Ranunculus to You: Solanum to Syringa

*SOLANUM    “Prodigality”

            This word can mean either excessive spending or bountiful generosity.  I suspect this floriographer had the second meaning in mind, as this is the plant family which gives us, among other things, potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants.  No, I’m not sure why the other floriographers have ignored the tomato and the eggplant.  No taste, perhaps.  I ignore them every chance I get, myself, which is very wrong of me, as they are loaded with nutrients.  Just another of my prodigal ways.

*SOLDIER IN GREEN   “Undying Hope”

            I have a feeling this was meant to be very poignant and symbolic, since a soldier in green can be seen as a soldier who has been buried.  This is only a guess.  My research has so far given me no clue as to what flower Lydia H. Sigourney had in mind.

SOLOMON’S SEAL   “Our Secret Will be Kept”

            Besides a flower, Solomon’s Seal is what keeps a genie (or genii or genius or djinn or so on) in a bottle.  Solomon, it seems, got sick of all these powerful evil spirits flying around, and went into home canning.  To let a genie out of a bottle, you need to break Solomon’s Seal.  So Solomon’s Seal is used here basically to symbolize something you’re keeping bottled up.

SORREL   “Parental Affection”

SORREL, GREAT   “Reparation”

            If you make reparations, you are making amends for something, saying you’re sorry and doing something (giving flowers, say) to show you mean it.

SORREL, WILD   “Wit Ill-Timed”

            You know what they mean.  You tell your joke about the three Moravians who walked into a bar, and you find out the person you told it to is Moravian.


            All these Sorrels have a minority meaning of “Parental Affection” applied to them, but the meanings listed here are by far in the majority.

            Confusion reigns, however, over WHY so many floriographers assign “Joy” to Wood Sorrel.  Several floriographers attribute this to the fact that Wood Sorrel opens up to see the sun.  Lots of flowers do that, friend.  Claire Powell attributes it to Wood Sorrel’s other major folk name, Alleluia.  Other books, though, claim it is called Alleluia because it opens up to see the sun, which takes us back to where we started.

SOUTHERNWOOD   “Jest, Bantering”

            Another common name for Southernwood is Lad’s Love.  You see the point here: young lads are all such flirts that their love is a joke.

Sowbread:   see CYCLAMEN

SPEARMINT   “Warmth of Sentiment”

            Our modern tastes consider mint to be a cooling herb.  Our ancestors associated all the mints with heat, from the spicy way they hit the tongue.  In fact, our ancestors had a double standard when it came to spices: they liked adding the extra zing to their food, but feared it was habit-forming.  That’s why a lot of children were expected to live on bread and milk until they hit their teens; parents feared they would become addicted to pepper or ginger.  No one wants their kids growing up to be nutmeg fiends.

SPEEDWELL   “Fidelity”

            Some floriographers specify “Female Fidelity”; this comes essentially from the story of Veronica, which is also the name of some varieties of Speedwell.  Veronica was the name of the woman who rushed out and mopped the face of the sweating Christ as he staggered his way to the Crucifixion, despite the danger of showing that much sympathy for a condemned criminal.  She was rewarded with a miraculous image of Christ on the cloth.

            The Speedwell is also known as Germander and, just to be difficult, some people call it Forget-Me-Not.  Corn Speedwell and Wall Speedwell, sometimes listed separately, have the same meaning.


            A “semblance” is a likeness or resemblance, another reference to the picture of Christ on Veronica’s cloth, with an added reference to the crown of thorns.  Nowadays, the word has a more negative tone than “likeness”, as if someone is faking it.

*SPIDER FLOWER   “Not As Bad As I’ve Seen”

            There’s a compliment for you: “I’ve seen worse.”

SPIDERWORT   “Transient Happiness”

            This flower usually fades the same day it opens, and disappears in a dripping liquid which gives it one of its folk-names: Widow’s Tears.  Therefore, it represents happiness which lasts only a short time.  It is also known as Virginia Spiderwort, or Ephemeris.

*SPINACH   “Without You, I Cannot”

            Sounds like Popeye’s back in town.

SPINDLE TREE   “Your Charms Are Engraven On My Heart”

            You’d think a meaning like that would point to a wood used in engraving.  No: Clair Powell says it is a wood much used by sculptors.  I suspect it’s an attempt to patch up a bit of wordplay that works in French but not in English.  See, Mme. De Latour’s original meaning translates “Your Charms Are Drawn on My Heart” and the word she uses for Spindle Tree is a word used in French for the charcoal used in drawing.

Spruce:   see PINE

*SPIREA   “brevity”

*SPURGE   “just Once”


Star Fruit:   see WATER STAR

Starwort:   see ASTER

STARWORT, AMERICAN   “Welcome to a Stranger”

STARWORT, CATESBY’S   “Afterthought”

            Catesby was Mark Catesby, an early naturalist.  This might be the same as a Virginia Aster.

Starwort, Chinese:   see ASTER, CHINA

STEPHANOTIS   “Will You Accompany Me to the East?”

            You’d think there’d be three other flowers, for accompanying someone to the North, South, and West, but I haven’t found those yet.

STOCK   “Lasting Beauty”

            According to the experts, who worry about these things endlessly, when an English poet referred to a gilly-flower, or giliflower, that poet meant Stock.  Unless he meant something else.

STOCK, TEN WEEKS’   “Promptitude”*

            Presumably, this blooms promptly ten weeks after sprouting.

*STOCK, GREY   “My Heart Is All Yours”

*STOCK, RED   “Excellent Beauty”

*STOCK, VIRIGINIA   “True Friendship”

*STOCK, WHITE   “Chaste Love”

STONECROP   “tranquility”

            This is also known as Sedum.  And this is the plant which Fulvio Pellegrino Morato chose to mean “I Want to Go to Bed With You”.  Geoffrey Grigson reports that it is also known by the folk-name Welcome-Home-Husband-Though-Never-So-Drunk.  How those two tidbits of information fit into the grand scheme of things, I can hardly guess.  However, I feel I should note that Stonecrop is also sometimes called Prickmadame.  Geoffrey Grigson is quick to point out that we have filthy minds, and the name has nothing to do with what we were thinking when we saw it.  Prickmadame, he tells us, is merely an Englishification of the French folk-name for Stonecrop, which is Piquemadame.  And Piquemadame is nothing more than a common mispronunciation of the original name, which was Triquemadame.  And trique, he explains, was simply a word meaning an upright stick.

            No. I just report these things.  Don’t blame me.

Stramonium: see THORN APPLE

STRAW, BROKEN   “Rupture of a Contract”*

            In 922, according to Clair Powell, French nobles announced that they were through with King Charles the Simple by throwing broken straws on the floor before him.  For the opposite, see following.

STRAW, WHOLE   “Union”*

            So the code is: Broken Straw-Breaking Up, Whole Straw-Making Up.

STRAWBERRY   “Perfect Excellence”*

            The Victorians loved strawberries as much as or more than they loved pineapples.  Queen Victoria herself was something of a strawberry addict.  Nowadays, of course, we have improved on perfect excellence by dipping our strawberries in chocolate.

            In case you were PLANNING to give your lover strawberries as a demonstration of your feelings and wound up eating them before you could, strawberry leaves carry the same definition.


STRAWBERRY TREE  “Esteem and Love”

Succory:   see CHICORY

SULTAN, SWEET   “Felicity”


SULTAN, SWEET, WHITE   “Sweetness”


“SUNDEW   “Art, Allurement, Blandishment, Dissimulation, Destruction”

            This is Dorothea Dix, comparing plants that trap flies to painted women who seduce unsuspecting men.  Or maybe it’s painted men luring unsuspecting women.  Anyway, she disapproved of the whole business.

SUNFLOWER   “False Riches:*

SUNFLOWER, DWARF   “Adoration”

SUNFLOWER, TALL   “Haughtiness”

SWALLOW WORT   “Cure for Heartache”

            This seems to be related to asclepius and pleurisy root, though the experts I consulted could not agree on how closely related they are.  All these plants have medicinal uses.  This one is called Swallow Wort either because it blooms when the swallows return to the north, or because swallows were once believed to restore their eyesight by rubbing their eyes on it.  (There are people who, seeing birds among the flowers, automatically believe they are there to rub their eyes.)  Nicolas Culpepper, famous herbalist and curmudgeon, didn’t believe a word of it.  He suggested you catch a swallow, poke its eye out, and see what it does.  I have not done this, nor do I care to hear how it works out if you do.

SWEET FLAG   “Fitness”

            This is a type of iris believed to have medicinal properties.

Sweet Pea;   see PEA, SWEET

SWEET WILLIAM   “Gallantry”

            Mme. De Latour and several other floriographers prefer “Finesse”; either way, we are talking about William, who is sweet because he is an expert flirt and smooth-talking man about town.

            According to Robert McCurdy, the bearded pinks were divided into two classes: broad-leaved ones were to be called Sweet Williams and the narrow-leaved ones were to be known as Sweet Johns.  Somehow, that name never caught on.  William had more finesse.

SYCAMORE   “Curiosity”

            John Ingram says this comes from the tale of Zaccheus climbing a Sycamore to satisfy his curiosity about an itinerant preacher.

SYRINGA   “Memory”

SYRINGA, CAROLINA   “Disappointment”

            Syrinx may have been the only virgin nymph in all of Greek mythology.  Or maybe there were others, who just kept out of the way of Pan.  She wandered onto Pan’s turf, and Pan, not wanting any virgins around his forest, immediately set off in pursuit.  Since Pan had on his utility belt, among other tools, panic, Syrinx took off running, screaming for help.  Her sister nymphs, who knew Pan well and might have been a bit sympathetic, turned her into a plant.  Pan took parts of this plant and made the first Pipes of Pan, some say in memory of the shy beauty and some say out of guilt.  Or maybe he just felt this was a way of getting SOME use out of her.  In any case, it eased his disappointment.

Exactly what plant Syrinx was turned into was a matter of some debate, for the names Syrinx, Syringe, and Syringa have been applied to several.  Elizabeth W. Wirt is philosophical about it all, noting “the Linnaean system of dividing plants into families did not exist when the Gods and Goddesses made love upon the earth”.  Exactly so: who had any time to study plants with so much else going on?

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