Flowers

The Symbolism

Many flowers from around the world appear in mythology. And many cultures connect flowers with birth, with the return of spring after winter, with life after death, and with joyful youth, beauty, and merriment. Because they fade quickly, flowers are also linked with death, especially the death of the young. Together the two sets of associations suggest death followed by heavenly rebirth, which may be one reason for the tradition of placing or planting flowers on graves. People also offer flowers to their gods at shrines and decorate churches with them.

In many societies, certain colors of flowers have acquired symbolic meanings. White blossoms, for example, represent both purity and death, while red ones often symbolize passion, energy, and blood. Yellow flowers may suggest gold or the sun. In the Chinese Taoist tradition the highest stage of enlightenment was pictured as a golden flower growing from the top of the head.

The shapes of flowers also have significance. Blossoms with petals projecting outward like rays of light from the sun have been associated with the sun and with the idea of the center—of the world, the universe, or consciousness.

Anemone - Greek mythology linked the red anemone, sometimes called the windflower, to the death of Adonis. This handsome young man was loved by both Persephone, queen of the underworld, and Aphrodite, goddess of love. Adonis enjoyed hunting, and one day when he was out hunting alone, he wounded a fierce boar, which stabbed him with its tusks. Aphrodite heard the cries of her lover and arrived to see Adonis bleeding to death. Red anemones sprang from the earth where the drops of Adonis's blood fell. In another version of the story, the anemones were white before the death of Adonis, whose blood turned them red. Christians later adopted the symbolism of the anemone. For them its red represented the blood shed by Jesus on the cross. Anemones sometimes appear in paintings of the Crucifixion.

Carnation - Composed of tightly packed, fringed petals of white, yellow, pink, or red, carnations have many different meanings. To the Indians of Mexico, they are the "flowers of the dead," and their fragrant blooms are piled around corpses being prepared for burial. For the Koreans, three carnations placed on top of the head are a form of divination. The flower that withers first indicates which phase of the person's life will contain suffering and hardship. To the Flemish people of Europe, red carnations symbolized love, and a kind of carnation called a pink was traditionally associated with weddings.

Hyacinth- The Greek myth of Hyacinthus and Apollo tells of the origin of the hyacinth, a member of the lily family. Hyacinthus, a beautiful young man of Sparta, was loved by the sun god Apollo. One day the two were amusing themselves throwing a discus when the discus struck Hyacinthus and killed him. Some accounts say that Zephyrus, the god of the west wind, directed the discus out of jealousy because he also loved Hyacinthus. While Apollo was deep in grief, mourning the loss of his companion, a splendid new flower rose out of the bloodstained earth where the young man had died. Apollo named it the hyacinth and ordered that a three-day festival, the Hyacinthia, be held in Sparta every year to honor his friend.

Lily -To the ancient Egyptians, the trumpet-shaped lily was a symbol of Upper Egypt, the southern part of the country. In the ancient Near East, the lily was associated with Ishtar, also known as Astarte, who was a goddess of creation and fertility as well as a virgin. The Greeks and Romans linked the lily with the queen of the gods, called Hera by the Greeks and Juno by the Romans. The lily was also one of the symbols of the Roman goddess Venus.

In later times, Christians adopted the lily as the symbol of Mary who became the mother of Jesus while still a virgin. Painters often portrayed the angel Gabriel handing Mary a lily, which became a Christian symbol of purity. Besides being linked to Mary, the lily was also associated with virgin saints and other figures of exceptional chastity.

Lotus -The lotus shares some associations with the lily. Lotus flowers, which bloom in water, can represent female sexual power and fertility as well as birth or rebirth. The ancient Egyptians portrayed the goddess Isis being born from a lotus flower, and they placed lotuses in the hands of their mummified dead to represent the new life into which the dead souls had entered.

The lotus often appears in Hindu and Buddhist stories. In Asian mythology the lotus often symbolizes the female sexual organs, from which new life is born. Lotuses appear in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Hindus refer to the god Brahma as "lotus-born " for he is said to have emerged from a lotus that was the navel, or center, of the universe. The lotus is also the symbol of the goddess Padma, who appears on both Hindu and Buddhist monuments as a creative force.

The holiness of the flower is illustrated by the legend that when the Buddha walked on the earth he left lotuses in his trail instead of footprints. One myth about the origin of Buddha relates that he first appeared floating on a lotus. According to a Japanese legend, the mother of Nichiren (Lotus of the Sun) became pregnant by dreaming of sunshine on a lotus. Nichirin founded a branch of Buddhism in the 1200s. The phrase "Om mani padme hum," which both Hindus and Buddhists use in meditation, means "the jewel in the lotus" and can refer to the Buddha or to the mystical union of male and female energies.

Narcissus- The Greek myth about the narcissus flower involves the gods' punishment of human shortcomings. Like the stories of Adonis and Hyacinth, it involves the transfer of life or identity from a dying young man to a flower.

Narcissus was an exceptionally attractive young man who scorned the advances of those who fell in love with him, including the nymph Echo. His lack of sympathy for the pangs of those he rejected angered the gods, who caused him to fall in love with his own reflection as he bent over a pool of water. Caught up in self-adoration, Narcissus died—either by drowning as he tried to embrace his own image or by pining away at the edge of the pool. In the place where he had sat gazing yearningly into the water, there appeared a flower that the nymphs named the narcissus. It became a symbol of selfishness and cold-heartedness. Today psychologists use the term narcissist to describe someone who directs his or her affections towards themselves, rather than toward other people.

Poppy - A type of poppy native to the Mediterranean region yields a substance called opium, a drug that was used in the ancient world to ease pain and bring on sleep. The Greeks associated poppies with both Hypnos, god of sleep, and Morpheus, god of dreams. Morphine, a drug made from opium, gets its name from Morpheus.

Rose -The rose, a sweet-smelling flower that blooms on a thorny shrub, has had many meanings in mythology. It was associated with the worship of certain goddesses and was, for the ancient Romans, a symbol of beauty and the flower of Venus. The Romans also saw roses as a symbol of death and rebirth, and they often planted them on graves.

 

Sunflower -Some flowers turn their heads during the day, revolving slowly on their stalks to face the sun as it travels across the sky. The Greek myth of Clytie and Apollo, which exists in several versions, explains this movement as the legacy of a lovesick girl. Clytie, who was either a water nymph or a princess of the ancient city of Babylon, fell in love with Apollo, god of the sun. For a time the god returned her love, but then he tired of her. The forlorn Clytie sat, day after day, slowly turning her head to watch Apollo move across the sky in his sun chariot. Eventually, the gods took pity on her and turned her into a flower. In some versions of the myth, she became a heliotrope or a marigold, but most accounts say that Clytie became a sunflower.

Violet - The violet, which grows low to the ground and has small purple or white flowers, appeared in an ancient Near Eastern myth that probably inspired the Greek and Roman myth of Venus and Adonis. According to this story, the great mother goddess Cybele loved Attis, who was killed while hunting a wild boar. Where his blood fell on the ground, violets grew. The Greeks believed that violets were sacred to the god Aresand to Io, one of the many human loves of Zeus. Later, in Christian symbolism, the violet stood for the virtue of humility, or humble modesty, and several legends tell of violets springing up on the graves of virgins and saints. European folktales associate violets with death and mourning.

Plants



Acanthus - The acanthus plant grows throughout much of the Mediterranean region. Its large leaves appear in many ancient sculptures, especially on top of columns in the Greek style called Corinthian. Legends says that after a young girl's death, her nurse placed her possessions in a basket near her tomb. An acanthus plant grew around the basket and enclosed it. One day the sculptor Callimachus noticed this arrangement and was inspired to design the column ornament.

Bamboo -The jointed, canelike bamboo plant plays a role in Asian folklore. Because bamboo is sturdy and always green, the Chinese regard it as a symbol of long life. In the creation story of the Andaman Islanders of the Indian Ocean, the first man is born inside a large stalk of bamboo. Philippine Islanders traditionally believed that bamboo crosses in their fields would bring good crops.

Beans -Beans have been an important food source for many cultures, except for the ancient Egyptians, who thought beans were too sacred to eat. Many Native Americans—from the Iroquois of the Northeast to the Hopi of the Southwest—hold festivals in honor of the bean. Europeans traditionally baked bean cakes for a feast on the Christian holiday of Epiphany, or Twelfth Night. Some ancient lore linked beans with the dead. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras thought that the souls of the dead resided within beans, while the Romans dreaded the lemures—the evil spirits of the dead—who brought misfortune on a home by pelting it with beans at night.

Cereal Grains -Grain-bearing cereal grasses, "the bread of life," are basic to the diets of most cultures. Rice is the staple grain throughout much of southern Asia. In many Asian cultures, people perform rituals to honor the rice spirit or a deity of rice, usually a female. Some peoples, such as the Lamet of northern Laos, believe in a special energy or life force shared only by human beings and rice.

Maize/Corn - Although maize, a grain native to the Americas, is now called corn, many Europeans traditionally used the word corn to refer to such grains as barley, wheat, and oats. Europeans often spoke of female corn spirits, either maidens, mothers, or grandmothers. Grain waving in the wind, for example, was said to mark the path of the Corn Mother. Such sayings may have come from ancient beliefs that grains were sacred to harvest goddesses such as Greek Demeter and Roman Ceres. In Central America, the Maya believed that human beings were made from maize. After attempts with other materials failed, the gods succeeded in creating people by using ground maize mixed with water.


Clover
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The Druids of the British Isles regarded clover as sacred, with both good and evil meanings. According to legend, however, St. Patrick later converted the pagan Irish to Christianity by using the three-part clover leaf as an example of the Trinity: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one. Clover came to represent fertility and prosperity in English folklore, and dreaming of clover foretold a happy marriage.

Coffee -  Legends from various parts of the world tell how people learned of the stimulating properties of caffeine, contained in the beans of the coffee bush. An Ethiopian story says that a goatherd noticed that the beans from a particular bush made his goats unusually alert and frisky. People sampled the beans and determined that they might be useful for keeping people awake during evening religious ceremonies. Similar tales from Europe and South America also relate that people discovered the effects of caffeine in coffee by observing animals.

Ginseng - The ginseng root has long been prized in Asia for its medicinal properties. It was also thought to provide strength and sexual energy. A Korean legend says that a poor boy caring for his dying father prayed to the mountain spirit, who appeared to him in a dream and showed him where to find ginseng. A drink made from the root cured the father. Another legend tells of a man who found ginseng and tried to sell it at a high price. When his greed led to his arrest, he ate the root, which made him so strong that he overpowered his guards and escaped.

Ivy - The leaves and vine of the ivy, which remain green year round, often symbolize immortality The plant was associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine (Roman Bacchus), who wore a crown of ivy and carried a staff encircled with the vine.

Laurel - The evergreen laurel tree or shrub occurs in many varieties, including cinnamon and sassafras. Greek mythology says that Daphne, a nymph who rejected the love of Apollo, was turned into a laurel tree. The laurel was sacred to Apollo, whose priestesses were said to chew its leaves in order to become oracles. The Greeks also crowned some of their champions with laurel wreaths. According to English mythology, if two lovers take a laurel stick, break it in half, and keep the pieces, they will always remain faithful to each other.

Leek - a vegetable with a stalk of leaves layered like the skins of an onion—is the national emblem of Wales. According to legend, St. David, the patron saint of Wales, ordered a troop of Welsh soldiers to put leeks in their caps to identify each other during a battle. When the Welsh side won, the soldiers thanked the saint—and the leek—for the victory.

Mandrake -The mandrake plant has properties that bring on sleep or reduce pain. Many folklore traditions link the plant with sexual behavior. In the biblical book of Genesis, for example, Jacob's wife, Leah, obtains mandrake root to become pregnant. The Arabs called the plant devil's apples because they considered the arousal of sexual desire to be evil. Medieval Christians associated the mandrake with devil worship, and witches were believed to make images of their victims from mandrake root. According to one European tradition, a mandrake root cries out when pulled from the ground.

Manioc - Flour made from the manioc root is a traditional staple food of the Amazon peoples of South America. A story about Mani, an old, much-loved village leader, explains the origin of manioc. Before dying, Mani promised to come back to take care of his people, and he told them to dig in the ground a year after his death. What they found was the manioc root, Mani's body turned into food.

Thistle - A Scottish legend tells how the thistle, a plant with purple blooms and prickly stems and leaves, became a national emblem. Around  950 A.D, Norse raiders invaded Scotland. As they crept toward a Scottish camp after dark, one of them stepped on a thistle. The resulting cry of pain awoke the Scots, who drove the invaders away and saved Scotland.

Mistletoe - The mistletoe plant, which grows in trees, appears in European legends as a symbol of fertility and eternal life, perhaps because it remains green all winter. Unlike most plants, mistletoe thrives without being rooted in soil. This may explain why many cultures have believed it to be heavenly or supernatural. Mistletoe has also been said to offer protection from sorcery and evil spells. The Druids believed that mistletoe had great healing properties, especially if it was gathered without the use of a knife and never allowed to touch the ground. Some Africans compare the mistletoe on a tree to the soul in the body, and they believe that

MyrtleAn evergreen shrub, myrtle is associated with birth and rebirth in European mythology. The ancient Greeks carried myrtle with them when they colonized new lands to symbolize the beginning of a new life. The Greeks also associated myrtle with Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

Parsley - The Greeks believed that the herb parsley grew from the blood of a hero named Achemorus who was killed by a serpent. At games held in his honor, they crowned the winners with parsley wreaths. Both the Greeks and the Romans regarded parsley as a symbol of death and rebirth. They often put parsley on tombs, and someone "in need of parsley" was on the verge of death.

Tobacco -The tobacco plant originated in the Americas, and smoking dried tobacco leaves was part of many Native American rituals. Native Americans of different regions developed various rituals. In the Southwest and Central America, tobacco is associated with rainfall because tobacco smoke resembles clouds that bring rain. A story from southeastern North America says that tobacco's origin was related to sex. A young man and woman who were traveling left the path to make love. They married soon afterward. Later the man passed the place again and found a sweet-smelling plant growing there. His people decided to dry it, smoke it, and call it "Where We Came Together." The couple's life together was happy and peaceful, so the flower produced by their love—tobacco—was smoked at meetings intended to bring peace.

Yam -  In a myth from the African country of Kenya, the creator god Ruwa made humans immortal and gave them a paradise to live in but ordered them not to eat one plant growing there—the edible root known as the yam. One day Death told the people to cook the yam for him. When Ruwa learned what the people had done, he took away their immortality.

Trees

Forests play a prominent role in many folktales and legends. In these dark, mysterious places, heroes can lose their way, face unexpected challenges, and stumble on hidden secrets. Part of the age-old magic of forests lies in the ideas that people have had about trees. In myths and legends from around the world, trees appear as ladders between worlds, as sources of life and wisdom, and as the physical forms of supernatural beings.

World Tree called Yggdrasill

World Trees

With its roots buried deep in the earth, its trunk above ground, and its branches stretching toward the sky, a tree serves as a symbolic, living link between this world and those of supernatural beings. In many myths, a tree is a vital part of the structure of the universe. 

Gods and their messengers travel from world to world by climbing up or down the tree. The Norse believed that a tree runs like an axis, or pole, through this world and the realms above and below it. They called their World Tree Yggdrasill. It was a giant ash tree that nourished gods, humans, and animals, connecting all living things and all phases of existence.

In Norse mythology, the World Tree called Yggdrasill runs like a pole through this world and the realms above and below it. Yggdrasill is a great ash tree that connects all living things and all phases of existence.

Greek folktales tell of goblins in the underworld who try to cut the roots of the tree that is holding up the earth and the sky. Norse legends contain a similar image with an evil serpent forever gnawing at Yggdrasill's roots.

In traditional societies of Latvia, Lithuania, and northern Germany, the world tree was thought to be a distant oak, birch, or apple tree with iron roots, copper branches, and silver leaves. The spirits of the dead lived in this tree. 

The mythology of early India, preserved in texts called the Upanishads, includes a cosmic tree called Asvattha. It is the living universe, an aspect of Brahman, the world spirit. This cosmic tree reverses the usual order. Its roots are in the sky, and its branches grow downward to cover the earth.

Trees of Life and Knowledge

Providers of shade and bearers of fruit, trees have long been associated with life and fertility. Evergreen trees, which remain green all year, became symbols of undying life. Deciduous trees, which lose their leaves in the winter and produce new ones in the spring, symbolized renewal, rebirth after death, or immortality.

Many creation myths draw on trees as symbols of life. In some versions of the Persian creation story a huge tree grew from the rotting corpse of the first human. The trunk separated into a man and a woman, Mashya and Mashyane, and the fruit of the tree became the various races of humankind. Norse mythology says that the first man and woman were an ash and an elm tree given life by the gods. The same theme appears in myths of the Algonquian-speaking people of North America, which tell that the creator and culture hero Gluskap fashioned man from an ash tree.

A traditional Micronesian myth from the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific Ocean is similar to the biblical account of the fall from Eden. In the beginning of the world was a garden where two trees grew, guarded by an original being called Na Kaa. Men lived under one tree and gathered its fruit, while women lived apart from the men under the other tree. One day when Na Kaa was away on a trip, the men and women mingled together under one of the trees. Upon his return, Na Kaa told them that they had chosen the Tree of Death, not the Tree of Life, and from that time all people would be mortal.

Trees—or the fruit they bore—also came to be associated with wisdom, knowledge, or hidden secrets. This meaning may have come from the symbolic connection between trees and worlds above and below human experience.

In the mythology of the Yoruba people of West Africa, a palm tree planted by the god Obatala was the first piece of vegetation on earth. The tree is a symbol of wisdom in stories about the life of Buddha, who was said to have gained spiritual enlightenment while sitting under a bodhi tree, a type of fig.


Two sacred trees
the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil - appear in the Near Eastern story of the Garden of Eden, told in the book of Genesis of the Bible.


God ordered Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, not to eat the fruit of either tree. Disobeying, they ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and became aware of guilt, shame, and sin. 

God cast them out of the garden before they could eat the fruit of the Tree of Life, which would have made them immortal.

Thereafter, they and their descendants had to live in a world that included sin and death.

The Tree of Life, with sacred animals feeding on fruit-bearing branches, is a common image in the art of the ancient Near East.

The tree was associated with palaces and kingship because the king was seen as the link between the earthly and divine realms. Through him, the gods blessed the earth with fertility.

Traditional Persian and Slavic myths both told of a tree of life that bore the seeds of all the world's plants. This tree, which looked like an ordinary tree, was guarded by an invisible dragon that the Persians called Simarghu and the Slavs called Simorg. 

For fear of cutting down the Tree of Life by accident, Slavic peoples performed sacred ceremonies before taking down a tree.

The Persians cut no trees, but waited for them to fall naturally. 

The Talking Tree

After European missionaries introduced Christianity to the Native Americans, the Yaqui of the American Southwest created a myth about a talking tree that spread the news of the new faith. One day the people came upon a tree whose vibrations made a sound that no one could understand. A wise woman who lived deep in the forest sent her daughter to interpret the sounds. The talking tree told of the Christian God and the priests who would soon arrive to teach the people new beliefs and new ways. Not everyone welcomed the coming changes. Some people left to dwell under the ground, taking the old ways with them. Those who remained became the Yaqui.

Tree Gods and Spirits

Another belief about trees sees them as embodying deities, spirits, or simply humans changed into trees by a special fate. Some Celtic and other European peoples worshiped groves of trees as well as particular trees. In the religion of the Druids, oaks were sacred. The ancient Romans associated oak trees with their sky god, Jupiter.

In Greek and Roman mythology, Dryads (also called Hamadryads) were nymphs who lived in trees and perished when their trees died or were cut down. A similar myth from Japan tells of a man who cherished a willow tree. One day he met a girl under the tree and married her, although her past was a mystery. When the emperor ordered the willow tree cut down to build a temple, the man's wife told him that she was the spirit of the tree, and she died as the tree fell to the ground.

Some myths tell of supernatural beings or humans who were changed into trees. 

In Greek mythology, the nymph Daphne turned into a laurel tree when fleeing through the forest to escape the advances of Apollo. Lotis, another nymph who fled from unwanted advances, became the lotus tree. Other transformations symbolized eternal love. In a Greek myth, the gods turned Baucis and Philemon, a devoted old couple, into an oak and a linden tree when they died. The trees grew close together. In Japan, two pine trees growing close together were said to be faithful lovers. Tales from many cultures speak of the dead being reincarnated, or reborn, as trees, and legends and songs often tell of two trees, their branches linked or intertwined, that grow from the graves of lovers.

A Japanese myth tells of a poor elderly couple whose only joys in life were their pet dog and the beautiful blossoms of the cherry tree. After the dog found buried gold for its owners, a jealous neighbor killed the beloved animal. The old man and woman buried the dog under a cherry tree and believed that the dog's spirit inhabited the tree. With wood from one of its branches, they made a mortar—a bowl for grinding grain—that magically produced plenty of flour, even in a time of famine. The same wicked neighbor burned the mortar, but the old man found that its ashes, when sprinkled on the dog's grave, caused the cherry tree to produce its lovely blossoms at any time of year.

Fruit

Fruit appears in myths from around the world. Often it is a symbol of abundance, associated with goddesses of fruitfulness, plenty, and the harvest. Sometimes, however, fruit represents earthly pleasures, gluttony, and temptation. Specific kinds of fruit have acquired their own symbolic meanings in the myths and legends of different cultures.

Apple - Apples are brimming with symbolic meanings and mythic associations. In China they represent peace, and apple blossoms are a symbol of women's beauty. In other traditions, they can signify wisdom, joy, fertility, and youthfulness.

Apples play an important part in several Greek myths. Hera, queen of the gods, owned some precious apple trees that she had received as a wedding present from Gaia, the earth mother. Tended by the Hesperides, the Daughters of Evening, and guarded by a fierce dragon, these trees grew in a garden somewhere far in the west. Their apples were golden, tasted like honey, and had magical powers. They could heal, they renewed themselves as they were eaten, and if thrown, they always hit their target and then returned to the thrower's hand. For the eleventh of his 12 great labors,  Hercules had to obtain some of these apples. After a long, difficult journey across North Africa, he enlisted the help of the giant Atlas, who entered the garden, strangled the dragon, and obtained the fruit. Hercules took the apples to Greece, but Athena* returned them to the Hesperides.

A golden apple stolen from Hera's garden caused the Trojan Warf, one of the key events in Greek mythology. Eris, the goddess of discord, was angry not to be included among the gods asked to attend a wedding feast. Arriving uninvited, she threw one of the apples, labeled "For the Fairest," onto a table at the feast. Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite* each assumed that the apple was meant for her. They asked Paris, a prince of Troy, to settle the matter, and he awarded the apple to Aphrodite. In revenge, Hera and Athena supported the Greeks in the war that led to the fall of Troy. People still use the phrase "apple of discord" to refer to something that provokes an argument.

In Norse mythology, apples are a symbol of eternal youth. Legend says that the goddess Idun guarded the magical golden apples that kept the gods young. But after the trickster god Loki allowed Idun to be carried off to the realm of the giants, the gods began to grow old and gray. They forced Loki to recapture Idun from the giants. Celtic mythology also mentions apples as the fruit of the gods and of immortality.

Today the apple is often associated with an episode of temptation described in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, lived in a garden paradise called Eden. God forbade them to eat the fruit of one tree that grew in the garden—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When they gave in to temptation and tasted the fruit, God drove them out of the Garden of Eden for breaking his commandment. Many people picture the forbidden fruit as an apple because it has been portrayed that way for centuries in European artworks. However, the apple was unknown in the Near East when the Bible was written there. The biblical description of the tree in the Garden of Eden does not name a specific fruit, and in some traditions, the forbidden fruit has been imagined as a fig, a pear, or a pomegranate.

Breadfruit - The breadfruit—a round fruit that can be baked and eaten like bread—is an important staple food in Polynesia. Myths about the origin of the breadfruit are found on several Polynesian islands. One story told in Hawaii takes place during a famine. A man named Ulu, who died in the famine, was buried beside a spring. During the night, his family heard the rustle of flowers and leaves drifting to the ground. Next came a thumping sound of falling fruit. In the morning, the people found a breadfruit tree growing near the spring, and the fruit from the tree saved them from the famine.

Cherry - Cherries can symbolize fertility, merrymaking, and festivity. In Japan, where cherry blossoms are the national flower, cherries represent beauty, courtesy, and modesty. The ancient Chinese regarded the fruit as a symbol of immortality. One Chinese legend tells of the goddess Xi Wang Mu, in whose garden the cherries of immortality ripen every thousand years. Because cherry wood was thought to keep evil spirits away, the Chinese placed cherry branches over their doors on New Year's Day and carved cherrywood statues to stand guard in front of their homes.

Coconut - People in tropical regions consume the milk and meat of the coconut and use the oil and empty shells for various purposes. According to a legend from Tahiti, the first coconut came from the head of an eel named Tuna. When the moon goddess Hina fell in love with the eel, her brother, Maui, killed it and told her to plant the head in the ground. However, Hina left the head beside a stream and forgot about it. When she remembered Maui's instructions and returned to search for the head, she found that it had grown into a coconut tree.

Fig
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Native to the Mediterranean region, the fig tree appears in some images of the Garden of Eden. After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve covered their nakedness with leaves that are  said to be from the fig tree, and Islamic tradition mentions two forbidden trees in Eden—a fig tree and an olive tree. In Greek and Roman mythology, figs are sometimes associated with Dionysus (Bacchus to the Romans), god of wine and drunkenness, and with Priapus, a satyr who symbolized sexual desire.

The fig tree has a sacred meaning for Buddhists. According to Buddhist legend, the founder of the religion,  the Buddha, achieved enlightenment one day in 528   B.C. , while sitting under a bodhi tree, a kind of fig tree. The bo or bodhi tree remains a symbol of enlightenment.

Pear - In Greek and Roman mythology, pears are sacred to three goddesses: Hera (Juno to the Romans), Aphrodite (Venus to the Romans), and Pomona, an Italian goddess of gardens and harvests. The ancient Chinese believed that the pear was a symbol of immortality.  In Chinese the word li means both "pear" and "separation," and for this reason, tradition says that to avoid a separation, friends and lovers should not divide pears between themselves.

Plum -
The blossom of the plum tree, even more than the fruit, has meaning in East Asia. Appearing early in the spring before the trees have leaves, the blossoms are a symbol of a young woman's early beauty. The cover on a bridal bed is sometimes called a plum blossom blanket. The blossom has another meaning as well. Its five petals represent the five traditional Chinese gods of happiness.

The Horn of Plenty - The cornucopia, a curved horn with fruits and flowers spilling from it is a common symbol of abundance and the earth's bounty. The symbol's origin lies in Greek mythology. Legend says that Zeus, the king of the gods, was raised by a foster mother named Amalthaea. She fed the infant god goat's milk. One day one of the goat's horns broke off. Amalthaea filled the horn with fruits and flowers and gave it to Zeus, who graciously placed it in the sky, where it became a constellation.

Pomegranate - For thousands of years, the pomegranate, a juicy red fruit with many seeds, has been a source of food and herbal medicines in the Near East and the eastern Mediterranean. Its many seeds made it a symbol of fertility, for out of one fruit could come many more. To the Romans, the pomegranate signified marriage, and brides decked themselves in pomegranate-twig wreaths.

Pomegranate seeds appear in the Greek myth of the goddess Demeter, protector of grain, crops, and the earth's bounty, and her daughter Persephone. One day Persephone was picking flowers when Hades, the king of the underworld, seized her and carried her to his dark realm to be his bride. Grief-stricken, Demeter refused to let crops grow. All of humankind would have starved if Zeus had not ordered Hades to release Persephone. Hades let her go, but first he convinced her to eat some pomegranate seeds. Having once eaten the food of the underworld, Persephone could never be free of the place. She was fated to spend part of each year there. For those months, the world is plunged into barrenness, but when Persephone returns to her mother, the earth again produces flowers, fruit, and grain.

Strawberry - Strawberries have special meaning to the Seneca of the northeastern United States. Because strawberries are the first fruit of the year to ripen, they are associated with spring and rebirth. The Seneca also say that strawberries grow along the path to the heavens and that they can bring good health.

 

Information Resources: 
Myth Encyclopedia
wikipedia
Encyclopedia Britannica
Library of Congress
Vintage religious art


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