Ranunculus to You: Lobelia to Millet

LOBELIA   “Malevolence”

            I am told this can be poisonous if taken in large quantities.  I do not wish to know who ate enough Lobelia to find that out.  Our ancestors also called this Gagroot and Vomitroot, so apparently a lot of people tried it.

LOCUST   “Affection Beyond the Grave”

LOCUST, HONEY   “Sweetness”

LONDON-PRIDE   “Frivolity”

            I get the impression floriographers were trying to make a point about people who were proud of living in the city, surrounded by frivolous things which took one’s mind off the contemplation of flowers.  Robert Tyas seems to be the source of this sentiment.

Lote Tree:   see JUJUBE TREE

LOTUS   “Eloquence”*

            Also known as the Lotos, this should not be mistaken for the Lotus which is the namesake of, say, the Lotus Position: that’s the next entry.  This Lotus was originally a woman named Lotis who was fleeing Priapus and turned into this tree.  Priapus is one of those gods whose myths cannot be discussed in a nice family book.  He was the deification, or personification, of the male reproductive organ, and if you see some of his statues, you can imagine what his myths were like.  He was also, by the by, the God of Gardens.

LOTUS FLOWER   “Estranged Love”

            One lover has forgotten the other, perhaps; the Lotus has been associated with forgetfulness since the men of Odysseus, who should have been odysseying around, landed on the Isle of Lotus-Eaters, ate lotuses themselves, and forgot all about their responsibilities.  Odysseus had to have them dragged back to the ship.  Most authorities believe what they ate was this water lily type of Lotus.

            If you were dying to know, this Lotus was also once a young woman.  She had a mad crush on Hercules, and died of sheer annoyance when he failed to notice her hanging around.  She should have forgotten him.

LOTUS LEAF   “Recantation”

            This means a leaf of the Lotus Flower, above, and the meaning probably relates to the forgetfulness theme.  You recant if you go back on your previous story, perhaps forgetting it.  For examples, see any list of campaign promises.

LOVE-IN-A-MIST   “Perplexity, Puzzlement”

            This is Nigella damascene, Common Fennel Flower, or Love-In-a-Puzzle, hence the meaning.  Sometimes it is known as Ragged Lady, in which case the floriographers made the meaning “Bad Housekeeping”.  Richard Folkard, Jr. says it is also known as Kiss-Me-Twice-Before-I-Rise, thus beating out the Pansy, which is known as Kiss-Me-Ere-I-Rise.

LOVE-IN-IDLNESS   “Love At First Sight”

            See also PANSY

LOVE-LIES-A-BLEEDING   “Hopeless Not Heartless”

            This means “I am failing to respond to you not because I am heartless but because I know I have no hope of ever deserving your love”.  Or something like that.  This is an amaranth and is sometimes known, in this efficient and romanceless day, as Love-Lies-Bleeding.

LUCERNE   “Life”*

            This is another name for Alfalfa.  Robert Tyas, among others, notes that when Lucerne stops growing in a spot, it will never grow there again, just as life will not return to a dead body.

Lunaria:   see MOONWORT

*LUNGWORT   “Thou Art My Life”

LUPINE  “Voraciousness”

            This was named for Lupus, the Wolf, because it grows in poor soil.  See, people found it growing there and assumed it had caused the poor soil, voraciously devouring all the nutrients, like a wolf among livestock.  Both wolf and lupine were being slandered.  Bad soil causes the lupines, rather than the other way around.  Lupines grow so well in bad land that they are now touted as an efficient food crop, a development perhaps foreseen by highwayman Dennis Moore in the eighteenth century.

            Early floriographers seem to have preferred “Dejection” because Vergil had written of “the sad lupine”.  But since he never explained why lupines struck him as depressed, this rather leaves us where we started.

LYCHNIS   “Religious Enthusiasm”

            This is the flower of St. John the Baptist, and is supposed to light up on his day.  Keep your eye on it.

Lychnis, Meadow:   see RAGGED ROBIN

LYCHNIS, SCARLET   “Sunbeaming Eyes”

Lythrum: see WILLOW HERB


MADDER   “Calumny”*

            Henry Phillips relates scandalous gossip to the red dye derived from Madder.  Legend says that if an animal eats madder, even its bones will be stained red, the way calumny will mark a reputation forever.

*MADRONA   “Unity”

MADWORT, ROCK   “Tranquility”*

            The Greeks are said to have used this plant to alleviate madness, tranquilizing the patient.

MAGNOLIA   “Love of Nature”

            Sarah Josepha Hale came up with this.  She doesn’t say how.

            Sarah was also the author of a littler fortune-telling game, Fortuna Flora, which appears in later editions of her flower language.  Since the copyright has long since expired, I thought about adding it somewhere in this book.  But forget it.  You have to find your flower based on the week you were born, the month you were born, and your temperament: lymphatic, sanguine,

bilious, or nervous.  The you add the numbers of the birthdates and the number of your temperament, and….  I’ve read the dang thing five times and I’m still not sure how it works.


MAGNOLIA, SWAMP   “Perseverance”

MAIDWORT   “Celibacy”

MALLOW   “Mildness”

            You are suggesting that the recipient has a sweet disposition.

*MALLOW, DWARF   “Meekness”

MALLOW, MARSH   “Beneficence”*

            Yes, the marshmallow in your hot chocolate is named for this.  The meaning comes about because apparently just about every part of the plant can be turned into food in one way or another.

Mallow, Syrian:   see ALTHEA

Mallow, venetian:   see HIBISCUS

MALON CREEANA   “Will You Share My Future?”

MANCHINEAL TREE   “Falsehood”*

            This is another poisonous plant.  The fruit smells good, according to Claire Powell, but contains a burning liquid that makes it a shock to bite into.  Charles M. Skinner notes a belief that even to sleep in the shade of a manchineel tree must inevitably be fatal.

MANDRAKE   “Rarity”*

            The mandrake is one of the most popular supernatural herbs of all time, because our distant ancestors thought the root was shaped like a human being.  It was believed to scream when uprooted, was eaten as an aid to fertility, and was so rare and mysterious that many floriographers recoiled and made it mean “Horror”.

MAPLE   “Reserve”*

            The leaves are slow to open, and slow to fall, which, in the eyes of the floriographers, suggests that the maple “keeps itself to itself”.

*MAPLE, SUGAR   “identification”

Marguerite:   see DAISY

MARIANTHUS   “Hope for Better Days”

MARIGOLD   “Grief”

            Sheila Pickles says this flower grieves for the sun, folding up its leaves when the sun sets.  That’s reasonable, I guess, but other plants do it, too.  The Marigold seems to suggest unpleasantness wherever it goes: the French call it “Souci”, or “Worry”, while its name in Mexico means “Flower of Death”.



MARIGOLD WITH POPPIES   “I Will Soothe Your Grief”

*MARIGOLD WITH ROSES   “The Bittersweet and Pleasant Pains of Love”


*MARIGOLD WITH ANY FLOWER   “The Thread of Life, Made of Joys and Sorrow”

MARIGOLD, AFRICAN   “Vulgar Minds”

            This was Henry Phillips’s idea: he says the odor is offensive and vulgar.  This gave him an excellent opportunity to launch into a little homily about people with vulgar minds.  Henry’s flower language book is bigger on homilies than on poetry.

Marigold, Fig:   see MESEMBRYANTHEMUM


MARIGOLD, GARDEN   “Uneasiness”

Marigold, Marsh:   see COWSLIP


            The meaning comes from the name, but where did the name come from?  John Ingram says the flower was used for predicting romantic success, the original “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not” flower.  But see below.


            This means about the same as “Predict” or “Foreshadow”.  Claire Powell says the flower fails to open in the morning if it is going to rain later in the day, and therefore was used to predict weather.

MARIGOLD, YELLOW   “Sacred Affections”

MARJORAM   “Blushes”

            Henry Phillips says the leaves of some species are delicately tinged with red.  Other experts say the Romans crowned married couples with marjoram after the wedding ceremony, whereupon the newlyweds would blush.  I couldn’t say, myself; I wasn’t there.

*MARJORAM, GREAT   “Falsehood”

            Oregano, to you.

\MARVEL OF PERU   “Timidity”

            This is also known as Four O’Clocks, from its tendency to open at exactly four o’clock in the afternoon/  This makes it timid, see, since it shuns the light of day and blooms only toward evening, when it can hide in the shadows.  But check out what they said about Thornapple.

Mastic:   see SCHINUS

Mayflower:   see ARBUTUS, TRAILING

MEADOWSWEET   “Uselessness”*

            The early floriographers saw no nutritional or medicinal uses for this plant.  (Mme. De Latour asked “But is it nothing then, to be beautiful?”)  You will find a long debate about whether it was actually sweet, too.  Some said it was sweet enough to perfume an entire meadow, while others claimed it smelled like nothing much.  Geoffrey Grigson suggests the name comes from its use in sweetening mead, a honey-based booze much favored in northern Europe.  As to its medicinal uses, about the time floriography started to trend downhill, somebody distilled salicylic acid from it, the first step to that aspirin you have in your medicine chest now.

            Uselessness, indeed!

*MEDLAR   “Timidity and Peevishness”

Mercury:   see BONUS HENRICUS


            Like Marvel of Peru, this is a flower which does not bloom first thing in the morning, like some people I know.  This time, however, the floriographers saw nothing to praise in this, basically accusing the plant of loafing.

MEZEREON  “Desire to Please”*

            This is known primarily as Mezereuum today.  Henry Phillips says the meaning comes from the flower’s coquettish tendency to flaunt its spring wardrobe in the dead of winter.  And coquettes, he goes on, have a desire to please.  Mm-hmm.

MIGNONETTE   “Your Good Qualities Surpass Your Good Looks”*

            This is intended as a double compliment, though just how far you’ll get with “You sure are nicer than you are good-looking”, I couldn’t say.  You try it and drop me a postcard.  The word “mignonette”, by the way, means “charming little thing”, and not, as Dorothea Dix has it, “My Little Nun”.

            Anyhow, this is a plant with teeny flowers but an enchanting aroma.  The meaning comes direct from a quaint little tale about the Count of Walsthein, his beautiful and fashionable fiancée Amelia, and her mousy little cousin Charlotte.  They were all sitting around one day, attaching mottos to flowers to pass the time, the way one does on a slow afternoon, and…oh, it goes on and on.  I bet you can guess how it all worked out.

Milfoil:   see YARROW

*MILKWEED   “Young and Foolish”

MILKWORT   “Hermitage”*

            Claire Powell says hermits always planted this around their caves.  I suppose some of them might have.

*MILLET   “Don’t Hand Me That”

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