Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Bachelor’s buttons

A glance at the Local Names page on this website will reveal that the name bachelor’s buttons has been given to approximately 30 plants.

In Devon and Somerset bachelor’s buttons was a name for burdock (Arctium spp.) and one can imagine an undomesticated bachelor attempting to hold his clothing together using burdock burs.

052Many ornamental plants which produce small, multi-petalled flowers have commonly been given the name: the double-flowered form of sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica) in
Northamptonshire, feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) in the West Country, tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and ‘an old-fashioned variety of chrysanthemum’ (Dendranthema cv.) in Somerset, a ‘small rose [Rosa cv.]  not much bigger than a daisy [Bellis perennis]’ in Lincolnshire, and kerria (Kerria japonica) in Dorset and Wiltshire.  Possibly the wearing of such flowers hinted at the ‘artistic sensibilities’ which in the 1890s were associated with the green carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) worn by Oscar Wilde and his circle.

Other plants which have been called bachelor’s buttons have symmetrical, colourful flowers: corn cockle (Agrostemma githago) and marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) in Dorset, Somerset and the Isle of Wight, cornflower (Centaurea cyanea) om Derbyshire and Yorkshire (and in the U.S.A.), shining cranesbill (Geranium lucidum) in Lancashire, herb robert (Geranium robertianum) in Kent, water avens (Geum rivale) in Northumberland, and white campion (Silene latifolia) in Gloucestershire, Sussex and north Yorkshire.

Adapted from R. Vickery, Garlands, Conkers & Mother-die, London, 2010: 112-3; see also the Local Names page on this website.

Images: main, flore pleno form of kerria, cultivated, Merrion Square, Dublin, April 2017; inset, flore pleno form of feverfew, cultivated, RSPB Wildlife Garden, Flatford, Suffolk, September 2015.