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Derived from the French word, pensée, which means “thought,” the dainty and colorful blooms of the pansy are a thoughtful gift to bring mom or dad on their birthday. Sometimes called violas, these highly stylized, hybrid flowers have been a lovely addition to the garden since the late 1800’s and are immensely popular as a bedding plant tucked into the border or in a pot all by themselves. Whether your parent likes to garden or simply sit and enjoy a nice flower, the happy, nodding faces of pansies turn towards the sun and brighten up any landscape. Pansies make an excellent gift tucked into a pretty new decorative pot on the porch and come with a whole lot of stories to tell. Whether mom or dad is into history, art or politics, celebrate their birthday with a plant that gets them thinking.
Pansies in History
In olde English, the pansy is known by the common name, “hearts-ease.” Associated with St. Euphrasia, a venerated nun known for her humility from which the term “humble violet” stems, this flower was often found growing wild on hillsides around Europe and the Mediterranean. Most likely, this was the species Viola tricolor, known by a myriad of common names, such as “Johnny-Jump-Up” or “Love-in-Idleness.” In the middle of the 1800’s, the daughter of an English Lord, Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet went around gathering different varieties of this heartsease flower and, with the help of her estate’s gardener, crossbred many together, producing a wide spectrum of new cultivars and color combinations. Around the same time, another English lord was busy crossing this naturalized plant with a viola from the mountains of Russia. The results were the larger blooms and darker centers of many of the pansies we see today.
Pansies in Art
Shakespeare couldn’t get enough of these flowers, with Ophelia scattering them along with daisies in Hamlet and Oberon calling out for them in A Midsummer Nights Dream. Featured in the work of both van Gogh and O’Keeffe, the iconic pansy has played the muse for many a masterpiece.
Pansies in Politics
Who would have thought that the gentle, nodding heads of these dainty flowers would be swept up in the winds of politics and philosophy. Used over the centuries as an emblem for Freethought and Humanist thinking, this flower’s symbolic meaning for “thought” has been adopted by both secular movements and sororities to represent free will and deep concentration. Many attribute this connection to the human face-like features of the flower. Along with your smiling face, give your parents the gift of thought with the pensive pansy.