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Flower Folklore

Question: Is it true that flowers and plants have symbolic meaning?

Those of us who love gardening, often spend hours reading about the proper care of our plants, but few take the time to delve into their symbolism or folklore. It is, however, true that many of the plants in our gardens have served as more than pretty flowers or herbs.

In Greek mythology, Hades used the Narcissus flower to entice Persephone, while the Ojibwa Indians attribute the Lady's Slipper to a brave little girl who lost her slippers while trying to save he village from disease. In Mexico, the scent of the marigold is believed to have the power to guide the dead back to their earthly homes.

Not all legends of flowers and plants belong to other cultures, however. Right here in the Finger Lakes, many gardeners uphold the age-old tradition of planting rosemary at their back to door in the hopes that friends will remember their kindness and return to their homes once more.

Like most plants, rosemary has a diverse history throughout the world and is highly symbolic to many cultures. Originating in Spain, the plant was originally associated with the Virgin Mary and used in wedding bouquets as a reminder of marital vows. In Greece, students wear rosemary to help them remember answers on their exams, but when planted in masses around the home it serves as an indicator that a woman is the head of the household. Rosemary is found in nearly every part of the world, making its importance and symbolism changeable based on its geographic region. This is true of most botanic folklore, which makes this topic great winter reading for those interested in the culture and cultivars of a specific region.

TCPL has a host of great books on plant and flower folklore, including the following:

Book: Garden flower folklore by Martin, Laura C. (398.242) Arranged by blooming season, Martin provides legends and folklore for over one hundred flowers in this guide. Each flower is accompanied by an illustration as well as information on growing each variety.

Book: Folklore and symbolism of flowers, plants, and trees by Lehner, Ernst (O 581.508) Don't be discouraged by the fact that this book was published in 1960; it offers an in-depth guide of the symbolic meaning of every known botanical species with beautiful black and white illustrations.

Book: The golden flower: a Tiano myth from Puerto Rico by Nina Jaffe (J 398 Jaffe) This story is set in pre-Spanish Puerto Rico, and explains how the island was transformed from a barren plain to a lush island bearing unimaginable gifts for its inhabitants. The story offers folklore and a circle of life theme for little gardeners up to 8 years.

Book: Language of flowers by Sheila Pickles (398.368 Language) Beautifully illustrated, Pickles opens with an alphabetized index of basic meanings associated with each flower, followed by a famous passages and a history for each of the 43 flowers described.

Written by Susan Naylor, adult services librarian.

Page last modified May 3, 2012