A goodly array of plants have cast their attractions round the festivals

of the year, giving an outward beauty to the ceremonies and observances

celebrated in their honour. These vary in different countries, although

we frequently find the same flower almost universally adopted to

commemorate a particular festival. Many plants, again, have had a

superstitious connection, having in this respect exercised a powerful

influence among the credulous of all ages, numerous survivals of which

exist at the present day. Thus, in Westphalia, it is said that if the

sun makes its appearance on New Year's Day, the flax will be straight;

and there is a belief current in Hessia, that an apple must not be eaten

on New Year's Day, as it will produce an abscess.

According to an old adage, the laurestinus, dedicated to St. Faine

(January 1), an Irish abbess in the sixth century, may be seen

in bloom:--

"Whether the weather be snow or rain,

We are sure to see the flower of St. Faine;

Rain comes but seldom and often snow,

And yet the viburnum is sure to blow."

And James Montgomery notices this cheerful plant, speaking of it as the,

"Fair tree of winter, fresh and flowering,

When all around is dead and dry,

Whose ruby buds, though storms are lowering,

Spread their white blossoms to the sky."

Then there is the dead nettle, which in Italy is assigned to St.

Vincent; and the Christmas rose (_Helleboris niger_), dedicated to St.

Agnes (21st January), is known in Germany as the flower of St. Agnes,

and yet this flower has generally been regarded a plant of evil omen,

being coupled by Campbell with the hemlock, as growing "by the witches'

tower," where it seems to weave,

"Round its dark vaults a melancholy bower,

For spirits of the dead at night's enchanted hour."

At Candlemas it was customary, writes Herrick, to replace the Christmas

evergreens with sprigs of box, which were kept up till Easter Eve:--

"Down with the rosemary and bays,

Down with the mistletoe,

Instead of holly now upraise

The greener box for show."

The snowdrop has been nicknamed the "Fair Maid of February," from its

blossoming about this period, when it was customary for young women

dressed in white to walk in procession at the Feast of the Purification,

and, according to the old adage:--

"The snowdrop in purest white array,

First rears her head on Candlemas Day."

The dainty crocus is said to blow "before the shrine at vernal dawn of

St. Valentine." And we may note here how county traditions affirm that

in some mysterious way the vegetable world is affected by leap-year

influences. A piece of agricultural folk-lore current throughout the

country tells us how all the peas and beans grow the wrong way in their

pods, the seeds being set in quite the contrary to what they are in

other years. The reason assigned for this strange freak of nature is

that, "it is the ladies' year, and they (the peas and beans) always lay

the wrong way in leap year."

The leek is associated with St. David's Day, the adoption of this plant

as the national device of Wales having been explained in various ways.

According to Shakespeare it dates from the battle of Cressy, while some

have maintained it originated in a victory obtained by Cadwallo over the

Saxons, 640, when the Welsh, to distinguish themselves, wore leeks in

their hats. It has also beeen suggested that Welshmen "beautify their

hats with verdant leek," from the custom of every farmer, in years gone

by, contributing his leek to the common repast when they met at the

Cymortha or Association, and mutually helped one another in ploughing

their land.

In Ireland the shamrock is worn on St. Patrick's Day. Old women, with

plenteous supplies of trefoil, may be heard in every direction crying,

"Buy my shamrock, green shamrocks," while little children have

"Patrick's crosses" pinned to their sleeves, a custom which is said to

have originated in the circumstance that when St. Patrick was preaching

the doctrine of the Trinity he made use of the trefoil as a symbol of

the great mystery. Several plants have been identified as the shamrock;

and in "Contributions towards a Cybele Hibernica," [1] is the following

extensive note:--"_Trifolium repens_, Dutch clover, shamrock.--This is

the plant still worn as shamrock on St. Patrick's Day, though _Medicago

lupulina_ is also sold in Dublin as the shamrock. Edward Lhwyd, the

celebrated antiquary, writing in 1699 to Tancred Robinson, says, after a

recent visit to Ireland: 'Their shamrug is our common clover' (_Phil.

Trans._, No. 335). Threkeld, the earliest writer on the wild plants of

Ireland, gives _Seamar-oge_ (young trefoil) as the Gaelic name for

_Trifolium pratense album,_ and expressly says this is the plant worn by

the people in their hats on St. Patrick's Day." Some, again, have

advocated the claims of the wood-sorrel, and others those of the

speedwell, whereas a correspondent of _Notes and Queries_ (4th Ser. iii.

235) says the _Trifolium filiforme_ is generally worn in Cork, the

_Trifolium minus_ also being in demand. It has been urged that the

watercress was the plant gathered by the saint, but this plant has been

objected to on the ground that its leaf is not trifoliate, and could not

have been used by St. Patrick to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity.

On the other hand, it has been argued that the story is of modern date,

and not to be found in any of the lives of that saint. St. Patrick's

cabbage also is a name for "London Pride," from its growing in the West

of Ireland, where the Saint lived.

Few flowers have been more popular than the daffodil or lent-lily, or,

as it is sometimes called, the lent-rose. There are various corruptions

of this name to be found in the West of England, such as lentils,

lent-a-lily, lents, and lent-cocks; the last name doubtless referring to

the custom of cock-throwing, which was allowed in Lent, boys, in the

absence of live cocks, having thrown sticks at the flower. According

also to the old rhyme:--

"Then comes the daffodil beside

Our Lady's smock at our Lady's tide."

In Catholic countries Lent cakes were flavoured with the herb-tansy, a

plant dedicated to St. Athanasius.

In Silesia, on Mid-Lent Sunday, pine boughs, bound with variegated paper

and spangles, are carried about by children singing songs, and are hung

over the stable doors to keep the animals from evil influences.

Palm Sunday receives its English and the greater part of its foreign

names from the old practice of bearing palm-branches, in place of which

the early catkins of the willow or yew have been substituted, sprigs of

box being used in Brittany.

Stow, in his "Survey of London," tells us that:--"In the weeke before

Easter had ye great shows made for the fetching in of a twisted tree or

with, as they termed it, out of the wodes into the king's house, and the

like into every man's house of honour of worship." This anniversary has

also been nicknamed "Fig Sunday," from the old custom of eating figs;

while in Wales it is popularly known as "Flowering Sunday," because

persons assemble in the churchyard and spread fresh flowers upon the

graves of their friends and relatives.

In Germany, on Palm Sunday, the palm is credited with mystic virtues;

and if as many twigs, as there are women of a family, be thrown on a

fire--each with a name inscribed on it--the person whose leaf burns

soonest will be the first to die.

On Good Friday, in the North of England, an herb pudding was formerly

eaten, in which the leaves of the passion-dock (_Polygonum bistorta_)

formed the principal ingredient. In Lancashire fig-sue is made, a

mixture consisting of sliced figs, nutmeg, ale, and bread.

Wreaths of elder are hung up in Germany after sunset on Good Friday, as

charms against lightning; and in Swabia a twig of hazel cut on this day

enables the possessor to strike an absent person. In the Tyrol, too, the

hazel must be cut on Good Friday to be effectual as a divining-rod. A

Bohemian charm against fleas is curious. During Holy Week a leaf of palm

must be placed behind a picture of the Virgin, and on Easter morning

taken down with this formula: "Depart, all animals without bones." If

this rite is observed there will be no more fleas in the house for the

remainder of the year.

Of the flowers associated with Eastertide may be mentioned the garden

daffodil and the purple pasque flower, another name for the anemone

(_Anemone pulsatilla_), in allusion to the Passover and Paschal

ceremonies. White broom is also in request, and indeed all white flowers

are dedicated to this festival. On Easter Day the Bavarian peasants make

garlands of coltsfoot and throw them into the fire; and in the district

of Lechrain every household brings to the sacred fire which is lighted

at Easter a walnut branch, which, when partially burned, is laid on the

hearth-fire during tempests as a charm against lightning. In Slavonian

regions the palm is supposed to specially protect the locality where it

grows from inclement weather and its hurtful effects; while, in

Pomerania, the apple is eaten against fevers.

In Bareuth young girls go at midnight on Easter Day to a fountain

silently, and taking care to escape notice, throw into the water little

willow rings with their friends' names inscribed thereon, the person

whose ring sinks the quickest being the first to die.

In years past the milkwort (_Polygala vulgaris_), from being carried in

procession during Rogation Week, was known by such names as the

rogation-flower, gang-flower, procession-flower, and cross-flower, a

custom noticed by Gerarde, who tells us how, "the maidens which use in

the countries to walke the procession do make themselves garlands and

nosegaies of the milkwort."

On Ascension Day the Swiss make wreaths of the edelweisse, hanging them

over their doors and windows; another plant selected for this purpose

being the amaranth, which, like the former, is considered an emblem of


In our own country may be mentioned the well-dressing of Tissington,

near Dovedale, in Derbyshire, the wells in the village having for years

past been most artistically decorated with the choicest flowers. [2]

Formerly, on St. George's Day (April 23), blue coats were worn by people

of fashion. Hence, the harebell being in bloom, was assigned to

the saint:--

"On St. George's Day, when blue is worn,

The blue harebells the fields adorn."

Flowers have always entered largely into the May Day festival; and many

a graphic account has been bequeathed us of the enthusiasm with which

both old and young went "a-Maying" soon after midnight, breaking down

branches from the trees, which, decorated with nosegays and garlands of

flowers, were brought home soon after sunrise and placed at the doors

and windows. Shakespeare ("Henry VIII.," v. 4), alluding to the

custom, says:--

"'Tis as much impossible,

Unless we sweep them from the doors with cannons,

To scatter 'em, as 'tis to make 'em sleep

On May Day morning."

Accordingly, flowers were much in demand, many being named from the

month itself, as the hawthorn, known in many places as May-bloom and

May-tree, whereas the lily of the valley is nicknamed May-lily. Again,

in Cornwall lilac is termed May-flower, and the narrow-leaved elm, which

is worn by the peasant in his hat or button-hole, is called May.

Similarly, in Germany, we find the term May-bloom applied to such plants

as the king-cup and lily of the valley. In North America, says the

author of "Flower-lore," the podophyllum is called "May-apple," and the

fruit of the _Passiflora incarnata_ "May-hops." The chief uses of these

May-flowers were for the garlands, the decoration of the Maypole, and

the adornment of the home:--

"To get sweet setywall (red valerian),

The honeysuckle, the harlock,

The lily, and the lady-smock,

To deck their summer hall."

But one plant was carefully avoided--the cuckoo flower.[3] As in other

floral rites, the selection of plants varies on the Continent, branches

of the elder being carried about in Savoy, and in Austrian Silesia the

Maypole is generally made of fir. According to an Italian proverb, the

universal lover is "one who hangs every door with May."

Various plants are associated with Whitsuntide, and according to

Chaucer, in his "Romaunt of the Rose":--

"Have hatte of floures fresh as May,

Chapelett of roses of Whitsunday,

For sich array be costeth but lite."

In Italy the festival is designated "Pasqua Rosata," from falling at a

time when roses are in bloom, while in Germany the peony is the

Pentecost rose.

Herrick tells us it was formerly the practice to use birch and

spring-flowers for decorative purposes at Whitsuntide:--

"When yew is out then birch comes in,

And May-flowers beside,

Both of a fresh and fragrant kinne,

To honour Whitsontide."

At this season, too, box-boughs were gathered to deck the large open

fire-places then in fashion, and the guelder rose was dedicated to the

festival. Certain flower-sermons have been preached in the city at

Whitsuntide, as, for instance, that at St. James's Church, Mitre Court,

Aldgate, and another at St. Leonard's Church, Shoreditch, known as the

Fairchild Lecture. Turning to the Continent, it is customary in Hanover

on Whit-Monday to gather the lily of the valley, and at the close of the

day there is scarcely a house without a large bouquet, while in Germany

the broom is a favourite plant for decorations. In Russia, at the

completion of Whitsuntide, young girls repair to the banks of the Neva

and cast in wreaths of flowers in token of their absent friends.

Certain flowers, such as the rose, lavender, woodruff, and box were

formerly in request for decking churches on St. Barnabas' Day, the

officiating clergy having worn wreaths of roses. Among the allusions to

the usage may be mentioned the following entries in the churchwarden's

accounts of St. Mary-at-Hill, London, in the reigns of Edward IV. and

Henry VII.:--"For rose garlondis and woodrolf garlondis on St. Barnabe

Daye, xj'd." "Item, for two doss (dozen?) di bocse (box) garlands for

prestes and clerkes on St. Barnabe Day, j's. v'd."

St. Barnabas' thistle (_Centaurea solstitialis_) derived its name from

flowering at the time of the saint's festival, and we are told how:--

"When St. Barnaby bright smiles night and day,

Poor ragged robin blooms in the hay."

To Trinity Sunday belong the pansy, or herb-trinity and trefoil, hence

the latter has been used for decorations on this anniversary.

In commemoration of the Restoration of Charles II., oak leaves and

gilded oak apples have been worn; oak branches having been in past years

placed over doors and windows.

Stowe, in his "Survey of London," speaks of the old custom of hanging up

St. John's wort over the doors of houses, along with green birch or

pine, white lilies, and other plants. The same practice has existed very

largely on the Continent, St. John's wort being still regarded as an

effective charm against witchcraft. Indeed, few plants have been in

greater request on any anniversary, or been invested with such mystic

virtues. Fennel, another of the many plants dedicated to St. John, was

hung over doors and windows on his night in England, numerous allusions

to which occur in the literature of the past. And in connection with

this saint we are told how:--

"The scarlet lychnis, the garden's pride,

Flames at St. John the Baptist's tyde."

Hemp was also in demand, many forms of divination having been practised

by means of its seed.

According to a belief in Iceland, the trijadent (_Spiraea ulmaria_)

will, if put under water on this day, reveal a thief; floating if the

thief be a woman, and sinking if a man.

In the Harz, on Midsummer night, branches of the fir-tree are decorated

with flowers and coloured eggs, around which the young people dance,

singing rhymes. The Bolognese, who regard garlic as the symbol of

abundance, buy it at the festival as a charm against poverty during the

coming year. The Bohemian, says Mr. Conway, "thinks he can make himself

shot-proof for twenty-four hours by finding on St. John's Day pine-cones

on the top of a tree, taking them home, and eating a single kernel on

each day that he wishes to be invulnerable." In Sicily it is customary,

on Midsummer Eve, to fell the highest poplar, and with shouts to drag it

through the village, while some beat a drum. Around this poplar, says

Mr. Folkard,[4] "symbolising the greatest solar ascension and the

decline which follows it, the crowd dance, and sing an appropriate

refrain;" and he further mentions that, at the commencement of the

Franco-German War, he saw sprigs of pine stuck on the railway carriages

bearing the German soldiers into France.

In East Prussia, the sap of dog-wood, absorbed in a handkerchief, will

fulfil every wish; and a Brandenburg remedy for fever is to lie naked

under a cherry-tree on St. John's Day, and to shake the dew on one's

back. Elsewhere we have alluded to the flowering of the fern on this

anniversary, and there is the Bohemian idea that its seed shines like

glittering gold.

Corpus Christi Day was, in olden times, observed with much ceremony, the

churches being decorated with roses and other choice garlands, while the

streets through which the procession passed were strewn with flowers. In

North Wales, flowers were scattered before the door; and a particular

fern, termed Rhedyn Mair, or Mary's fern--probably the maiden-hair--was

specially used for the purpose.

We may mention here that the daisy (_Bellis perennis_) was formerly

known as herb-Margaret or Marguerite, and was erroneously supposed to

have been named after the virtuous St. Margaret of Antioch:--

"Maid Margarete, that was so meek and mild;"

Whereas it, in all probability, derives its name from St. Margaret of

Cortona. According to an old legend it is stated:--

"There is a double flouret, white and red,

That our lasses call herb-Margaret,

In honour of Cortona's penitent,

Whose contrite soul with red remorse was rent;

While on her penitence kind heaven did throw

The white of purity, surpassing snow;

So white and red in this fair flower entwine,

Which maids are wont to scatter at her shrine."

Again, of the rainy saint, St. Swithin, we are reminded that:--

"Against St. Swithin's hastie showers,

The lily white reigns queen of the flowers"--

A festival around which so much curious lore has clustered.

In former years St. Margaret's Day (July 20) was celebrated with many

curious ceremonies, and, according to a well-known couplet in allusion

to the emblem of the vanquished dragon, which appears in most pictures

of St. Margaret:--

"Poppies a sanguine mantle spread

For the blood of the dragon that Margaret shed."

Archdeacon Hare says the Sweet-William, designated the "painted lady,"

was dedicated to Saint William (June 25), the term "sweet" being a

substitution for "saint." This seems doubtful, and some would corrupt

the word "sweet" from the French _oeillet_, corrupted to Willy, and

thence to William. Mr. King, however, considers that the small red pink

(_Dianthus prolifer_), found wild in the neighbourhood of Rochester, "is

perhaps the original Saint Sweet-William," for, he adds, the word

"saint" has only been dropped since days which saw the demolition of St.

William's shrine in the cathedral. This is but a conjecture, it being

uncertain whether the masses of bright flowers which form one of the

chief attractions of old-fashioned gardens commemorate St. William of

Rochester, St. William of York, or, likeliest perhaps of the three, St.

William of Aquitaine, the half soldier, half monk, whose fame was so

widely spread throughout the south of Europe.

Roses were said to fade on St. Mary Magdalene's Day (July 20), to whom

we find numerous flowers dedicated, such as the maudlin, a nickname of

the costmary, either in allusion to her love of scented ointment, or to

its use in uterine affections, over which she presided as the patroness

of unchaste women, and maudlin-wort, another name for the moon-daisy.

But, as Dr. Prior remarks, it should, "be observed that the monks in the

Middle Ages mixed up with the story of the Magdalene that of another St.

Mary, whose early life was passed in a course of debauchery."

A German piece of folk-lore tells us that it is dangerous to climb a

cherry-tree on St. James's Night, as the chance of breaking one's neck

will be great, this day being held unlucky. On this day is kept St.

Christopher's anniversary, after whom the herb-christopher is named, a

species of aconite, according to Gerarde. But, as Dr. Prior adds, the

name is applied to many plants which have no qualities in common, some

of these being the meadow-sweet, fleabane, osmund-fern, herb-impious,

everlasting-flower, and baneberry.

Throughout August, during the ingathering of the harvest, a host of

customs have been kept up from time immemorial, which have been duly

noticed by Brand, while towards the close of the month we are reminded

of St. Bartholomew's Day by the gaudy sunflower, which has been

nicknamed St. Bartholomew's star, the term "star" having been often used

"as an emblematical representation of brilliant virtues or any sign of

admiration." It is, too, suggested by Archdeacon Hare that the filbert

may owe its name to St. Philbert, whose festival was on the 22nd August.

The passion-flower has been termed Holy Rood flower, and it is the

ecclesiastical emblem of Holy Cross Day, for, according to the

familiar couplet:--

"The passion-flower long has blow'd

To betoken us signs of the Holy Rood."

Then there is the Michaelmas Day, which:--

"Among dead weeds,

Bloom for St. Michael's valorous deeds,"

and the golden star lily, termed St. Jerome's lily. On St. Luke's Day,

certain flowers, as we have already noticed, have been in request for

love divinations; and on the Continent the chestnut is eaten on the

festival of St. Simon, in Piedmont on All Souls' Day, and in France on

St. Martin's, when old women assemble beneath the windows and sing a

long ballad. Hallowe'en has its use among divinations, at which time

various plants are in request, and among the observance of All Souls'

Day was blessing the beans. It would appear, too, that in days gone by,

on the eve of All Saints' Day, heath was specially burnt by way of a


"On All Saints' Day bare is the place where the heath is burnt;

The plough is in the furrow, the ox at work."

From the shape of its flower, the trumpet-flowered wood-sorrel has been

called St. Cecilia's flower, whose festival is kept on November 22. The

_Nigella damascena_, popularly known as love-in-a-mist, was designated

St. Catherine's flower, "from its persistent styles," writes Dr.

Prior,[5] "resembling the spokes of her wheel." There was also the

Catherine-pear, to which Gay alludes in his "Pastorals," where

Sparabella, on comparing herself with her rival, says:--

"Her wan complexion's like the withered leek,

While Catherine-pears adorn my ruddy cheek."

Herb-Barbara, or St. Barbara's cress (_Barbarea vulgaris_), was so

called from growing and being eaten about the time of her festival

(December 4).

Coming to Christmas, some of the principal evergreens used in this

country for decorative purposes are the ivy, laurel, bay, arbor vitae,

rosemary, and holly; mistletoe, on account of its connection with

Druidic rites, having been excluded from churches. Speaking of the

holly, Mr. Conway remarks that, "it was to the ancient races of the north

a sign of the life which preserved nature through the desolation of

winter, and was gathered into pagan temples to comfort the sylvan

spirits during the general death." He further adds that "it is a

singular fact that it is used by the wildest Indians of the Pacific

coast in their ceremonies of purification. The ashen-faggot was in

request for the Christmas fire, the ceremonies relating to which are

well known."


1. By D. Moore and A.G. Moore, 1866.

2. See "Journal of the Arch. Assoc.," 1832, vii. 206.

3. See "British Popular Customs."

4. "Plant Lore Legends and Lyrics," p. 504.

5. "Popular Names of British Plants," 1879, p. 204.

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