Ranunculus to You, Tamarisk to Vetch


TAMARISK   “Crime”

            Ancient Egyptians believed  that the corpse of the murdered god Osiris was tucked into a Tamarisk, to conceal the crime.  Further, the Romans put wreaths of tamarisk on their criminals.  (Do you think they had a wreath for everybody?  A wreath of, oh, cauliflower for great dog breeders?)

TANSY   “I Declare Against You”

            The Italians, descendants of the Romans mentioned in the previous entry, still, we are told, swap certain flowers to convey certain messages.  This is one they hand around when they want to insult somebody.  A popular minority meaning for this is “Resistance”, either because in declaring war on a person you intend to resist all efforts to make up your differences, or because it was one of the plants used to resist contagion during epidemics in the Middle Ages.

*TARRAGON   “Promptitude, Earliness”

TEASEL   “Misanthropy”*

            Fuller’s Teasel, or Teasle, or Teazle, or even Fuller’s Thistle, has stickers on it, which gives it its meaning, but it is not a thistle.


THISTLE   “Austerity”*

            “Misanthropy” is a close second; both meanings come from it being a prickly plant which grows in wasteland.  Robert Tyas hurries to state that this is not a slam at the Scots, whose symbol it is, as you can read below.

THISTLE, SCOTCH   “Retaliation”

            The Scots motto that goes with this is “Who Dares Meddle With Me?” meaning, of course, that if anyone makes trouble, I will RETALIATE.  This and the use of the thistle as a Scottish symbol go back to the days of the Danish invasions, when, and I promise I am not making this up, Scotland was saved from a sneak attack when one of the barefoot Danes stepped on a thistle and yelped, alerting the Scots, who came out and whomped their whole army.

            This may seem a lowly thing to credit with saving your country but, after all, the entire Roman Empire was once saved by a flock of geese.

THORNAPPLE  “Deceitful Charms”*
            Some floriographers draw a line between this and a similar plant, Stramonium, giving that the meaning “Disguise”, but it all comes out of the fact that this sort of plant is poisonous.

            In fact, Thornapple is one of the Great American Poisonous plants, first encountered by settlers in Jamestown in 1603, hence its nickname Jamestown Weed, shortened to jimsonweed.  Scientifically known as Datura stramonium, it is an ugly and foul-smelling plant (as Will Cuppy notes, about the last thing anybody would eat), often found among garbage, for which reason the Natives called it White Man’s Plant.  Some people must have thought the flowers pretty, though, hence all the indignation about the poison hidden inside.

            The Lady’s Album, however, takes another tack.  The June, 1845 issue notes that Thornapple is an evening bloomer, exactly like a languorous society woman, who blooms only at night when the light is not good enough to show her for what she is.  The flower also gives off a perfume which can cause lightheadedness or other inebriety, perhaps also like the society woman, though The Lady’s Album doesn’t go that far.  The magazine seems to have picked this up from Robert Tyas, who may have found it in Mme. De Latour.

THORN, EVERGREEN   “Solace in Adversity”

*THORN, FIERY   “Resistance”

THORNS, BRANCH OF   “Severity, Rigor”

THRIFT   “Sympathy”

            Not one floriographer chose “Thrift” as a meaning.  Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they pull something like this.

THROATWORT   “Neglected Beauty”

            Henry Phillips chose this meaning for the Throatwort, which he felt had been neglected by painters, poets, and sculptors.

            I have myself neglected a few Greek and Roman flower myths, by the way, but only because most of the floriographers seem to have done so as well.  In case you thought the floriographers noticed every single orgy in the books, they ignored the legend of the Daisy, once an innocent nymph named Bellis until she was changed into a flower to escape Vertumnus, perhaps the same satyr who married Pomona.  The Orchid was once a lad named Orchis, who got drunk and disorderly and was ripped to pieces by followers of Bacchus, only to have certain parts of him brought back to life as a flower.

            One wonders if the Greeks thought there were any plants at all on Earth before the satyrs and nymphs started chasing each other around the mulberry bush (if there was even a mulberry bush.)

THYME   “Activity”*

            The Greeks ate this to revive their appetite and give them more energy.  Someday anthropologists will be studying us and oat bran, so I guess there’s nothing to say.

THYME, WILD   “Thoughtless”

            When having a wild time, one could get thoughtless.

TIGER FLOWER   “For Once May pride Befriend Me”

Tiger Lily:   see LILY, TIGER

TOOTHWORT   “Secret Love”

            This plant is known for blooming in out-of-the-way places, often under moss or leaves.

Touch-Me-Not:   see BALSAM


            They tell me that this clematis, sometimes known as Virgin’s Bower, is shaped like a sheltering bower, a sort of little booth into which a traveler could retreat to get in out of the sun, or rain. )Symbolic, of course, since you could not squeeze in here if you were more than about half an inch tall.)

TREFOIL   “Revenge”

            Bird’s Foot Trefoil has the same meaning.

TREMELLA NESTOC   “Resistance”*

            This is a kind of algae also known as Star Jelly.  It was apparently scraped up and used as a medicine (to RESIST disease) because some people thought it fell from stars.  Some still do.

TRILLIUM PICTUM   “Modest Beauty”


TRUFFLE   “Surprise”*

            These are those fungoid morsels you dig up from underground. It’s a Surprise to find one.

            Robert Benchley tells the tale of how he pretended to be a gourmet expert when it came to truffles, confident in the assumption that he would never be called on to eat one.  He reports that when he was served his first truffle by someone who expected him to be an expert, the experience was surprising.


            Whether you are blowing your own trumpet or someone is blowing it for you.


            Caroline Waterman says the leaves fall ff very easily, thus suffering separation.

TUBEROSE   “Dangerous Pleasures”

            The tuberose has a thick, almost sickeningly sweet perfume.  The Victorians seem to have liked their perfumes thick and heady, and believed this scent to be the most intoxicating of all.  And since anything that intoxicated was dangerous, they made the flower a symbol of dangerous pleasures.  Nowadays, of course, we believe any pleasure is dangerous.  If you’re enjoying anything which doesn’t make you richer or healthier, you’re supposed to stop it right now and get with the program.

TULIP   “Declaration of Love”*

Tulips generally, and red tulips especially, carry this meaning.  A number of floriographers declare that the black base of the blossom symbolizes the cinder to which your heart has been burnt by the fiery passion of your love, symbolized by the red petals.  Claire Powell says the original meaning in the orient was “Violent Love”, which obviously goes along with the same symbolism.  But Laura Peroni claims the best known meaning around the world is “Inconstancy”.  Laura Peroni is, for some reason, the only floriographer who knows about the best known meaning in the world.

*TULIP, UPSIDE-DOWN   “Blatant Rejection”

Tulip, Red:   see TULIP

TULIP, VARIEGATED   “Beautiful Eyes”

TULIP, YELLOW   “Hopeless Love”

TULIP TREE   “Rural Happiness”

TURNIP   “Charity”

            Henry Phillips says the turnip was used in coats of arms to denote someone with a good disposition, and is thus a good symbol for charity.  I, personally, believe it’s because turnips are some of the easiest things to give away.

Tussilage:   see COLTSFOOT


*UMBRELLA PLANT   “Have No Fear; Have Covered Everything”

            Umbrella?  Covered Everything?  That George O’Neill can be such a card.


VALERIAN   “Accommodating Disposition”

            The floriographers liked Valerian because it had a nice scent and bloomed anywhere, year round.  Very accommodating of it.


            Claire Powell explains that a number of Greek kings argued about which one of them had discovered this nifty plant, and it led to a rupture in international relations (a war.)

VENUS’S CAR   “Fly With Me”

            Everyone who lists this plant agrees on this meaning.  But they can’t agree on which flower they’re talking about.  Some say it’s Betony, which is sometimes called Venus-In-Her-Car.  Others say it’s a kind of Aconite known as Venus’s Chariot, or, if one has the time, Venus’s-Chariot-Drawn-By-Two-Doves.  And a lot of people have tried to convince me it was all merely a misprint for Venus’s Ear.  You can’t fly with someone in an ear.  You can have a fly IN your ear.


            All the flycatching plants are given sinister meanings, as if a plant was just supposed to accept the flies and not fight back.  No one has told me what Venus has to do with flytraps, though a certain number of people have informed me that this is a kind of plant which grows on the planet Venus.  A bunch of these people also believe Elvis is on the planet Venus, watering the flowers.


            Venus owned a mirror which flattered anybody who looked into it.  Venus was ascendantly beautiful, and needed no such flattering looking-glass, but sometimes she thought she did.  (I have days like that.)  Cupid, her son, once caught a peasant looking into the mirror.  What happened next depends on which story you read.  Some say the peasant decided he was so good-looking he didn’t need to work any more.  Cupid then smashed the mirror to keep mankind from giving in to vanity and sloth.  Other versions claim Cupid was just disgusted at seeing a rustic, homely face gazing into his mother’s mirror, and smashed the mirror so no other yokels could look into it.  Either way, these flowers grew from the smashed pieces of the looking-glass.  None of them say much about what Mom did when she found out about the broken mirror (but maybe that’s where the whole Seven Years’ Bad Luck idea comes from.  And what became of the peasant?  Shouldn’t he have been turned into a…why don’t we just move on?

Veronica:   see SPEEDWELL

VERVAIN   “Enchantment”*

            This is also known as Verbena; it can get listed under both names in the same book sometimes.  When it is called Wormwood, it always gets a separate entry, so see also that.

            Vervain was traditionally used in numbers of potions and spells, and also sometimes called Holy Herb.  Sax Rohmer, the author who gave us Fu Manchu, also wrote about a detective, Moris Klaw, who carried a perfume atomizer and spritzed the crime scene with Verbena before working on the case, so he would pick up the right psychic vibrations.  I do not believe this caught on with law enforcement generally.

VERVAIN, PINK   “Family Union”

VERVAIN, SCARLET   “Church Union”

            There is an implication for both of these meanings of people uniting against a common foe.

VERVAIN, WHITE   “Pray for Me”

VETCH   “Shyness”

VETCH, MILK   “Your Presence Softens My Pain”

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