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Here are some unbelievable legends about plants—just for you
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

July 15, 2018

Above, Typical Juniper evergreen foliage in this case loaded with orange-coloured Quince rust; Often considered a weed, Honesty (Lunaria); Verbena is a highly variable annual, this one is ‘Meteor Shower’; and SempAervivum or Hens and Chickens. Below, a field of Marigolds being grown for their seed production in Lompoc California; A pink Hyacinth; Lychnis coronaria (red Campion) shown at the bottom right of this shot in our garden; and Yarrow (Achillea milliefolium ‘Ritzy Ruby’. Author photos.




As you plant your garden, a few thoughts on some of the legends about plants ranging from herbs and perennials to smaller evergreen trees might be of interest to you. For example, a juniper planted by the doorway can prevent witches from entering.

Honesty (Lunaria), a purple-flowered herb, was once believed to contain enough magic to open locked doors, break chains and unshoe horses. And, the common iris or flag was the symbol of an empire during more than one period of French history.

Let's examine these and some other interesting stories about plants. The juniper's special powers could compel any passing witch to count each needle before proceeding, making a juniper at the door a sure fire way to prevent any old hags from coming into one's home. There is an old folk saying that also mentions another way to keep witches away: "Vervain (also known as Verbena) and dill hinder witches from their will." Since both dill and Verbena are now once again increasing in popularity, perhaps gardeners will have fewer problems with witches!

Another well-known herb that had another kind of power in Oriental legend is the basil-now both used as an herb in cooking, and, especially the purple-foliaged form, as an ornamental garden plant. In India, it is said that this is a holy herb, dedicated to Vishnu, whose wife, Lakshmi, it is in disguise. "To break a sprig of the plant fills him with great pain."

The iris was the emblem of Clovis, Sixth Century king of the Franks, and later was adopted by the 12th Century French King Louis VII. It was then called the Fleur de Louise and later became the fleur de lis, which is now the floral emblem of Quebec.

Houseleeks (Sempervivum) too are increasingly being planted, not only in formal gardens (hens and chickens particularly), but also in dry areas, and containers because they withstand drought so well. They are still used to treat burns on the skin. A legend that goes way back says: "Charlemagne commanded that each landlord plant one houseleek on his roof to protect the kingdom against fire, war, hunger and pestilence."

Tales of the origins of plants dispel the thought that most plants start out as a dried-up seed.

According to Mexican legend, a bright marigold sprouted for each native killed in bloody fighting with Cortez' men.

The hyacinth is supposed to have grown from the blood of Hyacinthus, who was accidentally slain by his good friend Apollo, and the perennial anemone, according to one myth, was created for Venus when her lover Adonis was killed by a boar. According to mythology, Venus, the goddess of love, was responsible for the origin of many plants.

The ever-so-lovely maidenhair fern (not one of the many hardy species) was said to have originated from Venus' hair as she rose from the sea. Campion (Lychnis) a group of hardy perennials, which bloom variously from June to August, and vary in height from 10 cm to 1.2 m (4" - 4'), were supposed to have sprung from the ground where Venus poured her bath water.

Still another common perennial, yarrow (Achillea), with medium-growing fern-like foliage, was said to have been used by Achilles to staunch the wounds of his soldiers during the Trojan War. Yarrows, depending on species and variety, vary in height (30 - 120 cm or 12" - 4') and flower colour (yellow, pink, red, and cream) but all are good for hot and dry locations.

While most botanists would not certify any or all of these myths and legends as scientific horticultural fact, they do give the garden's vegetation a little extra glamour.


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