Horticultural Plants in Mythology

Emily Erickson

Plant Sciences 211, Fall 2010
North Dakota State University


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            According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, “symbolism” is defined as the practice of representing things by symbols, or of investing things with a symbolic meaning or character. Flowers have been used as symbols in mythology for thousands of years. 

"Proserpine" by Italian artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti


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Daffodils had an early beginning as a reminder of the spring. Their bright yellow petals give hope to those who are struggling to make it through a dreary winter. The story of the daffodil comes from Pluto, the god of the underworld, and how he kidnapped and carried Proserpine to his home. Proserpine had dropped the white lilies she was picking and as they fell, they became yellow daffodils. They were reminders that when spring came, Proserpine would have to return to Earth.




         The mythological story of hyacinth also intertwines with that of the daffodil. Apollo, the sun god, loved Proserpine’s Greek companion, Hyacinthus. Apollo would often descend from the heavens to compete with Hyacinthus in a discus competition. Zephyrus, the god of the wind, grew jealous and blew a strong gust of wind, moving Apollo’s discus, hitting and killing Hyacinthus. Apollo made the flower ‘hyacinth’ in memory of his fallen friend.

Text Box: The Death of Adonis, sculpture by Giuseppe Mazzuoli, 1709





         Sometimes called the “windflower”, red anemones are beautiful and symbolic flowers.  They are often linked to the death of Adonis, a hunter who was loved by Persephone, queen of the underworld, as well as Aphrodite, the goddess of love. As Adonis was hunting, he was stabbed with the tusks of a wild boar. The red petals of the anemone were said to have come from the red blood spilt by Adonis.
         Christians have also adopted symbolism behind the red anemone. They are often pictured underneath Jesus Christ on the cross, the red petals representing his blood.



         The flower Narcissus tells a story of selfishness and conceit. Narcissus was an attractive young man who was sought after by many, but rejected all advances.  His selfishness and lack of sympathy angered the gods, who caused him to fall in love with his own reflection while he bent over a pool of water. Narcissus died by drowning as he attempted to embrace his own image in the water. Where he drowned, a flower appeared and it was named narcissus.