Ranunculus to You, Ice Plant to Kudzu


ICE PLANT   “Your Looks Freeze Me”

            This is a plant which looks as if it has frost or ice on it, hence its name and meaning.  Most books agree on this meaning, but Mme. De Latour had it with a slight difference.  Both editions of her book which I have seen give the meaning as “Your Fires Freeze Me”, the sort of thing you might say to a suitor whose passion you find annoying.  Now, M. Louis Aime-Martin, whose Belgian edition claims that he is Mme. De Latour, has changed one letter, from “feux” to “yeux”, which makes it “Your Eyes Freeze Me”, basically the same meaning as the above.  Maybe Mme. De Latour’s printers goofed it up, or maybe she meant it as printed and the other floriographers just couldn’t figure it out.

IMBRICATA   “Uprightness”

IMMORTELLE   “Never-ceasing Remembrance”

            This, as you probably guessed, is a kind of Everlasting.

Impatiens: see BALSAM


Ipomoea: see JASMINE, INDIAN

IRIS   “A Message”*

            Iris and Hermes were the messengers of the Greek gods.  Unlike Hermes, who had lots of things to do besides, Iris seems to have done absolutely nothing but dash up and down the rainbow, carrying messages hither and yon.

            A popular minority meaning for any iris is “Flame” or “Fire”, because the shape of the plant reminded viewers of flames.

IRIS, BLUE   “A Message”

IRIS, GERMAN   “Flame”*

*IRIS, JAPANESE   “Beyond Criticism”

Iris, Yellow:   see FLEUR-DE-LIS

IVY   “Fidelity”

*IVY, JAPANESE   “Binding”

            This is an ampelopsis, made famous by Dorothy L. Sayers, who, in her short story “The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker”, has Lord Peter Wimsey describe an oily character as “Bit of an ampelopsis, what…suburban plant that climbs by suction.  YOU know—first year, tender little shoots—second year, fine show—next year, all over the shop.”

*IVY LEAVES   “I Offer You My Friendship”

*IVY, POISON   “Annoyance, Envy”

            Go ahead: give your beloved a bouquet of this and see who gets annoyed.  No one will envy you.

*IVY, WITH APOCYNUM,   “Your Friend is Deceitful”

*IVY, WITH JONQUILS  “Return to Fidelity”

IVY, WITH TENDRILS    “Assiduous to Please”

            Late into the research for this book, my life was enriched by the discovery of an item called Embleme des Fleurs, ou Parterre de Flore, published in Paris in 1833 and written by one “Ch.-Jos. CH….T.  Ch.-Jos. turns out to have been Charles-Joseph Chambet, author of a number of ephemeral books, the most popular of which seems to have been his guide book to Lyons.

            The 1833 edition was the fourth; in it he points out that the first edition was published in 1816, “two or three years” before the work of his “aimable imitatrice”, Charlotte de Latour.  So far, I have been unable to substantiate this claim; the earliest edition I was able to trace is the second, which came out in 1824, cited by Henry Phillips in his own work of 1825.  Chambet says he doesn’t wish to detract from the obvious talent of his imitator (they always say that) but just wants it known that he was there first.

            His book has definitions in common with Mme. De Latour, but even more in common with Louis-Aime Martin.  Like Louis-Aime Martin’s book, Chambet’s does not seem to have had anywhere near the influence of Mme. de Latour’s, though it was apparently dipped into by Dorothea Dix, Emmeline Raymond, and Josephine Addison.


Jack-in-the-Pulpit:   see ARUM

JACOB’S LADDER   “Come Down”

As Jacob’s dream showed him angels moving up and down the ladder, does this mean the giver considers you an angel?


JASMINE   “Amiability”

            Some books say Jasmine and some say Jessamine.  One authority informed me that Jessamine is properly used for the American plant, while Jasmine is the Asian version.  But another expert claims jessamine is merely a poetic way of saying Jasmine.  There are even a few floriographers who spell it Jasmin.  Surely there’s an amiable way out of this argument.

Jasmine, Cape:   see GARDENIA

JASMINE, CAROLINA   “Separation”*

            Some of the earlier floriographers make this Virginian Jasmine.  North American geography was not a high priority in those days.

JASMINE, INDIAN   “I Attach Myself to You”

JASMINE, NIGHT-BLOOMING   “Only for Thee” or “Love’s Vigil”

            Either way, you are claiming you would do this only for the one you love, the way only someone who really loves a flower would stay up all night to watch if it bloomed.  A good flower to give someone who has asked you to take out the trash.

JASMINE, RED   “Our Love Will Lead Us Astray”

Jasmine, Scarlet:   see JASMINE, INDIAN

JASMINE, SPANISH   “Sensuality”

            The most important quality of jasmine, to gardeners of the day, was its scent, which is powerful and alluring if you can take it, and sickeningly thick if you can’t.  Most of these meanings, obviously, were chosen by people with a strong tolerance for the stuff.

Jasmine, Virginian:   see JASMINE, CAROLINA

JASMINE, WHITE   “Amiability”

            However, Laura Peroni says that in Spain this plant means “Sensuality”.  Note JASMINE, SPANISH, above.

JASMINE, YELLOW   “Grace and Elegance”

            Ernst and Joanna Lehner claim the original Turkish flower language (Selam) had a special code for Jasmine.  Red meant “Our Love Will Be Intoxicating”, White meant “Our Love Will be Sweet”, and Yellow meant “Our Love Will Be Passionate”.  You can see how some of that might have evolved into what the floriographers gave us.

Jessamine:   see JASMINE

JOB’S TEARS   “Sympathetic”

JONQUIL  “I Desire a Return of Affection”

            Several floriographers make this simply “Desire”, following Mme. De Latour.  Clair Powell says the Turks made it mean “Lust”.  Well, “I Desire a Return of Affection” is NEARLY  the same thing, isn’t it?

*JOSEPH’S COAT   “Affectation”

*JOY   “Enduring Friendship”

            Someone has suggested that this is just another name for Wood Sorrel, which is sometimes called Gye.  I’m thinking that over.

JUDAS TREE   “Disbelief”

JUJUBE TREE   “Concord”

            This is sometimes known as the Buckthorn, or Purging Buckthorn.  Both a high-powered laxative and a very popular candy have been made of it.  Go figure.

*JUJUBE SEED   “I Love the Brunette”

JULIENNE, WHITE   “Despair Not”

            There is a story about an exiled queen who looked at this plant whenever she needed encouragement.  It reminded her that God was everywhere, so she should not give up.  Some people feel this is the same plant as Queen’s Rocket, but I say if she’d had a rocket….

JUNIPER   “Protection”

            This plant was thought to protect you from devils, and was also used as a cure for plague and poison.    The belief in its ability to protect probably comes from the Bible, since Elijah sat under one for shelter.  That is, he does in the King James Bible.  In the Revised Standard

Version, he sits under a Broom Tree.  The floriographers were working without benefit of the Revised Standard Version.

            Less Biblically-inclined floriographers have other explanations.  Robert Tyas says that simple-minded natives burn it to keep evil spirits away.  He doesn’t say simple-minded natives of where, and, anyhow, maybe they were just smoking out mosquitoes.  And Clair Powell says rabbits, thrushes, and insects always hurry to the juniper for shelter.  The juniper berries had nothing to do with it, I guess.

JUSTICIA   “The Perfection of Female Loveliness”


*KALMIA   “Treachery”

            This is a kind of laurel, but definitely not the kind from which wreaths are made.  Our Ancestors’ estimate of it can be judged by the fact that they called it Lambskill, or Calfkill.  (Depending on whether they were in sheep or cattle country.)

KENNEDIA   “Mental Beauty”

*KENTIA   “Sincerity”

KING-CUP   “I Wish I Was Rich”

            This name has been applied to any cup-shaped yellow flower: a buttercup or cowslip or marsh marigold.  It’s a pretty obvious symbol: somebody was looking out across a field of these yellow cups and sighed, “Golly, I wish those were real gold cups.”  And some older person was

listening then recited the tale of King Midas, and the younger person would sagely nod, having learned the larger lesson: never wish for anything where Aunt Booney can hear you.

*KOCHIA   “Trepidation”

*KUDZU   “Elopement”

            Because it moves so fast, I guess.

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