Romance in Bloom: Plants with Ties to Love or Heartache | Living the Country Life
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Romance in Bloom: Plants with Ties to Love or Heartache

A dozen roses are a classic expression of love on Valentine's Day, but wouldn't forget-me-nots tucked into a nest of love-in-a-mist say more? Here are 10 plants that owe their names to affairs of the heart.
  • Love-in-a-Mist

    The blossoms of love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) are surrounded by a nest of lacy, thread-thin leaves that form a mist (and let’s face it, mists in themselves are romantic). The flowers are white, pink, or blue and star-shape; blowfishlike seed heads prolong the charm. Plus, in ancient Egyptian times, the seeds were advertised as producing a certain plumpness that was fashionable in antiquity. No one really knows when the name love-in-a-mist became affixed. When the herbals—books describing plants for medicinal purposes—were written in the late 16th century, nigella was love-entangle or, less poetically, devil-in-the-bush and St. Katherine’s flower. But due to the newer nickname’s descriptive charm, it has stuck throughout the centuries.

    Date Published: January 23, 2017
    Date Updated: March 2, 2017
  • Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate

    Generally, romantic names are based on a plant’s physical characteristics. But sometimes you have to see a plant such as kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate (Polygonum orientale) in action to understand how it earned its name. If you have never been tickled by the dangling catkins of Polygonum orientale as you walked through a garden, then you might be mystified as to how this stretchy Asian and Australian native (naturalized in North America) happened upon its title. Also called lady’s fingers because of its catkins, P. orientale stands 6–10 feet tall with arching stems that support a shower of nodding blush-pink blossoms. Also known as ragged sailor and prince’s feather, the plant seeds itself promiscuously. And it doesn’t confine its performance to the garden—kiss-me-over-thegarden- gate is fully capable of romping into a field. Indeed, the 1904 edition of Henderson’s Handbook of Plants sniffed that polygonums “may be properly classed as weeds.” Maybe so, but if a garden offers a sensual experience, kiss-me-overthe- garden-gate is among the pleasures available. If you love plants, it is certainly romantic to be caressed by a catkin.

     

    Date Published: January 23, 2017
    Date Updated: March 2, 2017
  • Love-Lies-Bleeding

    There are many amaranths, including varieties grown as grain crops, but no other has the drama of Amaranthus caudatus, love-lies-bleeding. With sturdy stems of long green leaves topped by even longer tassels of magenta (or blood red, depending on your imagination) chenillelike blossoms that dangle down luridly, A. caudatus was bestowed the descriptive name of love-lies-bleeding in the late 1600s. Even though some varieties stand accused of scattering themselves as weeds no matter how poor the soil, Victorians doted on amaranths, especially in their ribbon borders and Victorian circles. If you’re thinking of sending someone a big, voluptuous arrangement of love-liesbleeding to spark romance, you might want to think twice. In the language of flowers, love-lies-bleeding says “hopeless, not heartless.”

    Date Published: January 23, 2017
    Date Updated: March 2, 2017
  • Forget-Me-Not

    Not all romantic flowers have happy endings. Consider the forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica), for example. The most oftrecounted legend connected with this moisture-loving groundcover tells how a hapless (and clumsy) suitor was gathering a nosegay of the comely sky-blue flowers by river’s edge for his lover, only to fall into the rapidly flowing water and be swept away—but not before shouting, “Forget me not!” The year of the tale was approximately 1800, but the name already had a long history. Some legends have Myosotis gaining its designation in Eden when Adam forgot to assign the shy little plant a name and made amends by dubbing it forget-me-not. Actually, more than one flower has earned the nickname over the centuries. But most accounts assume that Myosotis was the forget-me-not Henry IV took as his emblem. Not only did the king have the flowers embroidered on his robes, but his patrons wore the flowers to show their support.

    Forget-me-not’s influence spans the globe. In Persia, the flower is linked to an angel who fell in love with one of the living after watching her weave forget-me-nots into her tresses. His punishment was to wander the globe with the maiden, planting forget-me-nots. When finished with that inconceivable task, the couple was welcomed into heaven together, while the cherished blue-blossom flower settled in comfortably throughout the earth. The forget-me-not tradition continues. Bunches of Myosotis began appearing in European markets by the 1850s—peddled to any hopeful who might want to remind someone of his presence. Fast-forward to the present and Valentine’s Day, when forget-me-nots say what so many tongue-tied admirers cannot express.

    Date Published: January 23, 2017
    Date Updated: March 2, 2017
  • Bleeding Hearts

    Don’t search through ancient herbals for descriptions of bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis), because this melodramatic spring bloomer is relatively new on the gardening scene, introduced from China by British plant explorer Robert Fortune in 1810. At the height of the Victorian Era, bleeding hearts caught on with gardeners and nestled in with the other cottage garden indispensables. Bleeding hearts speak to everything the theatrical Victorians held dear. When the snow has barely melted, they swing into action, sending up lacy leaves crowned by arching stems of pink heart-shape flowers that part in the middle to drip tiny sparkling white “tears” from each dangling blossom.

    Although nobody wants to be a bleeding heart, everyone can empathize. And Dicentra spectabilis does its swan song gracefully.

     

    Date Published: January 23, 2017
    Date Updated: March 2, 2017
  • Cupid's Dart

    Some say the name cupid’s dart was given to Catananche caerulea because the leaves are arrow-shape and barbed. Others claim the plant was (more perilously) made into love potions. And then there’s the botanical name—Catananche—which translates as “to compel” from Greek. All things considered, it’s a flower to be wary of. Apparently, cupid’s dart has been menacing reluctant lovers for a long time. Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23–A.D. 79) mentioned that it was fully capable of gripping the affections of females. Perhaps that is partly because the comely blue blossoms are so attractive.

    Date Published: January 23, 2017
    Date Updated: March 2, 2017
  • Lovegrass

    Sometimes a romantic association merely hinges on the translation of a name. That seems to be the case with lovegrass, Eragrostis spp. The name derives from the Greek eros, or love, and the plant was named in 1776 by Nathaniel Wolf, who never explained why he was infatuated by it. This ornamental grass is dashingly good-looking, so that’s a start. All Eragrostis are called lovegrasses, with E. spectabilis, purple lovegrass, being the most popular for good reason. When it forms flowers, its panicles blush deep burgundy (OK, purple), forming a red haze. It’s a heady effect that’s sure to start anyone’s heart palpitating.

    Date Published: January 23, 2017
    Date Updated: March 2, 2017
  • Love-in-a-Puff

    Love-in-a-puff (Cardiospermum) was introduced in 1504 from India (where it is considered sacred, according to Henderson’s Handbook of Plants), the minute white flowers of Cardiospermum weren’t sufficient to win this wayward vine any sort of romantic connotation. But wonderful celery-green Chinese lanternlike seed capsules follow closely on the heels of flowers. And inside those inflated seedpods sits a trio of pealike seeds. Each matte-black seed is marked with a distinct creamy-white heart. Which goes to show you: Even within the most modest wrapping beats a strong heart.

    Date Published: January 23, 2017
    Date Updated: March 2, 2017
  • Bride's Tears

    Antigonon leptopus is called chain of love, hearts on a chain, and the love vine because of its series of pink, heart-shape flowers that hang on threads amid roughly heartshape foliage. However, this rambunctious Mexican native is also called bride’s tears, as well as the less contentious coral creeper and confederate vine. Even more dicey is the botanical name: Antigone was the daughter of the fabled King Oedipus and his mother, Jocasta—an incestuous union that led to disaster. In Sophocles’ tale, Antigone’s brothers were left to take turns serving as king after their father’s passing. The whole unfortunate story that followed could be summarized as tragedy and more tragedy with almost nobody left standing. If that weren’t baggage enough, the name Antigone is occasionally defined as “against men” because the character in question defied masculine authority along the road to securing her own demise. (Just in case you were thinking of giving this vine for Mother’s Day—don’t. The name is also translated as “opposed to motherhood.”) And the fact that Antigonon leptopus is considered invasive in its Zone 10 range (the plant was once used to quickly camouflage potential bombing targets during World War II) is yet another reason to be wary—and proof again that you have to be careful where amour is concerned.

    Date Published: January 23, 2017
    Date Updated: March 2, 2017
  • Lovage

    Some romantic names are shrouded in mystery. That would be the case for lovage, Levisticum officinale. Lovage is derived from love-ache, ache being a medieval name for its relative, parsley, which the plant resembles. The Czechs call it libeček, and in Poland it is known as lubczyk; both translate as love herb. There’s a lot to like about lovage. Although it is not a particularly stunning plant, it is perennial, and it can reach impressive heights—reputedly topping off at 10 feet, which would read like a 10-foot-tall celery from a distance. The fragrance is also akin to celery with a hint of anise tossed in. At one time lovage was made into cordials and teas as well as purportedly possessing many medicinal attributes.

    Date Published: January 23, 2017
    Date Updated: March 2, 2017

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