Narcissus is derived from the Greek word narke, meaning numb or narcotic.
This week we are featuring the glorious, golden daffodil, the harbinger of spring! There are currently over 13,000 different types, but at one time this beloved spring flower was in danger of being extinct.
Daffodils were cherished for over 2,000 years, inspiring poetry first by Virgil, a Roman poet (70 - 19 BC), in his Empurpled Narcissus. In 1807, William Wordsworth wrote I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, a heartfelt tribute to a “long belt” of daffodils, In 1962, Bullwinkle J. Moose, from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, endured jail time and a fine of $1 per daffodil to gather a bouquet.
But the daffodils popularity had a period of decline. The golden trumpets were popular through the early 1600s. The botanist John Parkinson (1567-1650), loved the flowers and was the first in England to grow the double yellow Spanish daffodil. He identified 94 varieties. But sadly, the plants fell out of favor. They were later perceived as inferior to tulips, lilies and hellebores, and were no longer valued. For two and a half centuries, daffodils were all but ignored until the Daffodil King came to the rescue! I’m familiar with Johny Appleseed, but had no idea a Daffodil King existed!
Peter Barr, a Victorian era nurseryman, read Parkinson’s Paradisus in Sole, describing the varieties of daffodils and narcissus that grew in the British Isles in the 1600s. He was frustrated that they no longer existed locally and became obsessed with finding them and giving them a renaissance.
Barr, a Scotsman, traveled through out Europe in the mid 1800s, often on horseback, in search of these wildflowers.. At age 72, Barr expanded his search worldwide, planning a five year trip which actually lasted for seven. He traveled to Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, islands in the Pacific and the United States to locate and collect the daffodil bulbs. He only spoke Scottish English, so he used pictures to show the locals what he was hoping to find. He told of finding six thousand to seven thousand bulbs in certain areas, and one particularly successful quest resulted in nearly twelve thousand bulbs. All were collected, bagged and returned to England.
In 1890, he demonstrated the success of his travels with a 4 day daffodil festival and in the years that followed, he put on annual displays of up to 2 million plants at his nurseries. As a result, the Gardener’s Chronicle, a British Horticulture periodical, gave him the distinguished and well deserved title of the Daffodil King!
Barr, obviously a modest man, credited the interest in daffodils to Oscar Wilde’s love of yellow.Barr stated, “Wilde used to lecture on aesthetic colours, and to him we owe more than to anyone else the taste for yellow, to my mind the most beautiful colour in nature. He took the sunflower, but that is too ‘lumpy,’ and the people soon got tired of sunflowers. Then my daffodils came—and they came to stay.” [Bendigo Advertiser 1900]
I found this particularly amusing since Oscar Wilde was once arrested, and charged with gross indecency, for carrying a Yellow book! At the time, there were books with yellow covers that were considered scandalous and no decent person would openly carry a Yellow Book in public. But that’s another story for another time!
It’s impossible to say if daffodils would have been completely obliterated if not for The Daffodil King’s efforts, but certainly likely they would not be as well known, revered and cherished as they are today.
There is a wealth of information on Peter Barr and if you are at all intrigued, I highly recommend you check out the links below. . His travel journals were my favorite, describing harrowing, and at times hilarious, adventures! His writing style is delightful!
[20 April 1892] Went on horseback to Jubea [Trubia?]. The horse had four legs, but three of them were lame that is the two front legs had knee caps, and the left hind leg seemed to have lumbago, so that the action was somewhat peculiar – a motion forward, backward and sideways all at one time so that I never knew whether I should fall off or go over the horse’s head or tail. Fortunately I managed to stick on and so escaped biting the dust. After great exertions we covered four miles in three hours. I noticed that I was an object of interest to all on the road but do not know why. [p. 39]
Peter Barr, ‘Travel notes’, a transcript on the American Daffodil Society website
As you celebrate spring’s return, may you fondly remember Peter Barr, the Daffodil King!
Violets delight me! They visit for such a short time in the spring, yet have numerous attributes and an extensive history. Violets will protect you from “wykked sperytis” and will bring luck and love. They are featured in mythology, folk lore, literature and poetry. They have been used to cure headaches, calm tempers, and induce sleep. They have been crystallized, used for syrups and jellies, and candied.
There are over 550 species of violets, found in temperate climates around the world. They have many folk names and most of them are reminiscent of sex or love. In addition, their leaves are heart shaped, giving them a place of honor with the romancing herbs!
Like the rose, the color of the violet has great significance in sending messages. Blue violets promise "My love will always be true", purple send the message, "I return your love." White signifies "I'm willing to take a chance on happiness". They also represents modesty and humility as they often hide their spectacular beauty under heart shaped leaves. In William Cullen Bryant’s poem The Yellow Violet, it symbolizes a lost love. In the language of flowers, yellow symbolizes friendship, happiness, joy and success.
They are highlighted in many myths and legends. One story comes from the goddess Venus asking her son Cupid if he thought she was more attractive than a group of maidens playing along the edge of the woods. He said he found the maidens to be more beautiful, so she beat them until they were blue. Since then, because of their association with Venus, they have been associated with love and romance. Huh?
Another legend suggests at one time violets were white, but Mary's grief at seeing the suffering of Jesus on the cross turned them all blue. They have been associated with the modesty of the Virgin Mary, the Angel Gabriel, the Holy Trinity, and Greek and Roman legends and lore. Athens has been referred to as the "Violet Crowned City”. Napoleon returned from exile in the spring and used the violet in a secret code to determine loyalty. This tiny, delicate little flower has had a powerful impact.
In addition, there are recipes for aphrodisiacs, love portions, and beauty products.
My favorite use for violets is sprinkled on a tossed green salad when she first appears in the spring. She is rich in vitamins A and C, as well as antioxidants. Add strawberries, orange sections, and avocado. My raspberry poppy seed dressing from an earlier blog post, 5-27-2013, is a lovely compliment.
There are over 90 species of crocus, members of the iris family. Two often seen in the spring are crocus vernus (spring crocus) and crocus chrysanthus (snow crocus).
Have you ever wondered how the crocus got his name? There are several Greek myths that attempt to tell the story.
On myth explains that Crocus was a mere mortal who was madly in love with the Greek messenger god Hermes. They were both very athletic, and spent many afternoons together, enjoying the most popular games of the times, including running, jumping , boxing, wrestling and chariot racing. One tragic day, they were throwing discus, when Hermes accidentally hit Crocus in the head, delivering a fatal blow. Hermes was understandably over wrought with grief and turned Crocus into a flower. That’s not quite as understandable. Anyway, a few drops of blood from Crocus’s wound dripped into the center of the flower. If you look closely, you might see them.
Another story, again pairing the mortal Crocus with Hermes the god, has them on a river bank ,so caught up in passionate pleasures that the grassy banks literally exploded with crocus. Wow! From that time forward the delicate spring flowers have been associated with the power to create love. Worth noting: in this version no one died! I love happy endings, and they are rather rare in Greek mythology.
Another tragic ending finds Crocus madly in love with Smilax, a dryad nymph. For those of you who don’t know what a dryad nymph is (I didn’t either, I had to look it up the first time I heard it), it’s the spirit of a tree, disguised as a beautiful young woman. Well, Crocus was smitten, but later heart broken. We’re not sure why.
One explanation is Smilax loved him as well, but since he was a mortal, they couldn’t be together. It’s that age old story of one lover not being good enough for the other. Another version is she rejected him. Either way, he was inconsolable, The gods took pity on him and turned him into a flower so he would no longer suffer from grief.
Another ending involves the messenger god again. This ending states that Hermes was so anguished over the loss of his friend that he joined with Chloris, the Greek goddess of flowers, to change Crocus into a flower and Smilax into a yew tree.
The motivation for the plant choices isn’t clear. One explanation is Crocus and Smilax were very much in love and they turned them into plants so they could be together for eternity, growing side by side.I’ve never associated yews with crocus. I’ll pay more attention the next time I see them in bloom. Another version is Smilax rejected him, and turning her into a poisonous tree was done as revenge.
Named “milk flower of the snow” by Swedish botanist
Carl Linnaeus in 1753.
The snowdrop is a segue between winter and spring, symbolizing hope, even in the most challenging situations. This precious herb is associated with magic and miracles, divine love, purity and innocence. You’ll often find it at weddings, encouraging a future filled with the promise of everlasting love.
The snow drop is also associated with death, as it was often found in graveyards. The ancient Greeks noted Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, carried snowdrops when she returned from Hades each spring. Its association with death is the reason it is often found at funerals and featured on sympathy cards.
Folk names echo the flower’s contradictory symbolism. It has been called the the Flower of Hope, Mary’s Taper, Candlemas Bells and Eve’s Tears. On a more somber note, it is called Death Flower.. In Victorian England, seeing a single snowdrop indicated there would be a death. It was bad luck to pick a snowdrop, and bringing it into the house would have dire consequences. Regardless of its names, it is always a harbinger of spring, bringing hope for the end of winter and warmer days ahead.
St. Patrick wasn't Irish, he wore blue, not green and there were no snakes.
But there were vampires and leprechauns and witches. Oh my!
In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, I'm using my alphabet prompts to learn more about all things Irish. I'm only doing one or two topics per letter, even though I can think of many more for some.. Even so, be warned. This will be a long post. Happy St. Patrick's Day!
A - Abhartach - the Irish Vampire
Let's start with something light and fun! Ha!
A is for Abhartach, the Irish Vampire.
Even though Dracula, the character created by Bram Stoker, is most often associated with Transylvania, in reality he may have been based on an Irish king, Abhartach. He was said to be a dwarf and considered to be evil and feared by all who knew him.
He was a very jealous man and was suspicious of his wife, convinced that she was having an affair. While spying on her from a high castle window, he fell to his death. The entire kingdom was relieved.. They buried him upright, apparently the correct burial position for royalty, and enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep. One. Just one.
Because the next day, he rose from the dead, and demanded that all of his subjects slit their wrists and drain their blood into bowls. Well, you can imagine they were upset, so they traveled to the next village seeking help from another king, Cathan, who came, killed him and buried him once more.
You guessed it. Up he came, ready for yet another snack.
This continued until Cathan decided to seek help from a saint who explained there was no way to kill someone who was already dead!
His suggestion was to bury him upside down, cover him with thorns and ash branches, and top it off with a huge boulder. As far as we know it worked, and peace returned to the kingdom. He served as inspiration for Stoker's Dracula, and all lived happily ever after!
B - Banshee
A banshee is a terrifying, wispy, floating specter with a piercing scream who warns of a coming death in the family. First reports were in Ireland in the 8th century. This alarming figure, usually female, varies in age from a young maiden to an old woman. Some families were reported to have their very own banshee, possibly having been a family member who had passed. They were known for their keening, mournful singing and wailing, as they lamented the death of loved ones.
C - Children of Lir
,King Lir, Bobd Derg, was left with four motherless children, one daughter and three sons, when his wife Aoibh, the queen, unexpectedly passed away. The king decided to marry Aoife, his wife's sister,
"My mission is
to help others see and cherish the beauty,
romance and treasures within and around them
that are often dismissed or completely overlooked."
Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!