Writing my way through the A-to-Z blogging challenge, I’ll be using manicules (those pointing finger symbols) to direct your attention to something I’m pondering that delights or interests me. Each entry is somehow related to an unusual, obscure, or simply charming to me word.
W is for…
wallflower – 1) yellowish-red color 2) common name for Erysimum, a genus of climbing flowering plants 3) shy person
Oh, I do love a word with three (or more) definitions. Let’s see if we can find how these three definitions connect. The third definition (shy person) is how I first knew the word. It was years later when I wanted to know how wallflower was connected to a shy person, that I discovered it was a flower. And finally, most recently, in my studies of colors, particularly obscure and old colors, I came across its first definition.
In the 1570s wallflower came to describe a type of floweing plant cultivated in gardens, native to southern Europe, where it grows on old walls and in rocky places. The Latin name for this flower is Erysimum cheiri, although I imagine at some point, any flower suitable to growing on stone and masonry fences and walls became known simply as wallflowers.
Thanks to Gutenburg Project who has published online the 1884 edition of “Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics” I discovered the wallflower was first introduced from Spain as Wall Stock-Gillofer, which became known as Wall Gilliflower, and finally Wallflower. It also offers the legend that a fair maiden was kept prisoner in a tower. A suitor, who her father didn’t approve of, sang a song beneath her window and convinced her to climb out and run away with him. But as she tried to slide down the walls, she fell fell and died. Wallflowers sprang up from where she lay, and climbed the walls.
Henceforth minstrels and troubadours took to wearing a bouquet of wallflowers as a sign that their love survives time and misfortune.
Other lore suggested that dreams of wallflowers meant that the object of one’s affection would be true and constant; that a sick person would recovery soon; and if a woman dreams of picking a wallflower for her bouquet, the worthiest of her admirers had yet to propose to her.
Wallflower, and other plants of the Erysimum genus were initially used as medicinal plants, but by the time of floriography, the Victorian language of flowers, they were used to convey the meaning of “fidelity in adversity” and “enduring beauty” and “friendship.”
The above photo offers a glimpse at how wallflower became associated with the definition of the color yellow red.
The first recorded use of wallflower to describe as shy person is 1820. It meant a person who from shyness or unpopularity remains on the sidelines of a social activity, likely propped up against the wall.
I am unquestionably a wallflower – I’m incredibly shy, a happy recluse, and extremely introverted. I’m happy to press myself against a wall, preferably costumed in a color that blends with the wallpaper.
Years ago I played a wonderful collaborative “game” with a artist friend. We were somehow sharing an interest in textiles, storytelling, and collaborative work. So we each filled a number of pages in our respective journals with images of people in various clothing and snippets of fabulous fabrics. Then we’d trade journals and we’d write stories about the characters the other person had depicted. Sometimes we’d write stories and then the other person had to “illustrate” the character. It was tremendous fun, and it was such a delight when our own journals came back to us after a round and we could pore over what had been added.
I look through the journal periodically, and this is a page I created. The fabric is heavily textured, and the story my friend wrote is about a wallflower. It makes me laugh now to see that the color is very much wallflower too. I guess you could say I knew my true colors.
What about you? Are you a wallflower? Have a particularly favorite climbing flower? Is wallflower a color you like? Do tell – you know I’d love to hear.