Flowers and Colours

by Unknown

Some one has said that our English language is not rich in words describing colours; occasionally we have to join two words, as when we speak of something being bluish-green or reddish-brown. It is different in China, where the people have a large number of words for colours, belonging to their singular language. Many of the names of these colours have been taken from flowers. In Britain we find that colours and flowers are sometimes linked together; a plant has had its name from a colour, or that of a colour has come from a plant. This has rather an odd result now and then, because flowers may alter their colours; there are white bluebells and white violets, and gardeners can raise crimson primroses. Again, people who stroll in the lanes or fields have seen such a curious object as a white blackbird, though it is rare.

The violet has given its name to a shade of blue—really blue with a purple tinge. Some violets look decidedly red. The dog violet is usually of a lighter blue than the sweet-smelling species. It does not seem to have been called 'dog violet' because it had any connection with dogs; the word 'dog' was an expression of contempt, and forms part of the name of other English plants that were not admired. Some violets have been raised of so deep a blue as to appear nearly black. The blue wild hyacinth has given name to a colour, not very unlike the violet tint; it is sometimes called the bluebell, but pink ones may be found in woods, and garden hyacinths are of various colours. Other bluebells belong to the Campanula family.

In the olden time, one of the London street cries was, 'Fine lily-white onions!' the lily being commonly spoken of as a white flower. Yet we have several kinds of lily that are not white: 'Lent lilies' are yellow, and the showy tiger lily is red and black. Yellow is a common colour among the crocuses and plants akin to them; saffron, taken from one of these, has been used as a dye for ages. But of course our gardens show blue and white crocuses, with other hues. It is curious that Homer speaks of the dawn being 'saffron-robed.' We may notice ourselves that sometimes, at sunrise or sunset, the sky is first deep yellow, and then red.

Our gardens exhibit irises of many colours: blue, white, and brown kinds are well known, but it is thought the plant took its name from Iris, the Greek name for the messenger of the gods, and from the rainbow, because the Greeks knew a plant of this kind which had three or more colours in its flower. There is very little doubt that the Latin name of 'rosa,' given to the queen of flowers, means red, that colour being familiar before white and yellow roses had been grown. The carnation was so called because one kind was like flesh colour, a tint of red; but many carnations are much darker. Wild and garden pinks we all have seen, but the commonest 'pink' nowadays is white. Again, we have lilacs that are white, and not of lilac colour. Lavender is a colour taking its name from the flowers of the fragrant herb; we might describe it as a sort of blue-brown. Mauve is a colour approaching the hue of the marsh-mallow. Cerise, a French name for a colour, is really the same as our cherry.