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The Stories Behind the Names of our Favorite Flowers

By MJ Reporter Willow LaMunyon

Photographs by MJ Photographer Christy Moyer

I moved into the house where I now live two late Februarys ago. I loved the house and was delighted with my big yard but didn't realize the plethora of flowers that were waiting to greet me in the spring. All my favorite flowers began showing off, one after another, as I explored my gardens. I kept in mind that each flower had a story behind its name, which made them interesting as well as beautiful. Spring is the time of year when you can find Iris blooming everywhere you look and in a rainbow of colors. In Greek mythology, the Goddess of rainbows was named Iris, so the many-colored flowers we enjoy now were named after her. The Goddess Iris was a messenger. She brought messages between heaven and earth that took her on a route in the shape of the arc of a rainbow. So, in flower language, a gift of iris means the giver has a message to share.

No garden feels complete without several rose bushes, which has been going on for a very long time. Fossil evidence shows that roses have existed for over 35 million years. In Roman mythology, wealthy Romans had bouquets of roses in the bedchambers of couples for their pleasant smell. Roses were a symbol of love and beauty, the flower of Venus, Goddess of love, but they also became a symbol of secrecy after Cupid offered a rose to the God of silence, Harpocrates, to keep the affairs of Venus quiet.

Another myth about roses involves Rodanthi, who was a woman of great beauty and wisdom. She invited her social group to visit and being a good hostess; she served delicious but strong wine. The more they drank, the more intense the conversation got. Someone told the wise Rodanthi that a woman could never be as wise as a man. She responded by reminding them that Athena was the Goddess of wisdom while not a single male God had such a title. With this, she sent her drunken guest into a rage, accusing her of insulting the Gods, which was punishable by death. To save her life, she ran as fast as she could with the former guests turned mob chasing her. She raced to the Temple of Artemis for sanctuary. The first of the mob reached out to grab her but instantly felt a sharp stab of pain. Rodanthi was nowhere to be found but in her place was a plant-filled with beautiful flowers and each branch protecting the roses with sharp thorns.

The narcissist is a beautiful flower found around lakes and ponds, but it has become so associated with self-centered people we forget the flower. You may wonder how that happened, and mythology has the answer. Zeus would sometimes visit the wood nymphs, and he charmed them, all forgetting about his wife Hera's jealousy. Hera searched for Zeus, trying to catch him with the nymphs, but every time she got close to the nymph, Echo distracted her with a conversation to give the other nymphs and Zeus time to escape. When Hera discovered what Echo was doing, her anger knew no bounds, and Hera cursed Echo this way, "Your tongue has made a fool of me Henceforth, your voice will be more brief, my dear! You will always have the last word - but never the first."

Echo could only repeat the last words of what others said. One fateful day Echo saw a hunter named Narcissus, and he was the most handsome man she had ever seen. He also thought he was the most handsome man he had ever seen. Echo was so stricken by his beauty she followed him everywhere and hid behind the trees, not speaking since she could only repeat the last words he said. Narcissus heard her following him and said,

"Quit hiding and come out so we can meet."

She answered with his last words and said, "We can meet," and she rushed out and immediately embraced him.

Narcissus took one look at her and rejected her saying. "I would rather die than love you."

He turned away from her and noticed his own reflection in a clear pool of water, immediately falling in love with his reflection, and he no longer did anything but look at his reflection in the water. He neither ate nor drank and soon felt his own death coming on. With his last breath, he whispered to his reflection, "Goodbye, my love."

Echo repeated, "Goodbye my love," and searched for him but found only the beautiful flower that he had become. She mourned so hard that she faded away until all that remained was her voice repeating the last words that anyone said.

When I check my garden for fresh blooms, I remember they all have their own story to tell, and I appreciate their beauty even more.

The stories behind the names of our favorite flowers get a Medicare Jet-Setters Groovy Rating.

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