Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of Heaven,
Blossom the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Evangeline
Another common British wildflower encountered on my walks this spring is the
The botanical name for Forget-me-not is Myosotis, which translates from the Greek into Mouse’s Ear, after the character of the plant’s leaf. The English Forget-me-not arose from the French ne m’oubliez pas and was first used in the English in about 1532.
There are some 50 species of Forget-me-not. Most have tiny flowers with 5 petals. I recognise the Forget-me-not by its blue flowers, but the flower can also be pink or white. All have yellow centres.
Most species are native to New Zealand. There are one or two European species, notably the Wood Forget-me-not. The ones in my pictures are of Myosotis Sylvatica. In some parts of England, people refer to Speedwell or Bird’s Eye as Forget-me-not. In Devon it is known as Bugloss.
As the flower of Remembrance, before it became part of Canada, the Forget-me-not was a symbol of Remembrance for Newfoundland’s war dead. Freemasons used it to commemorate those of their brothers victimised by the Nazis. There is
a story that Christ as a child on his mother’s knee said he wished future
generations could see her eyes, touched her eyes, then the ground and then
Forget-me-nots sprang up all round. King Henry IV (Lancaster) is said to have adopted the flower as his symbol during his exile in 1398 and to have kept it after his return to England in 1399.
In Germany, it is called Vergissmeinnicht. In the 15th century in Germany, it was believed that wearers of the flower would not be forgotten by their lovers. It is also known as Springwort or Luckflower – key flowers – that is, having the power to make hidden doors and locks fly open and which then lead the flower’s possessors to hidden treasure. The Springwort also symbolises the opening of the season of spring. Thus, spring refers both to the season and to the springing of locks.
One variation of the Springwort story is that a shepherd was driving his flock over the Ilsenstein (mountain), when becoming weary, he leaned on his staff. The mountain instantly opened up to him, for his staff was made from the Springwort. Within, stood the mountain’s princess, the Princess Ilse, who invited the shepherd to fill his pockets with the hitherto hidden gold treasure. The shepherd was pleased to oblige the princess. Just as he was about to leave, his pockets stuffed, the princess called out: “Forget not the best!” She was alluding to his wonder-working staff, but the shepherd misconstrued her, thinking instead she referred to the best gold. He left his staff against the wall of rock and began gathering up more gold. At this, the mountain clashed together and cut him in two. In some stories it is the flower which calls out, vainly, in pitiful tones, “Forget me not!”
(The Ilsenstein mountain, in Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel, is the mountain abode of a horrible witch who rides on a broomstick, lures children to her gingerbread house, then bakes them into gingerbread. The video above is of Rene Fleming singing from the opera the aria The Evening Prayer (“Now I lay me down to sleep”) which the children
chant, lost in the forest and having been sprinkled with magic sand by the Sandman).
The plant prefers moist habitats and so is often found on riverbanks, which is perhaps why it gave rise to one of the more well-known tales about the origins of its name, in which, in medieval times, a knight and his lady were walking along the side of a river. The knight picked a posy of flowers, but the weight of his armour toppled him into the river. As he drowned, he threw the posy to his lady, pleading: “Forget me not!”
The flower used often to be worn by ladies as a sign of faithfulness, of enduring love.
In France it’s name is l’herbe qui ouvre (the herb that opens). It’s known in Iceland as Lasa-gras – the plant which loosens or unlocks anything. In Russia it is Niezabudka,
Nontiscordardime in Italy.
An old name for one kind of Forget-me-not was Scorpion-grass (Myosotis Stricta).
The name arose from the manner in which its coiled flower stalks unroll as the
flowers open, resembling the tail of a scorpion.
I have found no medicinal use for the Forget-me-not, though the forms or habits of plants often have been taken in past times as a clue to their uses. Scorpion-grass, therefore, was used as a remedy for scorpion bites. Using this logic, the Forget-me-not should have properties to aid the memory. Who knows, perhaps a close look at this tiny pretty flower would reveal a cure for or protection against Alzheimer’s Disease.
Connecticut Botanical Society:
Mill’s History of Chivalry:
Revd Hilderic Friend: Flowers and Flower Lore: