Greek mythology remains a fascinating piece of literature for people all over the world. The creativity and vibrancy behind some of these stories can only be admired,
and it is even more interesting to learn about their associations with flowers that we can find every day. It feels like we have a small piece of history of our own – right there in our garden!
If you would like to know more about how these Greek flowers have influenced tales surrounding Theseus, Artemis and Aphrodite, carry on reading to discover nine native Greek flowers and the myths behind them!
9 Native Greek Flowers And The Myths Behind Them
Aconite, also known as wolfsbane, is a poisonous flower that has a huge amount of mythology associated with it. Its name supposedly comes from the Greek word akon, which means dart or javelin – and these weapons were actually poisoned with aconite in historic Greek times.
In Greek mythology, it was believed that Hecate, the goddess of magic and witchcraft, created aconite. It has a sinister appearance with hooded, purplish-blue flowers, and it is one of the most poisonous plants in the world.
While it is not known why Hecate initially invented it, it was used by numerous people in Greek mythology.
For example, one of the legends states that Cerberus, the three-headed hound that guarded the gate to Hell, had saliva that could create aconite.
When Cerebus was taken out of Hell and onto Earth, by Hercules, its saliva developed a strange quality. Wherever its saliva landed on the floor, aconite would grow from the ground, leaving a poisonous trail in its wake.
Another myth follows how Theseus was presented with a glass of wine that had been laced with aconite. He was trying to reunite with his long-lost father, King Aegeas, but the King’s wife, Medea, recognized who he was before the King did and tried to poison him.
King Aegeas recognized Theseus as his son just before Theseus went to drink the aconite wine, thus saving his life.
Aconite can grow up to a meter tall, and they are fond of rocky and mountainous areas. If you choose to grow this flower, they like to be kept in partial shade, and the soil has to be light and well-drained. However, grow aconite with caution!
Daffodils are vibrant yellow and white flowers, that have a beautiful trumpet-shaped center. They like to bloom in most types of climates, and they can grow in cold or hot weather.
Interestingly, daffodils do also go by another name – Narcissus. Narcissus is also the name of a Greek legend, who was famous for his vanity.
The myth goes that Narcissus was sought after by every woman in his village. However, he was too obsessed with his own beauty to notice anyone else. Because of his callousness towards the women who admired him, he ended up breaking the heart of a nymph named Echo.
To punish him for his cruelty, Nemesis (the god of revenge) lured him to a pond. He became so fixated with his own reflection in the pond that he fell in love with his own beauty.
To try to get closer to the ‘love of his life’, he ended up jumping into the pond, where he eventually drowned.
Daffodils are best planted during fall before the ground freezes over winter. This means that when spring comes around, they will bloom in moderately warm temperatures with lots of visible sunlight!
Also known as the poppy, the anemone is a stunning flower that is graced with blood-red flowers. These are indicative of their associated myth – the death of Adonis.
The story goes that Aphrodite was infatuated with a mortal named Adonis. However, he was attacked by a wild boar. By the time Aphrodite heard his cries and ran to him, he was already dead.
To commemorate him and display her love for Adonis, Aphrodite created the anemone – from Adonis’ blood.
Anemones need to grow in soil that has good drainage, and they can both blossom in pots and the ground. They like both partial and full sunlight. There are a huge number of anemones, and you can find red, white, purple, and pink blooms.
Hellebore (Christmas Roses)
Hellebore, also known as the Christmas Rose, is a perennial that is easily identified by its yellow-green flowers and thick, leathery leaves. While this plant can be toxic, it was also used in Ancient Greek times as a treatment for insanity.
It was told that Dionysus, the god of fruitfulness and vegetation, wanted to take revenge on the King of Argos because the King refused to worship him. Dionysus enacted this revenge by driving the King’s daughters to madness.
This meant that they were running through the city weeping and screaming, and nothing could console them.
King Argos decided to plead with Melampus, a seer, to save his daughters. Melampus found the daughters in the mountains and cured them of their insanity using hellebore.
Interestingly, hellebore only starts to bloom in the winter – from February. They simply need water to survive (sunlight is optional), and they are an incredibly hardy species. With their strong roots and determined blooming pattern, they are very handy for filling a garden in any type of weather!
The name ‘Aster’ comes from an Ancient Greek word meaning ‘star’. This is representative of the aster’s star-shaped blooms, which grow in an explosion of pinks and purples.
There are multiple myths surrounding the aster’s beginning, all seeming to do with loss. The first one centers around Astraea, a maiden and daughter of the goddess of justice and innocence.
When Zeus decided to flood all the earth in an attempt to get rid of war amongst men, Astraea was so saddened by what she saw that all she wanted to do was become a star.
While this did come true for her, the placement she had as a star meant she was able to witness all the destruction that was caused by the flood. She cried and mourned for this loss, but as each of her tears landed on earth, they formed a flower – the aster.
Another myth of the aster follows Theseus and King Aegeus. When Theseus, a hero, set sail to kill the Minotaur he promised King Aegeus (his father) that he would switch out his black sail for a white sail when he arrived back home in Athen, as a sign of his victory.
While Theseus did defeat the Minotaur, he forgot to change his sail, which meant that he arrived in Athens with a black sail.
King Aegeus took that as a sign that Theseus had died in combat, so he killed himself. It was said that where King Aegeus’s blood landed on the ground, asters bloomed in the blood’s place.
Aster flowers like to bloom in the sun. If they are grown in the shade, their flowers will be limited! While they can be grown from seeds in the spring, it can be quite difficult to see them through to bloom.
This is why they are most often bought as a potted plant, then placed in the ground once spring comes around.
Also known as Campanula, the bellflower most definitely gets its name from its appearance. They have beautiful upturned flowers in the shape of bells, and they come in a huge variety of sizes and colors – the most common, however, being a blue or purple hue.
The story for the bellflower starts with Aphrodite’s beauty, as was one of her most defining features. Aphrodite owned a looking glass that was infamous and infused with magic. It is said that anyone who looked in this looking glass would only see true beauty.
This mirror was lost, and a shepherd boy accidentally came across it. However, he refused to give it back. This is because once he had looked in it, he became obsessed with his own beauty!
Aphrodite soon sent her son, Eros, to retrieve the mirror for her. While Eros does eventually find the mirror in the hands of the shepherd boy, Eros is careless with his retrieval.
He hit the boy’s hand, and the mirror falls to the ground. It breaks and shatters into a thousand pieces. However, everywhere a piece of this mirror lands, a flower soon grows in its place. This flower is the Bellflower.
Bellflowers thrive in cold temperatures, and they particularly love hard winters. However, they do also require direct sunlight for their flowers to fully bloom. Interestingly, once their blooms have appeared, they can withstand huge periods of drought – they only need water to establish the flowers.
The Dianthus flower is more commonly known as the carnation. It is a perennial that has beautifully frilled margins, and these plants are most often found in various shades of pink hues.
Dianthus stems from a legend involving the goddess of the hunt and childbirth, Artemis. The story goes that Artemis was going on a hunt, but she was unsuccessful in retrieving any animals.
On her way back, she stumbles across a man playing the flute. However, she is incredibly angry about how badly her hunt went, and she blames this man for her failure.
In this fit of rage, she unthinkingly gouges the man’s eyes out. Her rage subsides once she has done this, and she is immediately filled with regret. Where the blood landed on the ground when she dropped this man’s eyes, dianthus flowers immediately began to grow.
Dianthus flowers can actually be grown as a winter annual bloom, but this is only when there is a light frost over the winter. If the temperature causes a hard freeze, the flowers will die. They should be planted in any location that will receive at least 6 hours of sun, and they thrive in alkaline conditions.
Hyacinth flowers are a wonderful signifier of spring. They are perennials that come in a lovely range of colors, including blues, pinks, whites, and lilacs.
Hyacinths supposedly come from a beautiful Spartan prince in Greek mythology. He was admired by many people, including Boreas (God of the North Wind), and Zephrus (God of the West Wind).
However, he chose Apollo to be his lover. Apollo was incredibly infatuated with Hyacinth, and he took him all over the world while teaching him many talents like music and gymnastics.
Apollo wanted to teach him how to play quoit, which involves throwing a discus. When Apollo threw the discus to show Hyacinth how to do it,
it was said that the jealous Zephrus (who couldn’t accept that Hyacinth chose Apollo over him) used his power to blow the discus off course. This meant that it hit Hyacinth in the head and killed him.
While Apollo tried everything he could to bring him back, he couldn’t cure the head wound. To remember Hyacinth, Apollo created the flower from Hyacinth’s blood.
Hyacinths are incredibly susceptible to root rot, so you will need to avoid overwatering the plant if you are growing it – especially if it is in a pot. As well as this, they don’t like direct sunlight, so they will need to be situated in partial shade.
One thing to bear in mind is that their flowers are known to cause irritation when touched by exposed skin, so you should wear gloves when taking care of your plant!
While Iris is the name of a Greek goddess, it is also the Greek word for a rainbow! This represents the rainbow-like array that you can create with Iris flowers.
Iris, the Greek goddess of colors, fertility, and the sea and sky, was supposedly the messenger between earth and the gods – particularly Zeus and Hera. She also used rainbows as bridges between heaven and earth.
This is why many Greek people believed that rainbows were actually Iris’ robes in all of their colorful glory. Greek people also thought that Iris flowers were part of her dress, especially the multicolored Iris flowers.
There was also a tradition for Greek people to plant purple Iris flowers on the graves of deceased women. They thought that this would encourage Iris, the goddess, to take these women to heaven.
Iris flowers are perennials that can grow from either rhizomes or bulbs. Their blooms are in the shape of a fan, and they contain six-lobed flowers that contain a huge number of colors.
They prefer dry climates and rocky, mountainous areas, as long as the soil is well-drained. Interestingly, some species of Iris can bloom as early as February!
To Sum Up
These native Greek flowers have an incredible amount of history and mythology attached to them. While some of them may be a bit more temperamental to grow than others, they will all look stunning once they have bloomed in your garden – and the mythological presence will certainly be a wonderful talking point!