Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Spring daisies

A widespread belief in England was that spring had arrived when a number of daisy, Bellis perennis, flowers could be covered by one foot.  Typically:

‘Spring had arrived when you could put your foot on seven, or in some places, nine, daisies – the number could vary even between neighbours’ [Wicken, Cambridgeshire, April 1993].

As this quote suggests there appears to be no correlation between the number of flowers and local  climate or geology.

The earliest known record of this belief, recorded in Notes & Queries, 2 ser. 3 (1857), unfortunately gives no geographical information:

‘”It ain’t spring,” said an old cottager to me “until you can put your foot upon twelve daisies”.’

Similarly unlocalised is a saying given in M.E.S. Wright’s A Medley of Weather Lore (1913): ‘Spring is here when you can tread on nine daisies on the village green’.

In 2017 a Surrey contributor to P-LA writing of her childhood in Birmingham in the 1940s recalled: ‘If you could step on nine daisies it was Maytime.’

Another correspondent, writing in January 2022 about her childhood in Bryngwran, Anglesey, noted: ‘It was nine daisies for summer.  10 meant double summertime’.  Double summertime, when clocks were moved forward two hours, lasted from 1941-5.

Mrs Hardy in a short note on Sussex folklore, published in Folk-lore, vol. 25 (1914) gives seven as the required number.

According to Niall Mac Coitir, in his Irish Wild Plants, Myths, Legends and Folklore (2006), the number of daisies needed could be only three:

‘In Britain it was believed that spring had not arrived until either three, nine or twelve daisies could be covered by a person with their foot.’

However, he adds: ‘In Ireland it was … believed that if a person stood on the first daisy they saw in the new year, that they would be “pushing up the daisies” themselves before the year was out!’

Images:  main, Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk; inset, St Albans Riverside, Hampton, London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, both February 2022.

Revised 18 March 2022.