Ranunculus to You, Mimosa to Nuts

MIMOSA   “Sensitiveness”

            Also known as the Sensitive Plant, because it closes its leaves when touched.  According to the Greeks, it was originally a woman named Cephisa who, fleeing from Pan, was turned into a plant.  She still shrinks from the touch of men.  (And women, by the way.)

            Some books list “Sensibility” for this plant.  Once upon a time, sensibility and sensitivity meant the same thing.  We’ve fixed things up since then.

MINT   “Virtue”

            And this plant was a nymph named Minthe.  Pluto, CEO of Hades, fell in love with her.  His wife Persephone, whom he had kidnapped, for goodness sake, became so jealous that she killed Minthe, even though the nymph had been strictly virtuous and wasn’t playing around with Pluto at all.

MISTELTOE   “I Surmount Difficulties”

            That’s it: no Druids with copper sickles or kissing at Christmas or any of that good stuff.  There are times when I have my doubts about the floriographers.  This comes from the way mistletoe climbs trees.

*MISTELTOE SEED   “I Love the White-haired One”

MITRARIA COCCINEA   “Indolence, Dullness”

MOCK ORANGE   “Counterfeit”

            Because it’s a mock orange, and not a real one.  There are some who want it to have the meaning “Brotherly Love” because its scientific name is Philadelphius.  Hasn’t caught on yet.

MINARDA AMPLEXICAULIS   “Your Whims Are Unbearable”

MONK’S HOOD   “Knight Errantry”

The problem is that this plant has several very common folk names; it is known as Monk’s Hood, Helmet Flower, Wolfsbane, and Aconite, as Professor Snape points out.  Helmet Flower, of course, is the source of its usual meaning, above, though it is seldom listed under the name Helmet Flower in the floriography books.  Many of the meanings given to Monk’s Hood are thoroughly nasty, our pioneer floriographers tending to be militantly Protestant, while people who called it Aconite knew it for a poisonous plant, and gave it the meaning “Misanthropy”.  The Greeks said this sprouted from the spittle of Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hell.  I gather it was not a favorite among them.

MOONWORT   “Forgetfulness”

            This may come from Orlando Furioso, one of those great works no one ever reads.  Orlando lost his memory and his marbles, so his best friend flew to the moon to get them back, as everything which is lost winds up on the moon.  (That’s what those craters really are: odd socks.)

            The floriographers also lost their memory, as this is also Lunaria, or Honesty, which they said meant something else altogether.

            Claire Powell, for once, tells a simpler story.  The flower, she says, looks like a French cake, a moon-shaped one, called the oublie, which comes from the word oublier, to forget.  This is entirely too reasonable to be true.

MORNING GLORY   “Affectation”

MOSCHATELL   “Weakness”*

            This plant has a musky scent, but it is too weak to be unpleasant, according to Claire Powell.  And here I was waiting to write about people who have a weakness for muscatel.

MOSS   “Maternal Love”*

            Claire Powell says mothers in Lapland wrap their babies in ermine and cradle them in moss.  I don’t know why she goes on and on about Lapland; I bet lots of mothers cradled babies in moss.


MOSS, ICELAND   “Health”

            Joseph E. Meyer says this was once used as a cure for consumption.  He doesn’t come right out and say how well it worked, but I guess it was better than nothing at all.


*MOTHER OF THOUSANDS   “Amazement, Astonishment”

            I should say so.

MOTHERWORT   “Concealed love”

            Not that it has anything to do with the meaning, but Charles M. Skinner says you have to dip this in your sake before you take a drink.

Mourning Bride, Mourning Widow:   see SCABIOUS

MOVING PLANT   “Agitation”

            I’d be agitated at the sight of a plant coming at me, myself.

MUDWORT   “Tranquility”

            There is a flower called the Mudwort, but I believe it owes its place in flower language to someone who misprinted Madwort, which also has the meaning “Tranquility”.  Mind you, three floriographers broke away and gave it the meaning “Happiness”, making a misprint for the following.

MUGWORT   “Happiness”

MULBERRY   “Wisdom”

            According to those who know about such things, the Mulberry was considered the temperamental opposite of the Almond, which see.  Unlike that tree, the Mulberry waits to put out fruit and leaves until it can be sure the weather will cooperate.  Red and white mulberries sometimes get separate listings, but have very much the same meaning.

*MULBERRY LEAF   “Hidden Treasure”

MULBERRY, BLACK   “I Will Not Survive You”*

            Once upon a time, there lived a pair of lovers named Pyramus and Thisbe, and if you know the story of Romeo and Juliet, you know pretty much all you need to know about Pyramus and Thisbe.  Anyway, when Pyramus killed himself, his red blood hit the white mulberry and stained it purple, so that it was afterward known as the Black Mulberry.  Some floriographers, trying to make a point, define this as “I Shall Not Survive You”, but I will not get mixed up in it.

*MULBERRY, WEEPING   “Wretchedness”

*MULLEIN, MOTH   “Another Has Taken the Place”

MULLEIN, WHITE   “Good Nature”

            A facet of folk agriculture known as companion planting started to come back into fashion in the 1980s or so.  In this, the planting of one kind of plant can attract bugs or disease away from a more valuable plant.  White Mullein, I am told, draws stinkbugs away from your apple trees, which I must say is mighty good-natured of the White Mullein, since it then has to put up with the stinkbugs.

MUSHROOM   “Suspicion”*

            Some floriographers prefer to say Champignon, perhaps picking it up from Mme. De Latour, since that is the French for “mushroom”.  In English, though, Champignon is used to refer only to nonpoisonous mushrooms.  Of course, even with those there’s the suspicion….


            Nobodies who pretended to be Somebodies were once referred to as mushrooms, from the mushroom’s habit of springing up out of nowhere.

MUSK PLANT   “Weakness”

            See also MOSCHATELL

*MUSTARD, BLACK   “Unpleasant Charm”

MUSTARD SEED   “Indifference”

            The most famous mustard seed is the Biblical one which some people’s faith is no bigger than.  The floriographers regarded such a person as mighty indifferent.

Myosotis:   see FORGET-ME-NOT

MYROBALAN   “Privation”*

MYRRH   “Gladness”

            The story has nothing to do with the meaning, but far be it from me to ignore the public’s right to know.  Myrrh was another ancient Greek who got in bad with the gods.  She or her father said something to tick off Aphrodite, who retaliated by inflicting the girl with a mad lust for her father.  She sneaked into his bed twelve nights in a row, but he figured it out on the thirteenth and lit out after her with his sword to avenge the crime she’d made him commit.  Praying mightily for rescue, she was at last turned into this tree.  Nine months later, the bark split and out popped baby Adonis, who grew up to be Aphrodite’s great love, and a future flower himself.  Funny how these things work out.

MYRTLE   “Love”

            Brides in ancient Rome wore this, for it was associated with Venus, the Goddess of Love.  They got this from Greece, where the planet was sacred to Aphrodite, their Goddess of Love.  This may have come from Egypt, where the plant was sacred to THEIR Goddess of love.  Where myrtle got this reputation originally, and what it all means to women named Myrtle, I cannot say.

            Some Greek legends said it was a priestess of Aphrodite who married without Aphrodite’s permission and was turned into it.  But other stories say it was the first plant Aphrodite took hold of when she was born out of the sea foam.  (So she could hardly have turned her priestess into it later on.)  A third story says that once, surprised by a bunch of satyrs when she was in swimming, Aphrodite jumped out of the water and ran to hide behind a myrtle bush.  I don’t know any more of that particular story.  Sorry.


*MYRTLE, WAX   “I Will Enlighten You”


*NANDINA   “My Love Will grow Warmer”

NARCISSUS   “Egotism”

            Sometimes spelled Egoism, and sometimes spelled Self-love.  Or you can just go with Narcissism.

As you probably know, Narcissus was the most beautiful boy who ever lived.  People fell in love with him as he walked by, though he never noticed, because he knew nothing of love.  One lass named Echo pined away for him until she wasted down to nothing but a voice.  A man spurned by young Narcissus was made of sterner stuff, and prayed to the gods to teach the lad a lesson.  This was right up the alley of Nemesis, the god in charge of revenge, who saw to it that when Narcissus turned sweet sixteen, he got a look at himself in a reflecting pool.  He fell madly in love with his reflection, and spent the rest of his life trying to figure out how to embrace that fine-looking young man.  He starved to death and was turned into this beautiful yellow flower.  You know, I suspected all along that he was a blond.

            By the way, those of you who are given a narcissus can take heart.  Sheila Pickles says giving this flower indicates that the giver, not the recipient, is an egotist.

*NARCISSUS, DOUBLE   “Female Ambition”

            Is this a White Hollyhock, then?  If so, why can’t they say so, and make life easier for the rest of us?

Narcissus, False:   see DAFFODIL


            Claire Powell calls this the hardest narcissus to grow, and the least pleasant to have around once it has grown.

NASTURTIUM   “Patriotism”

            C.F. Leyel says this sprang from the blood of a Trojan soldier who died defending his homeland.  Not everyone joins him on this.  Nor are they rock solid on what plant it is (see CRESS).  OR why it’s called nasturtium.  Nasturtium means “Nose twister”.  (So I presume Austurtium is an Eye twister.)  Some say you twist your nose in this direction because the flower smells so sweet, and others because it is so peppery.  Others claim you wrinkle your nose when you bite into it.  Not me, buster.  And some books spell it “Nasturtion”.  What about that, huh?

*NASTURTIUM, DWARF   “Well-meaning”


*NEMESIA   “Shadowed”

NEMOPHILA   “Success Everywhere”

            This is supposed to be very easy to grow, blooming successfully everywhere.  One variety is called Baby Blue-Eyes.

NETTLE   “Slander”

            “Cruelty” is a popular minority meaning.  This plant stings or burns your hand if handled incorrectly.  You get the general idea.

NETTLE TREE   “Conceit”

            This was originally “Concert”, but someone along the line misprinted it, and this became the preferred meaning.

*NICOTINE   “No Obstacle Shall Stand In My Path”

Nigella Damascena:   see LOVE-IN-A-MIST

NIGHTSHADE   “Dark Thoughts”


            Clarence Hylander traces this symbolism to the days of the pioneers, who seem to have spent their time biting into plants.  This one, they said, was bitter when first tasted, but gradually turned sweet, the way truth slowly becomes palatable.  It is also somewhat poisonous; I don’t know how the pioneers worked around that.

Nightshade, Deadly:   see BELLADONNA


            Also known as Circaea, after Circe, the sorceress who turned Odysseus’s men into pigs, this plant got its reputation  by growing in dark places.  Henry Phillips, however, claims it is because the plant has little hooklike stickers that drag you in the way Circe brought in the sailors.  Well, not exactly like.

*NONE-SO-PRETTY   “Beautiful”

            This plant is also known as Nancy Pretty.  The experts don’t seem to agree on what plant it is, though.

NOSEGAY   “Gallantry”

            A nosegay is a bouquet; very gallant of you to bring one to your lady.

            It is ungallant to discuss a lady’s age, and perhaps a bit silly to point out a flaw in my own story.  If I have not made this clear, I believe that Louise Cortambert, and not Louis-Aime Martin, was Charlotte de Latour, founder of modern floriography.  I have not been able to find any source for Louise’s birthdate.  We know that her book came out at some time before 1820; most authorities assign it a date of 1817 or 1818.  Well, in 1817, Louis-Aime Martin was 31 years old.  Pierre Cortambert, Louise’s husband, was just eleven.

            Now, there is no requirement that Louise be the same age as the man she would eventually marry.  Had she been a mere five or six years older, the thing is more plausible.  But I will say it makes me nervous.

*NUTS   “You Are Cracked”

            This has to be a little joke of the Lehners.

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