Tag Archives: flower folklore

La Fête du Muguet: 1912

faberge lily of the valley

A spray of lily of the valley in pearl, nephrite and diamonds, c. 1900, by Faberge. http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21517/lot/93/

[In Paris] the palm of popularity must be given to the lily of the valley—the muguet des bois.

What the forget-me-not is to the German Gretchen, the muguet des bois (the wild lily of the valley) is to the Paris grisette, and thus it has been for untold generations. The first of May is known as the Fête du Muguet, and on that day, not only is it traditional for children to make presents of bunches of wild lilies of the valley to their elder brothers and sisters—the flower seems to be dedicated to youth—but in the streets surrounding the opera-house, where all the big dressmakers are, you will see at luncheon-hour troops of the young girl apprentices wearing bunches of muguet in their simple bodices. The muguet brings luck, and it appeals more than any other flower to the humble little Parisienne’s sense of poetry, this delicate spike with its double row of little milk-white bells, its broad tapering leaf, and its peculiarly evocative scent. No doubt she feels that in a sense it reflects herself. Is not her life just such another ringing of the changes on a chime of little silver bells, whose flash and tinkle last for the brief space of a spring season? She has the same native wildness, and simple unconscious elegance. To start forth on a bright Sunday morning for one of the woods near Paris, and pick muguet, is her ideal of a holiday excursion.

“En cherchant du muguet,
Du muguet dans la clairière;
En cherchant du muguet,
Du muguet d-a-ans l-a-a f-ô-r-e-t!”

[In search of the lily of the valley,

the lily in the clearing,

in search of the lily of the valley,

the lily of the valley in the forest!]

she sings, and on her way back she pets her lilies of the valley as if they were human beings: “Oh, the beautiful muguet, how sweetly it smells!” Elaborate are her plans for disposing of it. One large bouquet will remain in her room for at least a week, reminding her every moment of the delightful day she has spent. A few sprays will be given to the concierge, or janitor, whose good graces are to be cultivated; while the remainder will go to grand maman, who will not fail to be tearfully reminded thereby of her own sylvan excursions in search of muguet in those far-off days when there were hardly any railways, and it was half a day’s journey to the woods at Meudon.

According to the herbalists, the petals of the lily of the valley contain a toxic substance, which, like digitalis, has a directly stimulating effect upon the heart. Perhaps this may account, by some subtle process of sentimental telepathy or suggestion, for the charm which the muguet so potently exercises over the heart of those essentially Parisian little beings, all made up of nerves, gaiety, and emotions, the midinette of the dress-making atelier, and the grisette of the Latin Quarter. The street-cry, “Fleurissez-vous, mesdames: voila le muguet!” (Beflower yourselves, ladies: behold the lily of the valley!), followed by, “Du muguet! Achetez du muguet! Du bon muguet parfume!” (Lilies of the valley! Buy the lilies of the valley! Fine scented lilies of the valley!), is one of the oldest in Paris. The muguet harvest is as much a godsend to the pariahs of the Paris pavement as is the hop-picking in Kent to the submerged tenth of the London East End. The May morning has hardly dawned before a procession of ragged, footsore tramps comes streaming into the city from the neighbouring woods, loaded with muguet. On May Day waggon-loads of muguet arrive by train. The flowers are picked when they are still in the earliest bud, for the little Parisian lady likes to see them open out under her own eyes, and so have the illusion that their lives are linked with hers. In some of the great forests round Paris it is forbidden to pick the muguet on pain of a fine; for the pheasants are laying at this season, and to steal the eggs on the pretence of looking for lilies of the valley is a common trick with the villagers.

 Sensations of Paris, Rowland Strong, 1912: pp. 233-236

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: To-day is May Day and instead of the cliches about May Queens and the famously bad weather of the holiday, Mrs Daffodil thought she would post instead about the French holiday of La Fête du Muguet, the feast of the lily of the valley. This is said to have had its origins with the Valois King Charles IX when he was presented with a bunch of lilies in 1561 as a porte-bonheur. Charmed, he began giving the ladies of the court lilies on 1 May.  Mrs Daffodil suggests that lilies of the valley brought  the King himself scant luck: his reign was marred by the French Wars of Religion and the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

In the language of flowers, lilies of the valley mean love, luck, and the return of happiness. They are a favourite of Royal brides: Queen Victoria, Grace Kelly and Catherine Middleton all carried bouquets of lily of the valley.

Despite its name, the lily of the valley is actually a member of the Asparagaceae family. However, you would not dare to enjoy the flower, blanched, with hollandaise sauce. Lilies of the valley are extraordinarily toxic if ingested. This fact may explain the curious Devonshire superstition that it is unlucky to plant a bed of lilies of the valley; the person doing so is likely to die within the next twelve months.

Mrs Daffodil wishes her readers a very happy and clement May Day.


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


In Lieu of Champagne: Mrs Daffodil’s One-Thousandth Post


Mrs Daffodil is pleased to report that to-day marks an anniversary of sorts: the one-thousandth post on this site. Mrs Daffodil should enjoy breaking out the champagne for a toast, or at the very least, passing around a box of chocolate cremes, but, alas, this is impracticable, since her readers are scattered all around the globe.

In lieu of champagne, Mrs Daffodil will share her reader’s best-loved posts and some of her own favourites, interspersed with some cuttings from her fashion scrap-books.

gold sequins sun king fan

“Sun King” fan with tinted mother-of-pearl sticks and guards and shaded copper and gold spangles, c. 1880-1910 https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/fan/xAG2xDgj6hb8LA

Although it is difficult to choose from posts so numerous and wide-ranging, three of the most popular posts shared by Mrs Daffodil were

How to Make Stage Lightning and Thunder: 1829-1900

Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands

A guest post by the subfusc author of The Victorian Book of the Dead on Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914, also made the top of the charts.

Posts about the contemporary costs of fashion were quite popular.

The Cost of a Curtsey: Court Presentation Expenses: 1907

Where That $10,000-a-year Dress Allowance Goes: 1903

What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe: 1907

The Cost of a Fine Lady: 1857

As were stories of how to dress nicely on a budget:

Dressing on $50 to $200 a Year: 1898

How To Be a Well-dressed Young Man on a Budget: 1890

spring green Callot orientalist

1923 Callot Soeurs orientalist dress http://kerrytaylorauctions.com

Some of Mrs Daffodil’s personal favourites include

How to Dress (or Undress) Like a Mermaid: 1868 to 1921

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s

How to Entertain with Impromptu Fruit Sculpture: 1906

A Bashful Bridegroom: 1831


The Dress Doctor: An Ingenious Lady’s Profession: 1894

A Ghost Orders a Hat: 1900

The Angel of Gettysburg: Elizabeth Thorn: 1863

A Shakespearean Contretemps: 1830s 

stumpwork casket with garden

Stumpwork casket with a garden on the lid, c. 1660-1690 http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/39240/stumpwork-casket

Mrs Daffodil thanks all of her readers for their kind attention and she would very much enjoy hearing about their favourite posts on this site in the comments.


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands

lucky violets

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands,

By Edwin Tarrisse

Superstitions with respect to flowers are worldwide. The bride carries a bouquet of white roses, all unconscious of the fact that somewhere on the earth are people possessed of the notion that to smell white roses is “bad for the brain.” Nor recks she, as she sees the same bouquet torn apart by her girl friends in the grand scramble for it, that to pull a flower to pieces—as is inevitable under the circumstances—is a sure sign that you will die of consumption. Had she worn no veil it would have been bad luck to show any flowers at all in the hair. Tuberoses the bride must not wear, as they portend mourning; in Scotland bluebells are barred, as bringing on insanity. Again, happy is the bride who sees white flowers first on her wedding morn; if they be red, look out for sorrow and care.

A lucky marriage may, however, be guaranteed by putting some flowers on the beehives and “telling the bees.”

Certain of the most curious superstitions as to flowers have to do with the seemingly innocent matter of bringing them into the house.  If one keeps a scarlet geranium in the house all the year round some one will surely die in that household, they say. Evidently this fear is not current in some of the seacoast towns, because there it is a common custom to maintain scarlet geraniums indoors all summer, as the winds are not conducive to bedding out of doors. Nor would the Mohammedan theory that the scarlet geranium is really a swallow converted into a flower by touching Mahomet’s robe be accepted. In Scotland bringing a flowering hawthorn into the house foretells a death in the family. In northern Germany it is the cornflower, which used to be the Kaiser’s own bloom, that is barred from the house, lest the bread mold.

In England Devonshire folk hold that it means death to bring into the house a single daffodil, when this flower first appears in the spring. There must be a bunch of them, and the cowslip is similarly hedge in by superstition. A hydrangea in the house “brings trouble,” and snow-drops are “unlucky,” while wild flowers generally prevent the first brood of chickens from hatching. If one wishes a plant indoors to show a large and profuse bloom he must place in the flower-pot some fresh earth from the grave of an infant baptized within twelve months. No yellow bloom should be brought in to the house in May. The house with bergamot near it is never free from sickness. A plant of heliotrope in church will keep in their places any untrue wives in the congregation.

Beware of being “overfond” of flowers: you will never marry. Beware also of picking the red field lily; it will give you freckles. Thistles, although highly decorative, must not be gathered, since the act foretells ‘folly, approaching dispute.” In general, however, it is good luck to gather flowers. To pick roses is a happy omen, and as for violets, complete success in all undertakings follows. Yarrow is a flower that will enable a girl to see her true love, but she must pluck it from the grave of a young man. If she finds saffron instead on the grave, that is a good omen for some one; if there are three yellow lilies the man has been unjustly executed. In England there is a superstition that if a bride and groom eat periwinkle leaves together they will love each other. Should he, after marriage, prove recalcitrant, here is a way to win him back: Take a piece of the root of a wallflower and a partridge’s heart, roll them into a ball and make the man eat it. If you want to learn whether you lover loves you, crush some bleeding heart. If the juice be red, he does; if it be white, he does not.

Witches, of course, must be excluded from the house. The Chinese bring this about—or think they do, which amounts to the same thing—by suspending bunches of herbs and magic plants over the door. In England hawthorn used to be hung over the entrance to a house in May to ward off witches. On May Day the witches, as well as the fairies, are in the gorse, so choose some other time for burning it. If you don’t believe there are any witches there are Dutch folk who will tell you to carry a four-leaf clover on Christmas Eve and let your own eyes convince you.

It is good luck to eat the first mayflower you see in the spring. If it is a crocus, let is alone; in Austria they say it draws away one’s strength. Nor must you dig up a cuckoo flower and tempt luck by moving a wild daisy into the garden. In Egypt the anemone is one of the lucky flowers of spring; wrap the first one in red cloth and, if not disturbed, it will cure disease. On the French coast it is useless to try to catch fish unless the waters are first strewn with flowers by the fishermen’s wives and daughters. In Devonshire they regard it as unlucky to plant a bed of lilies in the course of twelve months. The Turk sees misfortune in so slight a thing as the fall of a rose petal and will sometimes guard against such dropping by carefully picking the flowers before they fall apart. In Samoa the head of a corpse is wreathed in flowers to aid the soul to gain admission into paradise.

Augusta [GA] Chronicle 7 March 1920: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Given these many and varied prohibitions, it is a wonder that anyone manages even a single herbaceous border. One more superstition about lilacs:


Is the Lilac, For She Who Wears It Will Never Wed

“She who wears the lilac will never wear the wedding ring,” runs the old proverb, and although the scent of the flower is sweet and its tints are fresh and universally becoming it is contraband among the village maidens in England.

A single boutonniere of lilac has been held responsible for solitary spinsterhood. For the same reason mothers with marriageable daughters never allow a jug of the sweet smelling blossoms inside the house. It may stand on the outside window sill, but “there’s no love luck about the house” when there are lilacs in it. To give one’s sweetheart a spring of the flower is the death blow to the most secure of engagements. White lilacs are even more fatal to love affairs than the colored ones; they are, in fact, as ominous as an opal ring. Love, however, laughs at artificial flowers, and only the real tree grown one can come between the lover and his lass.

Stony-hearted bachelors sometimes sport a lilac boutonniere as a charm against feminine blandishments. Londoners do not share the superstition, and use the flower freely for decoration, regardless of the unlucky attributes.

Cincinnati Enquirer 1 August 1900: p. 6

Queen Adelaide, consort of King William IV, was apparently unafraid of lilacs, although, to be fair, she was already married when she commissioned her famous Honiton lace dress whose flower patterns, included lilacs, spelt out her name.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.