The Secret Life of Flowers
In the Language of Gods and Godesses, Kings and Commoners
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While a delightful symbol of late spring blushing into the glorious stretch of summer, an alpine meadow tossed with wildflowers represents so much more than a bending, nodding wave of blue and magenta, gold and crimson. Wildflowers are essential to the health of our environment. They feed insects, birds, and even humans, hold the soil together, and serve as a base for many modern medicines—in fact, flowering plants provide almost 25 percent of the basic ingredients for our modern drugs. Long before European settlement, Native American Indians were masters at using plants medicinally and written records exist from the ancient Greeks who first identified and categorized plants as early as 300 B.C. The following guide includes nomenclature, myths and some little known facts for a small sampling of the many wildflowers found beside the streams, along the hillsides, and hidden among the rocky crevasses of our Idaho landscape.
Western Blue Flag Iris
Iris Family • Iridaceae
Symbol: Faith, wisdom, valor and victory in war.
Fact: One of the oldest cultivated plants by royalty, records of iris date back to the 1400s B.C. when Egyptian kings engraved it on their scepters as a symbol of royal power and majesty (it was also placed on the brow of the sphinx); popularized again by King Louis VII of France who adopted it as the “Flower of Louis” or fleur-de-lis. Native Americans used iris roots to treat sores on their legs. Historical uses most commonly include perfumes, as well as a flavoring from the root used in czarist days in Russia for a soft drink, or suspended in beer barrels in Germany to keep the beer from going stale.
Legend: Named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow (presumably for the many different colors of the nearly 1,500 species of iris worldwide), who was the messenger between humans and the gods atop Mount Olympus. Iris flowers were often placed on the graves of women in honor of the Greek goddess, who was said to lead the souls of women to the Elysian Fields after they died.
From Left: Arrowleaf Balsamroot - Aster/Sunflower Family · Compositae
Rocky Mountain Aster - Aster/Sunflower Family · Compositae
Pearly Everlasting - Aster/Sunflower Family · Compositae
Western Columbine - Buttercup Family · Ranunculaceae