That Pretty April Daisy

By Mary Ann Perry

“Without the bed her other faire hand was
On the green coverlet; whose perfect white
Show’d like an April daisy on the grass,
With pearly sweat, resembling dew on the night.”
— Shakespeare, from The Rape of Lucrece

Daisy is the April herb specified by the English Herbal Calendar. To the English, the most common daisy is Bellis perennis, whose genus name means pretty in Latin. The daisy obtained its scientific name in mythology. Vertiumnus, the guardian deity of orchards, undesirably pursued a young, tree nymph, granddaughter of Danaeus, powerful king of Argos. She appealed to the gods and they transformed her into a humble flower named Bellis, thereby escaping her fate.

Daisies symbolize innocence, simplicity, a newborn baby, sympathy and cheerfulness in the language of herbs. The red daisy means unconscious thoughts and beauty unknown to the possessor. Dreams of daisies in the spring bring months of good luck. To dream of your lover place your shoes outside the door and daisy roots under your pillow.

The white daisy suggests innocence and “I share your sentiments.” The wild daisy of the fields communicates, “I shall think about it.” According to ancient Celtic legend daisies appeared from the spirits of children who died at birth. God sprinkled these bright lovely flowers across the earth to cheer the grieving parents.

During days of chivalry and knighthood, suitors wore daisies and waiting ladies included them as designs on mementos. After a proposal, a traditional young maiden wore a garland of daisies on her head signifying her response. Victorian maidens relied heavily on the daisy in their perfection of flower language message sending. Daisy was also a popular girl’s name in the Victorian era and up until the 1930s.

After the rose and the lily, daisies were written about the most by such famous authors as Euripides, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Goethe, Robert Burns, Ben Johnson, Shelley, John Clare, Robert Herrick, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, John Keats and many more. John Keats, on his deathbed, said he could already feel the daisies growing on his grave, a feeling that survives today in the expression “pushing up daisies”. Goethe immortalized the daisy in Marguerite’s desire to know Faust’s love for her as she plucked the daisy petals and chanted, “He loves me. He loves me not.”

Daisy has many descriptive names. Some of them are: “eye of the day”, “day’s-eye”, gowan, moon daisy, moon flower, thunder flower, Saint John’s flower, bruisewort, goose flower, “beloved by children”, “moon pennies”, dog daisy, ox-eye daisy, marguerite, herb Margaret, Mary’s Star, “trembling star”, Mary’s flower of God, and “priest’s collar”.

Chaucer observed that daisies closed their petals at night, thereby the name “eye of the day” and “day’s eye”. Because the flower looked so much like an eye, daisies were also thought to cure eye problems.

Gowan is of Scottish origin and although meant daisies, it sometimes denotes any field flower. Daisies are called thunder flower because they were thought to guard one against thunder and lightening. Lutheran priest’s starched, white collars resembled bright, white daisy petals thereby daisy gained another name, “priest’s collar”. Because daisy flowers mixed with water were used to treat bruised skin, the daisy became known as bruisewort. In olden days daisy flowers were also thought to hold powers that removed warts, stunted growth and cured insanity.

Throughout the ages daisies became emblems of many celebrations including those of the Church. Daisies or Saint John’s flower are symbolic on May 6th in honor of St. John the Evangelist. Churches are decorated with daisies on June 11th, St Barnabas Day.

The Marguerite Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) or herb Margaret is the floral emblem of St. Margaret, whose feast is celebrated July 20th. Herb Margaret is most likely attributed to Margaret of Anjou who was no saint. She was the ruthless and extremely ambitious wife of Henry VI who, in 1422, succeeded to the thrones of both England and France. She had daisies embroidered on her personal banner.

A Christian legend has it that the wise men, on their journey to greet the newborn Baby Jesus, asked for a sign to show them the location. As they looked about, they spied clusters of small white, ox-eye daisies near a stable. They immediately recognized the resemblance to the star that had led them and rejoiced as the door opened to reveal the Holy Family.

That humble little April flower is immortalized, richly entwined in mythology, history, literature, folklore and the magic of youth and innocence. One could never send a bad message with daisies. Maybe the daisy has been rewarded because it symbolizes so many good and virtuous things. Daisy is more than that pretty little April Flower.