Ranunculus to You: Larkspur to Liverwort


LARKSPUR   “Pensive Beauty”

Lad’s Love:   see SOUTHERNWOOD

LADY’S MANTLE   “Fashion”

            Plantlorists tend to make any reference to a lady in a flower name symbolic of the Virgin Mary.  Floriographers seem not to have seen it that way.

LADY’S SLIPPER   “Capricious beauty”

*LADY’S TRESSES   “Bewitching Grace”


            This is sometimes called Crape Myrtle, but never by floriographers.

LANTANA   “Rigor”

            You might guess from the meaning that this is another plant with thorns.

LAPAGERIA ROSAEA   “There is No Unalloyed Good”

LARCH   “Boldness”

            This is one of our faster-growing trees.

*LARCH, ONE SPRIG   “How Dare You?”

LARKSPUR   “Levity, Lightness”*

            Lesley Gordon says this is because larks fly so high.  Do they fly so high because they’re light?  Or is it that birds are kind of flighty?


            Another reference to height: once upon a time, if you were haughty, you were said to have a rather high manner, much in the way that if you were guilty of levity, you were said to be light in your manners, or likely to take things lightly.

LARKSPUR, PINK   “Fickleness”

            This was also known as the Purple Larkspur.  Of course.


            Pink or Purple, I guess.

LAUREL   “Glory”*

            A laurel wreath was the highest honor a Greek could aspire to, and all because of a mean joke of Cupid’s.  Apollo made a nasty crack about the lad’s marksmanship, and Cupid by way of revenge, shot him with an arrow that made him fall in love with Daphne.  Cupid had already shot Daphne with one of his special lead-tipped arrows, which made the target automatically loathe members of the opposite sex.  The chase was on; it ended only when Daphne prayed to be turned into a plant.  She became a laurel.  Apollo broke off a branch to wear on his head, and declared that a wreath of such branches would be the superlative honor.

            And so Laurel became a symbol of glory and victory.  Whose victory?  Cupid’s, perhaps.

LAUREL, ALMOND   “Perfidy”

            If you should want to look them up for yourself, the horse’s mouth where a lot of these myths of people turning into plants are concerned is Ovidius Naso, or Ovid, one of those classical writers children aren’t allowed to read much.  He didn’t make them up, but he gathered them and polished them for his book “Metamorphoses”.  He seems to have felt they were kind of funny.

            Ovid weas like that, but he had the fortune or misfortune to live during the reign of Caesar Augustus, one of the more straitlaced Caesars, who finally exiled him for his naughty books.  The writings of Caesar Augustus do not get the interest from illustrators that Ovid’s work does.

*LAUREL, AMERICAN   “Virtue Makes Her Charming”
            No one but Sarah Josepha Hale bothers with this, which some books say is the Kalmia.  But see LAUREL, MOUNTAIN

LAUREL, COMMON   “Perfidy”

LAUREL, GROUND   “Perseverance”

*LAUREL LEAF, CUT   “I Lack the Ability”


            One expert told me this is a Rhododendron.  Two more make it Kalmia, but a fourth said it must never, ever be confused with Kalmia.  If those kids can’t get together without fighting, I’m going to make them sit in separate books.

*LAUREL SEED   “I Love the Brunette”

Laurel, Spurge:   see MEZEREON

LAURUSTINUS:   “I Die If Neglected”

The Laurustinus will resist the ravages of hot or cold weather, but will wither if neglected by the gardener.  I know people like that.

LAVENDER   “Distrust”

            Distrust Lavender?  Henry Phillips says this is because it is used to disguise bad odors.  Sheila Pickles claims snakes love to lie under it.  Many experts stress Cleopatra’s asp, which rested in lavender until its slide to glory.

LAVENDER, COTTON   “You Talk Too Much”

            They tell me this plant has nothing to do with cotton OR lavender.  Ain’t botany fun?  The problem comes, as noted in the introduction, of people giving flowers and plants just any name they liked, without considering things scientifically.  From time to time, there have been moves to get all names except the scientific ones abolished.  R. Milton Carleton sighs that folk names will go on as long as people who are not scientists grow plants.  R.C.A. Prior would allow people to use the folk names only if they don’t speak Greek or Latin.  I can put up with names like Cotton Lavender if it’s a matter of those smartypantses against the rest of us.  (I never got along with the metric system, either.)

LAVENDER, SEA   “Dauntlessness”

LEADWORT   “Holy Wishes”

            A book I suspect of swiping its data gives us “Holy, Vicious” for this plant.  I picture the typesetter’s assistant as a fellow with a German accent, reading out of the original book “Next comes Holy Vishes”.  There could be some other explanation.

LEAVES, DEAD   “Sadness, Melancholy”*

*LEAVES, GREEN   “Revived Hope”

            Presumably because when you see the leaves turning green again in spring, you feel better about things in general.  But how do you explain to the recipient not to use the meaning of whatever plant the leaves come from?

*LEAVES, SKELETON   “Beautiful in Death”

            A nature craft enjoyed by Victorians which most of us have given up, being busy watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory, is the making of skeleton leaves. Which are leaves with all the green bits gone, leaving just a lacework of the dried veins.  It was very pretty.  But when, exactly, do you give someone a gift meaning “Beautiful in Death”?

LEEK   “Liveliness”

Leek, House:   see HOUSELEEK

LEMON   “Zest”

            Who started the custom of calling lemon peel the “zest” of the lemon?  And can’t we do something about it?


            American floriographers, though not unanimous, tend toward “Discretion”, a meaning first proposed by Elizabeth W. Wirt.  The English floriographers, however, follow the suggestion of A Lover of Flowers and make it “Fidelity in Love”.  Shall we worry about how many lovers are presumed faithful, but are merely discreet?


LETTUCE   “Coldhearted”

            Obviously Iceberg Lettuce/

LICHEN   ”Solitude”

Licorice, Wild:   see BELVIDERE

LILAC   “First Emotions of Love”*

            Catherine Waterman says this is because of the delicacy of the plant, which imitates the delicacy of a young person jut learning about love, and the color, which is supposed to remind you of blushes.   Richard Folkard, Jr. makes it “First Troubles of Love”, which tells us what he thought about it.

LILAC, FIELD   ‘Humility”

LILAC, MAUVE   “Do You Still Love Me?”

Lilac, Purple:   see LILAC

LILAC, WHITE   “Youthful Innocence”

            Mme. De Latour had simply “Youth”, but Sarah Josepha Hale amended this, and the new version became more popular than the original.

LILY   “Purity and….”

            Everyone give the Lily “Purity” because it’s so white.  But no one can leave it at that, partly because of the plant’s tall, majestic bearing.  So floriographers list “Purity and Majesty”, “Purity and Stateliness”, “Purity and Modesty” (originally a misprint for Majesty?), “Purity, Chastity, and Innocence” (and redundance?), “Purity and Lofty Aspiration”, “Purity and Grandeur”, “Purity, Dignity, and Nobility”, “Beauty and Purity”, and “Purity and Moral Excellence”.  Pick out one you like.

Lily, Atamasco:   see AMARYLLIS

Lily, Belladonna:   see AMARYLLIS

*LILY, CHINESE   “You May Hope”

LILY, DAY   “Coquetry”

            Henry Phillips, who appears to be the floriographer who added the Day Lily, or Daylily, to flower language, explains this meaning with the fact that the Day Lily is a tease, seldom flowering two days in a row.  Three floriographers made it clear that this applies only to YELLOW Day Lilies.

*LILY, FROG   “Disgust”

 LILY, IMPERIAL   “Majesty”

LILY, JAPANESE   “You Can’t Deceive Me”

*LILY, JUNE   “Purity”

LILY, ORANGE   “Hatred”

            The Lehners were the first to mention this, as far as I can see.  I don’t know what they had in mind, especially, but the orange lily is the symbol of the Orangemen, or Irish Protestants, as the Shamrock is the symbol of the Irish Catholics.

Lily, Pond:   see WATER LILY

*LILY, REGAL   “Majesty”

*LILY, SCARLET   “High-Souled”

            Only Sarah Josepha hale mentions this, and even she doesn’t put it in every edition of her dictionary.

LILY, TIGER   “Wealth and Pride”

Lily, Torch  see FLAME FLOWER

LILY, TURK’S CAP   “Splendor”

LILY, WATER   “Purity”

            Geoffrey Grigson says this is another seed the Elizabethans ate to ensure chastity.  I’ve read about the Elizabethans.  It didn’t work.

            This meaning also appears in a strange little item called Oracles des Flores, published in 1816 and written by an author listed as “C.F.P. del….”  It’s a pretty little fortune-telling book, which has some flower meanings also found in Mme. De Latour’s book.  This could be a coincidence.  Or Mme. De Latour’s book came out earlier than experts have guessed, and was used as a source.  OR maybe Oracles des Flores was written by Charlotte F.P. delatour.  Printers have done stranger things.

LILY, WHITE   “Purity, Sweetness”

*LILY, WILD   “Purity”

LILY, YELLOW   “Falsity, Gaiety”

            It seems that Sarah Josepha Hale made this mean “Playful Gayety” shortly after Elizabeth W. Wort’s book made it “Falsehood”.  A lot of subsequent floriographers, unable to decide which to steal, made up their minds to list both.  Well, all the world loves a cheerful liar.

LILY OF THE VALLEY   “Return of Happiness”*

            Because it is one of the first flowers of spring, of course.

*LILY OF THE VALLEY, BLUE   “Amorous Young Girl”

LIME   “Conjugal Love”*

            This is not the citrus tree, but another name for the European Linden Tree, though some books give this meaning to the American Linden as well.  Floriographers prefer to list it under Lime, just to confuse us.

            In any case, the meaning comes from the story of Baucis and Philemon, an elderly Greek couple who set out a big meal for unexpected guests, though they had to go hungry themselves to do it.  The visitors were gods in disguise, and offered the pair a wish.  Thinking it over, they asked only that they be allowed to die at exactly the same time, so that one would not have to live without the other.  The wish was granted.  After they died,  an oak grew out of the grave of Philemon, which is why the Oak stands for “Hospitality” in floriography, while a linden (or lime) grew from the grave of Baucis.  The trees grew together, showing conjugal love even after death.

            Baucis was the wife, by the way.  Catherine Waterman says that the linden tree has all the qualities of a perfect wife: graceful, gentle, simple.  She wrote this in 1840.

Linden: see LIME

LINT   “I Feel My Obligations”

Live Oak:   see OAK, LIVE

Liverwort: see HEPATICA

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