Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


Throughout almost four decades of collecting for Plant-lore Archive nothing has been received about forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica), yet early in the twentieth century numerous postcards were produced depicting this plant.*

The herbalist Henry Lyte (1529?-1607) mentions that forget-me-not was known as scorpion-grass, and had ‘none other known name than this’, but Hilderic Friend, writing in 1884, states: ‘The forget-me-not is still worked into rings and other ornaments for wearing on the person, and in all the European languages bears a name similar in meaning to our own.’

109Various legends account for the name, the most wellknown being that given in Charles Mill’s History of Chivalry (1825):                                              Two lovers were loitering on the margin of a lake, one fine summer’s evening, when the maiden espied some of the flowers of the Myosotis growing in the water, close to the bank of an island, at some distance from the shore.  She expressed a desire to possess them, when her knight, in the true spirit of chivalry, plunged into the water, and, swimming to the spot, cropped the wished-for plant; but his strength was unable to fulfil the object of his achievement, and feeling that he could not regain the shore, although very near it, he threw the flowers upon the bank, and casting a last affectionate look upon his lady-love, he cried ‘Forget-me-not’, and was buried in the waters.

038Primary source:  H. Friend, Flowers and Flower Lore, London, 1884.

Images: main, postcard, posted Tooting, London, 2 May 1924; upper inset, bunch of forget-me-nots placed on the monument of James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose, executed 21 May 1650, St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, November 2015; lower inset, detail of decoration depicting a female saint (Mary the Virgin?) surrounded by forget-me-nots, on fan, Cathedral Shop, Toledo, Spain, August 2015.

*Since writing this two contributions have been received; see Material Collected.

Updated 10 October 2023.