One of the mainstays of winter flower tubs and baskets are Pansies and Violas. They offer a wide range of welcome colours in an otherwise drab season. Despite their seeming delicacy, they bounce back after the worst that the winter weather can throw at them.
Pansies and Violas tend to be thought of as different-sized varieties of the same plant – with Pansies the larger of the two. Look at the petals closely. A Pansy has four petals pointing upwards and just one pointing downwards. A Viola has two petals pointing upwards and three petals pointing downwards. Pansies were bred to be larger flowers from Violas, so they are close relatives. Pansies are Violas, but not vice versa. Violas are the hardier of the two and offer more flowers per plant. Pansies are more flamboyant. Personally, I enjoy planting a mixture of the two.
The flower’s German name is Stiefmütterchen, meaning little Stepmother. You are probably already aware that stepmothers do not get a good press in German fairy tales. The stepmother is inevitably evil. The flower’s structure is the heart of the tale. The evil Stepmother is symbolised by the lower petal: the biggest and the most beautiful. She had two daughters represented by the mid-sized petals. As in all fairy tales, all unpleasantness and misfortunes are visited on stepdaughters symbolised by the smallest and faded petals. That is not the end of the legend. God turned the situation and flower around. The stepmother got a sharp spur. Her daughters received unattractive moustaches.
The Russian Legend is a tragic tale. Once upon a time there lived a friendly and trusting girl with a pure heart. One day, she met a young man who came to her village. He promised to come back for her and take her with him. Every day, the girl waited for him, but he never turned up. The girl withered away and died. An amazing tricolour flower grew on her grave. White symbolised the girl’s hope at the start. Yellow represented her astonishment that her intended did not come back. Finally, purple symbolised the shattering of her dreams and death.
French symbolism for the flower is thankfully more cheerful. The name Pansy derives from the French word pensée meaning thought. In the Victorian language of flowers, it conveyed that you were thinking of someone. It suggested admiration and love.
© Karen Andrews
References and Further Reading
- Complete Landscaping (2016): The Difference Between Pansies and Violas. 5 October 2016.
- Kuo, Leslie (2011): Berlin: Rogue pansies, wild on the streets. Urban Plant Research. 14 September 2011.
- Mainstreetartisans.com (2019): Glaube und die Legende von Stiefmütterchen. Literatur 2020.
- Signification des fleurs (2020): Les pensées et leurs signification.
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