Wildflowers in British History

Flowers have made for popular symbols all over the world and throughout history, be it on a banner or in a window basket. Some are still seen a lot today and are highly ingrained in our traditions, whereas others have faded into obscurity. Either way, it’s a weird and wonderful feeling to look at flowers out in the wild, knowing the marks they’ve made on the world outside the meadow they’re growing in.

Take, for instance, the Yellow-Flag Iris, thought to be the flower that inspired the fleur-de-lys! Originally, this three-petalled insignia was used in Britain and France alike as a symbol of royals, saints and knights; archaeologists have reported its appearance on coins and crests as early as the 14th Century. And it’s withstood the test of time, commonly around the world today- all from a little yellow flower easily grown by the side of a pond!

Another flower seen in British history is the red-and-white Tudor Rose. However, this emblem is purely symbolic, combining the colours of the houses of Lancashire and York following their unity at the end of the Wars Of The Roses- so you won’t have much luck finding one in the wild.

By contrast, Scotland’s national flower is the thistle which grows in its highlands- supposedly it earned this fame by saving some sleeping Scots from a Norse ambush by pricking one of the attackers, causing him to cry out in pain. One might not be interested in a flower with such sting; fortunately, its lesser-known cousin Knapweed is a lot softer, with the same pretty purple flowers!

Wales’ national flower is the daffodil, though its origins are still debated. Meanwhile, Ireland is represented by the Clover - more specifically, by its iconic trefoil leaves known as the shamrock. It’s often confused with the lucky four-leafed clover, but the classic three-leaved variant is the most important- the three leaves themselves are said to stand for faith, hope and love.

On a more recent and local level, the counties of Britain county all have their own traditionally-associated flower, too: our home base Lincolnshire is represented by the Dog Violet; Nottingham city is represented by its namesake Nottingham Catchfly (which is sparsely seen anywhere else), and Yorkshire is represented by the Harebell, to name a few. The latter is also the county flower of Dumfriesshire in Scotland, and that’s far from the only bit of overlap - the Foxglove is claimed as the county flower for Leicestershire, the majority of the West Midlands, Argyll in Scotland and Monmouthshire in Wales!

Perhaps the most famous wildflower growing around Britain is the Common Poppy, for bittersweet reasons that hardly need explaining. As poppies often grow in disturbed ground, it was commonly found growing on battlegrounds following the First World War, most notably in the region of Flanders in Belgium. It has since become a symbol of remembrance around the world.

History has its ups and downs, but some things hardly change. We’ve been appreciating flowers since society started, and there’s no real reason to stop now. If you’re feeling patriotic, why not look up your county’s flower to grow in your own garden? Better yet, use them as a base for a magnificent meadow with colours perfectly combined!