Arum – Ardour

17-arumName: Arum – Zantedeschia aethiopica/Italicum

Meaning: Ardour – passion or great enthusiasm

Not one of your subtler meanings really – the the big pointy yellow spathe is an upwards trending indicator of the ‘enthusiasm’ of the gift giver. Cheers for that!

In a curious clash of cultural implications, the Arum frequently features as a funeral flower.  Call me old fashioned but I think ardour should be contained at funerals. The arum is often considered unlucky or by many older people, many of whom will not bring it inside or even plant it in their gardens.  Hospital staff in the UK have been known to superstitiously refuse them.

Perhaps one reason for its unpopularity is that it is toxic to people and animals.  The Arum tops the list of plant related poison calls to Otago University’s National Poisons Centre. Largely due to its enticing spike of bright orange berries, or perhaps its superficial similarity to Taro?  Eating the smallest fragment will cause a burning sensation through the alimentary tract.  That would be enough to dampen anyone’s ardour.

The Arum is also known as the Easter lily, associated with republicans killed or executed in the 1916 Easter Rising, featured on mural commemorating the 1981 Hunger Strikers in the Maze Prison, County Down, on wall in Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin.

Like many plants, such as Agapanthus, which are treasured beauties in Europe and the UK, the Arum is something of an invasive scourge here in our temperate climate.  It features on our noxious weed list and is a nightmare to get rid off as any small piece of root or rhizome left behind will reanimate like the walking dead. Some tips for eradication here though.

Day 17 #100daysnz


Fuschia – Taste

16-fuchsiaName: Fuchsia

Meaning: Taste (meaning is for the scarlet fuschia specifically)

As Fuchsia is pronounced “fook-sya”, after the German Physician Fuchs, you can understand why that didn’t catch on in English.  We politely tend to say “fyu-sha” . As a consequence, fuchsia is often misspelled as fuschia in English, and this is the reason I had to completely redo this painting with the name of the plant spelt correctly. Well that’s mys tory and I am sticking to it.

Out of 110 species of Fuchsias worldwide we have our own NZ Fuchsia, the kotukutuku (F. excorticata) which is unusual in that it takes the tree form, up 15 metres tall.  It is The flowers are quite small and hard to spot compared to your ornamental garden shrub (pictured) whose heavy blooms sway like drunken ballerinas.

Foragers and bush grub enthusiasts know that the fruit of all fuchsia species and cultivars is edible though some taste better than others. The berry of F. splendens is held to taste best, reminiscent of citrus and black pepper.  It can be made into jam.


Day 16 #100daysnz

Note: This image was inspired by a painting in Michael Lakin’s A-Z of botanical flowers in watercolour

Magnolia – Love of Nature

15 MagnoliaName: Magnolia

Meaning: Love of nature

One of the exquisite pleasures of walking around my Auckland neighbourhood at the moment is the sheer number of different magnolias in bloom.  It’s lovely to see these trees increasingly planted as as attention-getting specimen trees and sometimes in spectacular massed plantings such as in Cornwall Park.  The delicate but pervasive scent of the Michelia is everywhere and there’s such a lot to see.

I love the sheer range of size and form of the Magnolia, from the delicate white stars of Stellata to the spacecraft sized Star Wars.  Colourwise they range from a traditional creamy white though to hot pink Felix magenta and dark plum purples of Black Tulip and even yellow. The Jurys of Taranaki are NZ plantbreeders responsible for a lot of this amazing magnolia diversity to which we now have access and Abbie Jury’s writing and Twitter on this legacy and many other gardening topics is well worth checking out.

The truly fascinating thing about Magnolias is just how ancient they are.  Fossils date the genus to 95 million years ago, even before the evolution of bees, the toughness of the flower is thought to have evolved to enable pollination by beetles. The carpels and stamens are adnate (fused) around the flower. The Newshub angle here would be: ‘You’d never believe it but these flowers are bisexual, check out that beetle at 1.47′

Day 15 100 Day Project #100daysnz

Note: This image was inspired by a painting in Michael Lakin’s A-Z of botanical flowers in watercolour.  The illustration doesn’t say which Magnolia it is, however I’d take a stab at Iolanthe.

Pansy – Thoughts

14 PansyName Pansy – Viola Tricolor

Meaning: Thoughts

The flower I have painted is probably really a viola, depending on your definition.  Pansy, violet and viola are of the same family and these names are used interchangeably. Commonly we refer to “pansy”  as the engaging large velvet faced, multi-coloured flowers, while the term  “viola” is usually reserved for the smaller, charming and energetic self seeders which I have also heard called Johnny Jump Ups or Heartsease.

The name “pansy” is derived from the French word pensée, “thought”, and was imported into Late Middle English as a name for the Viola in the mid-15th century, as the flower was regarded as a symbol of remembrance. Humanists, and secularists have adopted the pansy as their emblem.

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare uses the”juice of the heartsease” as an ingredient of the love potion which causes Titania to madly dote upon Bottom.

In Hamlet, Ophelia’s descent into madness is told through the names and meanings of flowers “Look at my flowers. There’s rosemary, that’s for remembering. Please remember, love. And there are pansies, they’re for thoughts.”

Day 14 #100daysnz

Note: This image was inspired by a painting in Michael Lakin’s A-Z of botanical flowers in watercolour



Violets – Faithfulness

13 violetsName: Violets -Viola odorata

Meaning – Faithfulness

Oberon mentions violets at his most poetic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  There he refers to the shy, downward facing nature of the flower rather than its sweet scent:


“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk roses and with eglantine:

There sleeps Titania sometime of the night”

In direct contrast, the Greeks saw the strong scent of the violet as sexy and so the violet, symbol of Athens, also became emblematic of  Aphrodite and  her son Priapus, the deity of fertility, livestock, fruit plants, and male genitalia. Priapus is marked by his oversized, permanent ‘Priapic’ erection. Not so shy now, violet.

In other mentions, the goddess Persephone and her companion Nymphs were gathering rose, crocus, violet, iris, lily and larkspur blooms in a springtime meadow when she was abducted by the god Hades.

IMG_1407Violets are delicious and easy to crystallise for historically accurate cake decorations.  All you need is some violet flowers, egg white, table sugar and a small paintbrush. Here’s how to do it.  If you are unsure of your flower identification then it’s a bad idea to eat them as many flowers which look quite innocent are toxic. Garden flowers may be subject to sprays and animal pee.  You can buy edible flower selections now which removes the need for guesswork.


Orange Tree – Generosity

12 Orange tree

Name: Orange Tree:Citrus × sinensis
Traditional Flower Meaning: Generosity
Happy Fathers Day in recognition of the generosity and kindness of all the great fathers out there.
Although there are flowers for maternal love, I’ve been unable to find a flower symbol for paternal love, or even fatherhood. Seems a little unjust, especially in view of how important that love is.
In its place, to celebrate Father’s Day, this is the orange tree which symbolises generosity. I would make especially clear that it is the tree you are presenting here rather than the blossom itself which connotes ‘chastity’ or ‘Your purity equals your loveliness’, neither of which are generally associated with fatherhood, although if that’s your Dad’s gig then go for it.

Sunflower – Haughtiness

sunflowerName:  Sunflower – Helianthus annuus

Meaning: Haughtiness

OK they’re tall (3 metres+) but I’m not buying the haughty thing.  How about cheerfulness,  vitality and practicality?  They’ve been sustaining the human race with seed oil and general house brightening gorgeousness for over 5000 years. That’s hardy the behaviour of a prideful plant.

The one thing everybody seems to know about sunflowers is that their big heads follow the sun, leading to common names such as Girasol in Spanish and Tournesol in French.  Except, plot twist, they don’t.  The mature flower heads face in just one direction.  Soz!

Who knew? Four frankly astonishing sunflower trivia gobstoppers:

  • The sunflower is the ultimate for maths geeks – The flower head sets seeds in tightly interconnecting spirals ,in successive Fibonacci numbers, packing in the most seeds mathematically possible.
  • Sunflowers extract toxic ingredients from soil, such as lead, arsenic and uranium, and were used to remove caesium-137 and strontium-90 after Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters.
  • Chewed sunflower root makes a nifty snakebite cure according to New Mexico’s Zuni people
  • Sunflowers produce a kind of latex which is being used in the manufacture of mattresses

Wood Sorrel – Maternal Love

woodsorrelWood Sorrel – Oxalis acetosella

Meaning – Maternal Love

It’s hard to know whether to be amused or insulted by the flower symbol for Maternal Love. Wood sorrel is a cousin of oxalis, a plant people tire of ever removing from their gardens. But on reflection, how apposite is this? This small pant is inexhaustible. It is ineradicable. It determinedly fills every dark place with bright flowers and spring green heart shaped leaves. It is admittedly occasionally invasive but it is not toxic as all parts are edible. Ok we’re heading into weird now.

Shout out to all the mothers out there who brighten the dark spaces for their bulblets.

100 days project #100daysnz #hugyourmum

Daffodil – Regard

Daffodil - regardDay four #100daysnz

Daffodil – Narcissus pseudonarcissus
Meaning – Regard
(Modern meaning:’Sorry about the cancer you had that one time)

Most of us probably see Daffodil as the large showy yellow trumpet shaped fundraising flowers but Daffodil is apparently the official common name for any of the plants that fall into the genus Narcissus which includes jonquils and erlicheer.

From a Victorian Flower Language standpoint this could generate a little confusion. I might give you a daffodil as the sign of my regard, but you might see it as a Narcissus which has traditionally meant egotism, following the Greek myth of the beautiful boy who saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realising it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus lost his will to live. He stared at his reflection until he died. I’m sure that happens to all of us from time to time.

Also, any daffodil you think is a King Alfred probably isn’t, but that’s enough floral disillusionment for one day and this has to stop somewhere.

#100daysnz #dontstopmenowbecauseimhavingagoodtime

NB Since I did actually have cancer that one time (here’s hoping) I feel entitled to be snarky about it – this is not intended to offend.