Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Pansy Faces

Royale Garden Bone China
Staffs, England

My mother’s favorite flower was the pansy. It was her lifelong favorite, with no deviation or change of thought. Although she loved all flowers and had a degree in botany, the humble pansy was always her favorite. As a child, I remember her showing me how each pansy had a face. And each face was unique and expressive in its own way. It seems especially meaningful to me now that she is gone that the pansy means “thought” or “remembrance”. The word itself can be traced back to the French word, pensée. The pansy is a flower with several nicknames. Each name was given because of a specific quality applied to this flower. My favorites are “Jump Up and Kiss Me” and “Heart’s Ease”. Or how about this one --- Three Faces Under a Hood”? Sometimes the pansy is called “Viola Tricolor”. Other names referenced are “Cull Me to You”, “Tickle My Fancy”, "Live in Idleness”, “Kiss Her in the Pantry”, “Johnny Jump Up”, “Monkey Faces”, “Peeping Tom”, and “Three Faces in a Hood”. So many names for one simple, little flower!

In “Language of Flowers” by Kate Greenaway, pansies are said to represent “thoughts”. In Victorian times, a maiden found a pansy that was left by an admirer, it meant that “I am thinking of our forbidden love”. It was much more romantic to let her know by giving her the flower rather than putting it in writing or saying out loud. But, the custom did not go both ways! If a lady gave a pansy to a man she admired, it was considered bad luck! Times surely have changed!

Dorothea Dix, an American nurse and activist who lived in the Civil War era seemed to admire the pansy too. She said that “perhaps no to be so universal a favorite, as the viola tricolor; none currently has been honored with so rich a variety of names, at once expressive of grace, delicacy and tenderness.”

Another famous American was Clyde Tombaugh. He was an astronomer who made discoveries in our solar system. But clearly he didn't always look up. It appears that he also took time to appreciate little things close to the ground, like pansies. He is famous for asking "how does a pansy, for example, select the ingredients from soil to get the right colors for the flower? Now there's a great miracle. I think there's a supreme power behind all of this. I see it in nature".

The pansy is an edible plant. Both the blossoms and the leaves are safe to eat. References in the past show that the leaves were used by the Celts to make tea (actually a tisane, which they used as a love potion) and Culpeper, a 17th century English writer, refers to a syrup made from the flowers that was used medicinally to cure certain unsavory diseases.

The pansy is the subject of legend and lore in every culture where this pretty flower blooms. I especially enjoyed learning what American pioneers thought of this flower. They felt that if they picked a handful of these flowers in the spring and brought them into the farmhouse, prosperity would ensue. If the custom was neglected, harm would come to their baby chicks and ducklings. Pioneer children made dolls out of the pansy blossom. Using the pansy flower for the faces, they would add leaf skirts and twigs for arms and legs. So beautifully inventive!

I am linking this post to Bernideen's Tea Time Blog "Open House" meme today.


  1. I love this - the cup and saucer are really pretty. I welcome your pansies today as it is snowing in Colorado today!

  2. One of my Mom's favorite flowers, too. They really are beautiful in salads.

  3. Well now, I knew about pansy faces, but nothing of the rest of these wonderful stories. I do know that Dorothea Dix was born in my state, specifically the town from where half of my family hails. That doesn't seem to be much of a connection to your wonderful telling of the pansy's story other than that's where my thoughts took me.

  4. Beautiful flower and story of colorful pansy. I've heard it represented the trinity. Maybe a sermon that stuck in my head. Admiring you pansy teacup and saucer.

  5. Pansies have been favorites of mine, too. :)

  6. Pansies were my grandmothers favorite flowers and I grew to love them also. She had a beautiful pansy garden that the rabbits loved also. Your pansies are so pretty and I love the cup with pansies. sandy

  7. Oh this is one of my favorite post that you have done! I want to copy it and save it.
    Love your salad post too...just working backwards! LOL

  8. I do love the pansy and enjoyed reading so many thoughts on this humble little sweet flower. Your teacup is so pretty too.

  9. Well now, who knew such a pretty little delicate flower had such a history and is known by so many different names. Very interesting. :) Tammy

  10. I am getting caught up on blog reading this morning. I had no idea you were writing about flowers and pansies, or I would have been reading every day. But even though I am delayed, my enjoyment of your thoughts have fresh and timely. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and photos on this delightful subject. I am enjoying pansies on my porch every day this season, and the petunias are planted on the deck for the hotter months.


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