The cornflower is a relatively small flowering plant that is native to the temperate climate of Europe but has since made a home for itself in fields and valleys around the world, especially in North America.
They are annually growing that can reach heights of anywhere from 15 inches to 35 inches tall.
It is best known for its bright blue flowers, which are arranged in rings of capitula, or flower heads, that form rings around the center of the flower.
It is part of a larger family of flowering plants call Asteraceae, which includes many other well-known flowers such as sunflowers and daisies. They’re a flower that is certainly in good company!
And that’s not even touching on the sheer variety of cornflowers in themselves. Cornflower actually refers to a genus of related flowers that share key similarities.
There are actually approximately 500 different species of flowers, just in the Centaurea family, the Latin name for the genus of the cornflower.
They have been a popular plant across the world for hundreds of years, being a favorite in many people’s gardens, although they did fall out of favor somewhat in Europe in the 20th century.
However, the flower is making a comeback in its home turf and is now a plant that many conservationists want to see do well in European countrysides once again.
Etymological Meaning Of The Cornflower
The terms ‘cornflower’ and its genus name ‘Centaurea’ have a fascinating etymological history that spans much of European history.
‘Cornflower’ as a term is relatively simple. It is the merging of the two root words ‘corn’ and ‘flower’. Both of these words have their origins in older forms of English and French. In Old English, ‘corn was another term used to describe grain, or plants that were grown and eaten as agricultural crops.
‘Flower’ is known in Older French by its other terms like ‘flour’, ‘flur’, ‘flor’, ‘floyer’, to describe the blossom or flourish of petals that adorns the top of flowering plants.
‘Cornflower’ refers to the proximity that this plant would often grow to many places used for agricultural purposes, as the arable soil that cornflowers grow in would have been needed for growing many grain-based crops, a point we will discuss later.
‘Centaurea’ is Latinized version of the word ‘Kéntauros’, the Greek word for the mythological centaur animal. In Ancient Greek myth, the wise centaur Chiron was the individual who discovered the medicinal properties that the flower and plant have, a topic for its own sections.
Because of this, the cornflower genus’ scientific name was given after the beast that discovered its uses in folklore.
Symbolism Of The Cornflower
In European folklore, the cornflower was a popular symbol of love for young men who were searching for their one true love. An alternate name for the cornflower is ‘the bachelor’s button’. It was said that a flower that bloomed for a long time would signify that the man’s love would return to them.
By the same token, a cornflower that wilted sooner than expected meant that they would not return to them. Because of this old folk wisdom, the cornflower became a symbol of devoted love and all that entails, including patience, faithfulness, and prosperity for the potential groom.
They have also been used as a symbol of a person’s devotion to others, especially a parent’s devotion and love for their children. The story of Louise, Queen of Prussia during the Napoleonic wars, hiding her children in a field of these flowers to protect them is a famous example of this, and a story will return to when it comes to discussing the cornflower’s cultural significance.
Their rarity in many parts of Europe, especially in recent years, has also made them a symbol of exotic and rare beauty, as well as a sign of refined tastes and wealth.
This is also the case for many other places where it is now found, as the flower was imported to many gardens in North America, Australia, and Asia.
Cornflower Color Meanings
Cornflowers come in a whole range of different colors. Whilst a deep blue is by far the most well-known variety, some cornflowers are pink, purple, yellow, and even black in some very rare cases.
These are just some of the meanings that have been tied to the most popular colors:
- Blue: The most common color you’ll find, the blue cornflower, is a color that represents a stillness of mind and the calmness that is often associated with that tranquility. They are a beautiful color to add to something if you would like to bring that calming presence out of the wild fields, and into your garden or home.
- Purple: With purple being a royal color, this color of cornflower is typically associated with ideas of power and tradition. Purple cornflowers are also grown in hardier soils, so can also symbolize strength alongside these other meanings
- Yellow: Yellow flowers signify joyfulness and good luck in many flowers, and the cornflower is no exception to that rule. Given that the appearance of a yellow cornflower is rare, good luck is certainly the case here!
- Pink: A pink cornflower has much of the same meaning as the blue variant, being a calming color and shade. The pink also adds a playful meaning to the color, as well as a romantic element to this plant. This is a color of serene, tranquil love that a partner can have for their significant other.
Meaningful Botanical Characteristics Of The Cornflower
Cornflower grow best in soils that have a neutral or slightly higher pH, preferring levels around 7 or slightly higher.
The root systems of cornflowers are incredibly tough and durable once they are well-established in good soil for them. They do not suffer from many plant diseases that other flower plants may suffer from (although they are susceptible to a few types of fungal infections), and they are not usually a large target for pest animals.
Their root system is very tough to remove once it has grown enough, which can be a pain when it comes to preparing a field for crops that this plant typically enjoys living in.
Despite their wide distribution and status as a plant of ‘least concern’ on the global scale, they have received ‘protected’ status in many European countries. Cornflower used to be found widely spread across Europe but is now considered an endangered species on the continent.
Centuries of demanding agriculture, and an increasing amount of herbicides being used to maintain that agricultural output, have driven the flower to become a rare sight in many European countries.
In a strange turn of events, some variants of Cornflower have developed a resistance to many herbicides, and are actually now considered a noxious weed in many places where it grows.
This means that it is an invasive plant that is detrimental to the growth of agricultural and cultivated plants. In Cornflower’s case, it is a particularly damaging plant to many crops grown on arable lands, such as rapeseed and cereal plants.
This is somewhat compounded by the fact that they can be used to help control the population of insects that feed on crops. They attract large numbers of Microplitis, a genus of small braconid wasp, which is a major consumer of cabbage moths, one of the main pests that spoil cabbage crops.
Special Occasions For The Cornflower
Cornflower is the perfect gift to give someone on virtually any formal occasion, whether that’s on a birthday, for a wedding, to wish someone a speedy recovery if they have been ill, or even as a grieving flower at a funeral.
For a birthday flower, the cornflower functions as a hope that good fortune will be in the coming year for the recipient, especially if they are in the process of doing something new in their lives, or about to start something new. That could mean a new job, perhaps as a retirement gift, or even for those who are in the midst of a difficult time.
A cornflower at a wedding ties the flower back to its roots as a flower of romance and devotion, especially from the aspect of the groom.
Having a cornflower in the bouquet, whether fresh or dry, is a wish on the part of the newly wedded couple that the marriage is long-lasting and filled with good fortune for all parties involved, as well as a sign that the groom’s devotion to the love of his life has been rewarded.
As a recovery flower, it functions very similarly, as it is a wish of that fortune smiles on the person recovering, and that whatever ails them will eventually pass, so long as the ill party remains determined to heal.
Cornflower Cultural Significance
The flower has been a major piece of symbolism for many countries in Europe.
The Latin name for the plant genus, Centaurea, actually takes its roots from the centaur creatures of Greek myth, many of which were considered characters of great wisdom and medicine. The most famous centaur with these traits was probably the Chiron, the wisest of the centaurs.
In more recent cultural history, the cornflower is a symbol that is strongly tied to recent German history of the last 200 years. Queen Louise of Prussia reportedly hid her children in a field of cornflowers, to hide them from Napoleonic forces that had been pursuing them.
The fact the color of the Prussian military uniform at the time was the same as the flower only reinforced this connection.
As Prussia was assimilated into the nation that would become Germany, the cornflower’s significance was carried over to the new country, along with many other German-speaking people of Europe.
This would, unfortunately, become a negative aspect for the flower in the 20th century, however, as many members of the Nazi party of Austria would use the cornflower as a secret symbol to show their allegiance to German expansion and pan-German supremacy, functioning as a political dog-whistle to those in the know.
It’s one of the reasons why the flower became very unpopular in many central and Eastern European countries in the mid and late 20th century, for fear of being associated with the Nazi party and politics.
The flower has, however, over the last few decades, begun to reclaim its status as a cultural symbol of many European countries, as many political parties and organizations across the political spectrum have now adopted the symbol of the cornflower into their imagery.
In France, the cornflower is also popularly associated with the 1918 Armistice on November 11th as a tribute and symbol of military veterans, in much the same way that the red poppy function in both the United Kingdom and Canada.
Of course, the beautiful blue petals of the cornflower make them a popular choice for people who want them as bright ornamental plants across the world. This is why many examples of this plant are found in non-European countries, such as Australia and the United States.
Many cornflowers were exported as decorative plants in people’s gardens and arrangements before they eventually find their way into the wild and established themselves.
The cornflower plant has been shown to have several mild medicinal uses, being shown to have effective anti-inflammatory properties, especially for very sensitive parts of the body, such as for the eye.
They have also been evaluated as a plant that may be useful in tackling metal pollution of soil. Specifically, it appears to be effective at reducing the amount of lead contamination in the soil where it grows.
This is especially true in places where bacterial growth that encourages biodiversity allows cornflower to grow better, making it even more effective against lead pollution.
The flowers that cornflower plants produce are actually edible and can be eaten in many ways, whether that’s dried, cooked with other ingredients, or just eaten raw. It isn’t uncommon to find their flowers being used as a decorative, colorful garnish to another food.
They can also be used as an ingredient for making various types of tea. Lady Grey Tea uses the petals of the cornflower in its production.
Symbolism Of A Cornflower Tattoo
Cornflowers as tattoos can be a simple, yet elegant design that people can have tattooed onto them, especially in the last few years as the plant’s popularity has blossomed.
The image of the flower is meant to bring joy to whoever has its image etched onto them, especially if the person is a woman. It is also a sign of devotion and purity, with its light blue tones, but not to come off as too cold to others, like a white flower can sometimes symbolize.
There’s a sense of playfulness attached to this cool-blue tone.
A tattoo of cornflower and a sword is also a popular image for those who have a feisty spirit, tying this classic European flower into old folklore, bringing a calmness of mind to a warrior’s heart that will benefit them in the heat of battle.
This is a tattoo that a person with a passionate or stubborn spirit may get if they also want to try and focus that raging energy within them.
As we can see, this humble little flower may appear to be a simple, delicate little thing. But as its characteristics, its various colors and symbols, as well as its ties to culture and history, show that it is a tough little flower, and that appearances don’t mean anything when it comes to what isn’t so obvious as just a pretty petal face.
We hope that this guide has shown that to you, and given you an appreciation that you might have otherwise missed.
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