet.


EBONY   “Blackness”

            Whatever else could it mean?



            This is a poisonous twining shrub.  But it doesn’t twine THAT fast.  Plenty of time to get out of the way.

EDELWEISS   “Daring, Nobility, Courage, Purity, Immortality, Glory, Eternal virtue,

Perseverance, Fidelity, and Then Some”

My, floriographers just go all out for Edelweiss!  I could say something sarcastic here,

but what’s the use.  Let’s all sing together: “edelweiss, edelweiss….”

Eglantine:   see ROSE, SWEETBRIER

ELDER   “Zealousness”

*ELDERBERRY   “Charm Envelopes and Conquers By an Inexhaustible Sweetness”

            I do not believe we have discussed Rob Pulleyn yet.  He’s the author of a number of late twentieth century books on dried flowers, and wreaths made of dried flowers.  In Everlasting Floral Gifts, he has a flower language guide apparently compiled by his co-author, Claudette Mantor.  She cites Margaret Pickston’s Language of the Flowers, a book we’ll chat about later on, and a flower language book published in India.  I have not been able to track this down yet, but I expect this is where they found all the lengthy aphorisms that fill up their flower language.

            A lot of flower arrangers won’t touch flower language: it can get in the way of choosing the color and shape of an arrangement,  Others don’t mind.  James J. Moretz, proprietor of the only flower language library I ever found (in Chicago), had it in the same establishment where he gave flower arrangement lessons.  (His collection eventually joined the massive floriography collection at the Chicago Botanic Garden.)

*ELEPHANT’S EAR   “Hear All You Can”

            I have to admit this is more obvious than that meaning for Elderberry.  It might be said to swing too much the other way, in fact.

ELM   “Dignity”

ELM, AMERICAN   “Patriotism”

            I can find no explanation of how Lucy Hooper picked out this meaning.  Plantlorist Charles M. Skinner says America “claims” this tree, but doesn’t explain himself.

ENDIVE   “Frugality”

            Just mix it with Chicory.

Ephemeris:   see SPIDERWORT

*ESCAROLE   “Retire At Once”

ESCHOLZIA   “Do Not Refuse Me”

EUCALYPTUS   “Honesty”


            Eupatorium probably gets this meaning for blooming so late in the summer.  See, most floriographers do not bother to give a reason for any meaning, preferring to fill their space with poetry, some of which never even mentions the flower under discussion.  An exception was the Lover of Flowers (perhaps a relative of the publisher, who wrote some of the Lover’s Book of books himself.)  She fills the back pages of her dictionary with all kinds of flower trivia, not all of which she endorses.  She scoffs at a legend that if you put flowers by your window, no evil image can get through the glass.  (Try some next to your computer.)  Another tradition claims that to wear flowers is to invite the angels.  She notes that she’s worn flowers plenty of times, and if any angels dropped by, they were too shy to talk to her.  She was a Lover of Flowers, but she refused to play the sap for them.


EVERLASTING   “Never-Ceasing Remembrance”

            Name and meaning alike come from the fact that these flowers do not fade when they die.

EYEBRIGHT   “Cheer Up”

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