Cactus – Warmth

20-cactusName: Crowsclaw cactus – Ferrocactus Lotispinus

Meaning: Warmth (modern: don’t be such a prick)

This painting was inspired by an image by awe inspiring illustrator Katie Scott, in Botanicum, Welcome to the Museum series, Big Picture Press, 2016

Day 20 100 days project #100daysnz

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


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.


Iris Japonica – Message

11 iris japonica

Name – Iris Japonica also known as ‘fringed iris’, ‘shaga’ or ‘butterfly flower’.

Meaning – The meaning of iris is generally is ‘message’, although I can’t find a specific meaning for this iris in particular.

The name Iris comes from the Greek word for rainbow.  Japonica refers to its origin in Japan and China.

In Japan, the rhizomes are ground up as a source of starch. In China, the rhizome it is used to treat bronchitis, internal injuries, and rheumatism.

Fascinatingly, in Japan, this iris was encouraged or planted on the tops of hills, within castles, as the slippery fans of the iris leaves helped slow marauding invaders and defend the castle.

This Iris is super easy to grow and very rewarding.  Rather than the one-shot of the larger showier flag irises and German Irises, it flowers continuously over a long period and makes a good filler with its fringed flowers in delicate blue and mauve shades.

Foxglove – Insincerity

10 Foxglove

Name: Digitalis Pupurea
Meaning: Insincerity
Beautiful, elegant foxglove, that innocent exclamation mark in every cottage garden, is as insincere as they come.
Also called Dead Man’s Bells and Witch’s Gloves, foxglove is extremely toxic, a very small amount, even water from its vase, would be enough to affect the heart and cause nausea, delirium, vomiting and wild hallucinations and visual colour effects. Vincent van Gogh’s “Yellow Period” may have been influenced by digitalis therapy, thought to control seizures at the time. A Digitalis extract has been used since 1785 in the treatment of heart problems although even then it seems to have its downsides.
Knowing this, it’s hard to look at it in the same way.
The scientific name means “finger-like”, referring to the fit of the flower over a fingertip. Old English has it as foxes glofe/glofa ‘fox’s glove’.

Sage – Long life

9 sageName: Sage – Salvia Officinalis

Meaning – Long Life

Sage was very big player in the middle ages.  Officinalis, refers to the plant’s importance in medicinal use—the officina was the traditional herb and medicine storeroom of a monastery.

Sge was sometimes also called S. salvatrix (sage the saviour).  It has some of the best ancient testimonials, many referring to its miraculous healing properties. An Anglo-Saxon manuscript read “Why should man die when he has sage?”

John Gerard‘s Herball (1597) states that sage “is singularly good for the head and brain, it quickeneth the senses and memory, strengtheneth the sinews, restoreth health to those that have the palsy, and taketh away shakey trembling of the members.”  After all, who wants a trembly member?


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