Though they are called pansy’sthese hearty little flowers are anything but wimpy. They are one of the toughest flowers, they are perfect for our climate, and thrive here in Canada. This little flower has inspired many a poem, picture and story.
According to Wikipedia: “The pansy is a group of large-flowered hybrid plants cultivated as garden flowers. They are derived from viola species Viola tricolor, hybridized with other viola species. The hybrids are referred to as Viola. The common word “pansy” and “violet” are often used interchangeably. When a distinction is made, plants considered to be pansy’s have four petals pointing upwards and only one pointing down. Violets, have three petals pointing upwards and two pointing down.”
A purple Pansy is the symbol of the Royal purple of Canada, it was chosen as a national emblem, because the pansy grows all over Canada, and because it means “pleasant thought” which fits in well with the Principles of the Royal Purple, which are Justice, Charity, Love and Fidelity
The Many names and Meanings:
The name pansy stems from the word pensée meaning “thought” in French. It was named this because the Face of the flower resembles a human face, and in the mid-to-late summer it nods forward as if in deep thought. The Victorian meaning of the name pansy means “to think” particularly of love ,for example; if a young lady found a pansy left for her by her secret lover, it would mean “I am thinking of our forbidden love.” However if given to a man it is considered bad Luck. Violets, on the other hand mean “modesty,” therefore the term “shrinking violet”. Colors can also influence the message for example, a pink shade can symbolize a young love, whereas blue can mean being true and faithful.
Other names for this popular little flower are : The Stepmother(in Scandinavia, Scotland and German speaking countries), Flammola or “little flame” in Italy, In Hungary, it’s known as the “small orphan”.
The Pansy also has dozens of common names, such as Johnny-jump-up, and the little face like patterns on the pansy have given rise to such names as: monkey faces, peeping toms, and three faces in a hood. Its supposed magical powers, regarding love, have resulted in such names as cull-me-to-you, Tickle-my-fancy, kiss-her-in-the-pantry, and heart-ease.
Stories, Folklore and Myths:
The three colors of the original Pansy, purple, white, and yellow, were thought to symbolize loving thoughts or memories- all things that ease the heart of separated lovers. The flower was also sometimes called the “Herb trinity” as the three petals were thought to represent the Christian Doctrine of the trinity.
In German and Scottish folklore, the name “stepmother” came from the large lower petal, being the mother, and the two larger petals, on either side, being the well-dressed daughters, and the two upper smaller petals being the poor stepdaughters.
Other German folklore says, that once the pansy had a very strong and beautiful smell. People would come from miles around to smell it. However in doing so they would trample down the grass surrounding the pansy’s, ruining the grass for cattle. Because of this the pansy prayed to god for help and God then gave the plant great beauty, but took away its smell.
According to the “doctrine of signatures” pansy leaves, which are heart shaped, were used to cure a broken heart.
Pansy’s were also used to foretell the future for King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. They would pluck a pansy petal and look for secret signs. Four lines meant hope. If they were thick and leaning towards the left, this meant a life of trouble, towards the right signified prosperity. Seven lines meant a constant love, eight streaks meant fickleness, nine meant a change of heart and eleven signified disappointment and an early grave.
American pioneers thought that a handful of Pansy’s being brought into the farmhouse in spring ensured prosperity.
A game called “Violet war” was once popular where two players would intertwine the hooks where the pansy blossoms meet the stems and then attempt to pull the flowers apart, much like wishbones. Whoever pulled off the most of the flowers head was the winner.
Ancient Greeks considered violets a symbol of fertility and love and made love potions from it.
Pliny recommended that a garland of violets worn on the head, would ward of dizziness and headaches.
So you can see the Pansy had many roles throughout history in Folklore.
Pansy’s in Art and Literature:
Pansy’s play a huge role in many well-known plays, especially in those of William Shakespeare. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream the juice of a pansy is a love potion. In Hamlet, Laertes wishes that Violets may spring from the grave of Ophelia, and even Ophelia refers to them herself “There’s pansies, that’s for thoughts”.
A Proverb states, “Violet is for faithfulness, which in me shall abide, Hoping likewise that from your heart you will not let it hide”
Harte mentions the pansy’s pious humility “From brute beasts humility I learned; and in the pansy’s life God’s providence discerned”.
In visual art, in 1926 Georgia O’Keefe created a famous painting of a black pansy called, “Pansy”. She later followed it up with “White Pansy” in 1927.
Pierre-Joseph Redoute painted a Bouquet of Pansies in 1827 and in 1874; Henri Fantin-Latour painted “Still Life with Pansies”. In 1887, Mand met viooltjes, was painted by van Gogh and in 1951 Disney’s animated, Alice in Wonderland, featured an entire chorus of singing pansy’s.
Clearly there is more to a pansy then just being a hearty little grower, they have played a major role in human activities and stories for centuries. But for most of us, it’s the beautiful colors such as yellow, orange, red, white, pink and even nearly black, and their amazing ability to survive our weather. Growing well in sun, or even partial shade. They are a beautiful addition anywhere they are planted. So next time you are planting your flower garden, think of not only the beauty, but the history they will add to your garden.