Ranunculus to You, Oak to Oyster Plant


OAK   “Hospitality”*

            See LIME

*OAK GUM   “Do Not Trust In It”

OAK LEAF   “Bravery”

            To win a wreath of oak leaves, a Roman had to win a battle, kill an enemy, or save the life of another Roman.  The oak leaf naturally became associated with valor in war. Today, a Major or a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army wears a stylized oak leaf as an emblem of rank.

*OAK, AUSTRIAN   “You Irritate me Excessively”

OAK, LIVE   “Liberty”

OAK, WHITE   “Independence”

            She never seems to have been promoted to the status of Goddess of Horticulture, but a nymph named Pomona was legendary in Rome for being so crazy about gardens and orchards that she hardly ever talked to anybody except the occasional farmer.  She was remarkably

beautiful (all that time spent outdoors, I suppose) and attracted a lot of suitors, but if they didn’t want to talk about keeping aphids off the roses or where to put in  the new seedlings, she wouldn’t give them the time of day.

            The most diligent of her fans was a satyr named Vertumnus, who made a habit of slipping into her garden disguised as a farmer or rural peasant.  One day he came around dressed as an elderly lady who wanted to talk about pollination in the garden, and shifted into a lecture about how unnatural it was for Pomona to be so single-minded.  Every plant or animal knew nature demanded a little more than that.  The lecture finished with a heart-rending story of a young woman who spurned love until she finally turned to stone, and a recommendation that Pomona look up a perfectly delightful young satyr named Vertumnus who would be glad to help her explore that side of nature.

            Pomona was too polite to pitch the old busybody out of the garden, but just went on thinning out her carrots and showing no interest at all until Vertumnus finally cried out, “Oh, pshaw!”, tossed off his disguise, and marched out of the garden stark naked.  Pomona had had no clue that old lady was anything but an elderly crank, and watched him go with some surprise.  She apparently thought he looked really good from behind and decided trees and rutabagas weren’t everything, running after him to accomplish a happy ending (or more).

            Some legends have morals, but this one has very few.

OATS   “Music”

            This comes from the hobby of Greek shepherds, making pipes and flutes of oat stalks.  Watching sheep could be intensely boring, and music helped pass the time.

            A number of books, swiping from some poem or another, make this “The Witching Soul of Music, Hers”.  If I find out what this is all about, I’ll sure pass it along.

*OATS, ONE STALK   “Be Careful”



*OLD MAID   “Sourness”

*OLD MAN   “Meekness”

*OLD WOMAN   “Kindness”

            These last three meanings are from George O’Neill, who may have been trying to make a point.  I decline to argue about it.  After all, “Flowers are one of the few noncontroversial things in life”, Clarence Meyer, Fifty Years of the Herbalist Almanac

OLEANDER   “Beware”

            Almost all floriographers agree on this, and three of them add an exclamation point.  Oleander is a swift and powerful poison; I believe one victim in an Agatha Christie story died just from eating something which had been cooked over a campfire on an oleander branch.  I checked into this, and I find it really does happen a couple of times a year at somebody’s picnic.  As if you didn’t have enough to do, watching for ants and poison ivy: now you have to check into the pedigree of any stick you shove a marshmallow on.

*OLEANDER WITH HELLEBORE   “Beware of Slander”

            It’s easy to make up all kinds of warning messages with oleander by adding it to something else.  Oleander with watermelon tells your friend “Beware of Bulkiness”.  That is, if you want to send a bouquet with watermelon in it to someone on a diet.

OLIVE   “Peace”*

            This is wellnigh unanimous.  Even Mr. Morato agreed.

ONION   “Everything Backward”

            Only two floriographers mention the onion, which strikes me as unfair.  Still, none at all mentioned the tomato, so things could be worse.

            Morato explains that an onion gets smaller during a full moon, though every other plant in creation expands, hence the backward meaning.  See what useful information you can pick up when all you’re trying to do is write a flower language dictionary and get on with your life?

            Josephine Addison, however, goes all out, giving the onion six different meanings, all related to a perception of the onion as a symbol of the oneness and diversity of the universe.  Frankly, I think we covered the onion as symbol of the universe when we said “Everything Backward”.

*ONION LEAF   “I Retreat Immediately”

            You’re going backward, see?

OPHRYS, BEE   “Error”

            If you don’t look a second time, you’ll think the ophrys has a bee on it, but that’s just its little trick.  An ophrys, by the way, is an orchis.  I mention this because floriographers also mention a Bee Orchis, which is an ophrys.  But the Bee Orchis cannot be a Bee Ophrys, because floriographers give them different meanings.  Unless that’s just their little trick.

OPRHYS, FROG   “Disgust”

OPHRYS, SPIDER   “Adroitness”

            This is a reference to the spider’s adroitness, or skill, in making webs.

OPRHYS, WINFREY   “Just Making Sure You Were Still Alert”


            This is one of our most traditional wedding flowers, so traditional that the phrase “orange blossoms” has been used as a slang expression for a wedding.  Every floriographer, just about, gives this flower some meaning related to marriage or to chastity, purity, and virginity, the sort of things one was supposed to assume about the bride.  A popular minority meaning, in fact, is “Your Purity Equals Your Loveliness”, a sort of backhanded compliment, if one thinks about it.  Claire Powell claims to have read a Victorian book which said orange blossoms can be carried only by virgin brides, but are withheld from non-virgins getting married, “particularly around Paris.”

ORANGE TREE   “Generosity”

            I mentioned this in a book of the last century, now out of print and rare.  Fruit trees have traditionally been seen as symbols of nature’s generosity to mankind.  That is to say, a tree works through a whole season to produce fruits to propagate their species, and then some human comes along, eats them, and says “How generous of you!”

Orange, Mock:   see MOCK ORANGE

ORCHIS   “A Belle”

            They do seem to insist on spelling this “Orchis” despite the tendency of us civilians to say “Orchid”.  I suppose there’s some very good reason for this, which someone will no doubt write and explain to me, whether I care or not.  Anyway, Oliver Wendell Holmes (the father, not the Supreme Court Justice) wrote a poem comparing a beautiful woman to an orchid in beauty, exoticness, and fragility.  Nobody reads Holmes Senior these days; we have all decided his son did more to make the world the way it is by practicing law than his father did by writing poems and funny stories.  I’ll go along with that, but why is it considered a knock against Senior?

ORCHIS, BEE   “Industry”

            Busy as a bee, of course.  But see also OPHRYS, BEE


            Humanity has never figured out why butterflies bob up and down and go off at odd tangents when they fly.  If it were up to us, we’d figure out where we want to go and just go there, to attend to business.  Those nature experts who proclaim that all species on earth, except us, are engaged every second in a grim struggle for survival (which only the most efficient can win) are thoroughly irritated by butterflies.  Those of us who are not scientists have come to agree that butterflies do this because it’s fun.  We could be wrong about this, but while the nature experts are looking for loopholes, we cling to the idea that butterflies are happy.  Anyway, they’re so pretty.

ORCHIS, FLY   “Error”*

            Say, it has been brought to my attention that these flowers are pollinated because they use these bug-shaped decoys to get insects to come in and have sex with them.  I do not recall my teachers mentioning this when they told me about the bees and the flowers.

ORCHIS, YELLOW   “Jealously Inclined”

            Orchids have long been associated with the exotic, expensive, passionate, voluptuous, and sinister.  The Romans believed that satyrs were oversexed because they ate orchid roots.  (Orchis is from the Greek for testicle, which is what the roots reminded the Ancient Greeks of. 

A lot of things reminded the Ancient Greeks of sex.)  Mystery writers seem to like them, too. the most famous example being that great detective and orchid fancier, Nero Wolfe.  But we should not ignore those in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (particularly on the cover of the first paperback edition) and those in James Hadley Chase’s sadistic hardboiled thriller, No Orchids for Miss Blandish.  I have been able to find nothing much about Orchids to You, by Hank Janson.

OSIER   “Frankness”*

OSMUNDA   “Dreams”

            See also FERN, FLOWERING

Oxalis:   see SORREL, WOOD

OX-EYE   “Patience”

            Dorothea Dix came up with this; she says it comes from Shakespeare.

OXLIP   “Speak Out”

*OYSTER PLANT   “Sheltering”

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