Say it with flowers. You may have heard this many times. Gifting flowers is universal and almost as old as time. One of the most famous flower gifts, which comes to mind, is Japan’s gift of Cherry Blossoms to the USA in 1912. However, unlike the usual bouquet of cut flowers which wilt in a few days despite your best efforts to keep them fresh by putting them in water-filled vases, the Japanese were smart. They gifted America Cherry Blossom trees which were planted in Washington, DC and in New York’s Sakura Park, both of which are popular tourist attractions even today.
What most of us do not realize when we give or receive flowers as gifts is that most of these flowers have a story or a myth associated with them which make them unique. Let’s look at some of the unique stories behind these unique flowers.
Tulip – It’s hard to imagine that these tender bulbous flowers were the reason for an economic crisis in the 17th century that ruined many Dutch businessmen. Famously known as ‘Tulip mania,’ it was a strange time in the Netherlands when speculation by traders and merchants raised the value of Tulips to such a peak that a single tulip was worth more than a mansion and then later, when the prices crashed, you couldn’t even buy an onion for the price of a Tulip.
Lotus – This is another unique flower which had great symbolic importance associated with it in ancient Egypt and is also honored and revered in many Eastern Cultures. It is considered the national flower of India and Vietnam. In many countries including Cambodia, China and Thailand, the lotus symbolizes purity. A famous Confucian philosopher from China, Zhou Dunyi described the lotus thus: “I love it because while growing from mud, it is unstained.”
Orchid – Popularly used to adorn the centerpieces in hotel lobbies and at weddings, it may come as a surprise that these ubiquitous flowers were once considered rare and were only to be found in the lush tropical rainforests of South America. That was before they were commercially cultivated and became extremely popular. In fact, a few years back it was voted as the most popular houseplant in the UK.
Sunflower – This flower has the unique distinction of having inspired Vincent van Gogh’s famous sunflower series. Not only beautiful and vibrant, the Sunflower is also very useful; its seeds being used to produce cooking oil, its petals used as cattle feed and fiber from its stem used to make paper.
Hyacinth – Considered a symbol of sincerity, it is named after a handsome youth in Greek mythology, Hyacinthus. The story goes that Zephyr and Apollo coveted the youth’s company. Once when Apollo was showing Hyacinthus how to throw the discus, Zephyr being the god of the West Wind blew the discus off-course and killed the youth in a fit of jealousy.
Narcissus – Also known as Daffodil, this flower takes its name after another famous Greek mythological character. Narcissus was a vain youth, so much in love with his own beauty; he ignored the affections of Echo, a nymph and was cursed and turned into a flower. Curiously, though the flower signifies vanity in the West, it symbolizes prosperity and good fortune in the East.
Anemone – Also known as the windflower, Anemones are today a very popular choice for flower beds in gardens. However, this flower has been historically revered and feared, thanks to many superstitions associated with it. In ancient Egypt and China, the flower was considered an emblem of sickness and death. In some parts of Europe, it was believed to possess magical properties and was even used as a charm to ward of disease.
So the next time, you visit a florist, to buy a bouquet, remember that different flowers mean different things to different people. Choose them carefully, because you might offend someone when your intention was to please or flatter the person.