Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


1.  I’ve a friend who’s a gypsy; they say you shouldn’t take any plants indoors.  And they won’t take flowers into hospital – flowers die, and you don’t want that [London Fortean Society, November 2022].

2. [North Gloucestershire, 1940s]  Flowers should not be left in hospital wards at night, they take up oxygen from the air [South Croydon, Surrey, December 2018].

3.  In Latvia if you give someone flowers it must be an odd number; even numbers are associated with funerals [Morden Hall Park, Morden, Surrey, June 2016].

4.  Conversation with a woman on the Waterloo to Exeter train, Monday 9 May 2016:                                                                                                                       R:   What are those flowers [carnations, Dianthus caryophyllus and baby’s breath, Gypsophila paniculata] to celebrate?                                                               W:  I’m taking them down to my parents.  My husband is from Korea, and yesterday they were giving out posies at church as it was Parents Day.  These were left over, so I’m taking them to my parents.  Next Sunday is Teachers Day.

0115.  Flower arrangement in Chelsea Old Church, London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea,  22 March 2015.  The church was abundantly decorated with white flowers, presumably for a wedding the previous day.  Until recently most Anglican churches banned flower decorations during Lent, when weddings were also discouraged: ‘Marry in Lent, Live to repent.’

6. My grandmother was very superstitious. She wouldn’t cross on the stairs, if she dropped something she would ask someone else to pick it up for her, wouldn’t wear green jewellery, wouldn’t have cut flowers in the house, covered mirrors during thunderstorms, if she broke a mirror she would dig a hole, breathe on a shard of glass, and bury it.
Back in Ireland she was a midwife, herbalist and washed the dead ready for burial [Birmingham, November 2011].

7. My mother never let me keep flowers, especially poppies, in my bedroom, because they would make me drowsy; they ‘sucked out the oxygen’. Thetford, Norfolk, 1969 [Natural History Museum, London, December 2004].

8. There is this theatre superstition that you should not have live flowers on stage. I’ve been told, but I don’t think I believe it, that if fresh flowers fell there is a danger that the performers might slip [Paddington, London, July 1990].

9. It is unlucky to pick up flowers which have been dropped on the ground (brings sickness to the house!) [Aberdovey, Gwynedd, July 1983].

10. My brother-in-law will never pick up any flower someone has dropped in the road or street, he says one is picking up an illness! [Findern, Derbyshire, March 1983].

11. [Basingstoke area, Hampshire] When I was a girl my mother told me I must never touch flowers during my period, or they would wilt and die! [Maida Hill, London, December 1982].

Main image: Clifton Cathedral, Bristol, February 2015.