MOTHERS LOVE FLOWERS, DON'T THEY?
Millions of colorful bouquets and countless roses in just about every color under the sun are being delivered this weekend for Mother's Day, the one day of the year when Mom is recognized for all she does the other 364. • But the original intent of honoring mothers was far simpler, and the flower of choice was bland by today's standards. The demure white carnation, considered pure and faithful, represented the virtues of motherhood, among them love, charity and beauty. • It all began exactly 90 years ago tomorrow, when Anna Jarvis honored all the mothers at a church in Grafton, W.Va., with white carnations, her late mother's favorite. The idea caught on, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday of May as Mother's Day. • Now it's one of the busiest days for florists, who create elaborate arrangements in fanciful containers for the occasion. Don't forget to add the chocolates, balloons and teddy bears on the side.
But the connection between mothers and flowers endures for longer than just a day. Many flowering plants are associated with motherhood, and many are named for mothers, famous or not. Some produce beautiful blooms that undoubtedly flatter their namesake, while others don't exactly complement motherhood — certainly not in the way envisioned by Anna Jarvis.
Anyone can name a plant. Usually a new plant is created by a commercial breeder, then named; or a gardening enthusiast breeds a new plant at home, names it and registers it with a horticultural organization. Some plants are easier to create than others, and that's how we end up with thousands of individually named hibiscuses, lilies and roses, for example.
Among roses there are "Roxie's Relaxed Mom," "Mother Mary McKillop," "Grandmom Schmidt," "Mother Marie" and "Dyllan's Mom" — just a few of the unknown mothers who surely baked cookies, changed diapers and bandaged cut knees. There's even a deep pink rose named "Thanx Mom."
Plenty of famous mothers have flowers named in their honor, including Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana and many other women of nobility. U.S. first ladies typically have a rose named in their honor, beginning with Martha Washington in 1889. Many of these varieties are grown in the White House rose garden, which is named for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a devoted and protective mother.
You can buy roses in the First Ladies rose series from the largest U.S. rose breeder, Jackson & Perkins. Included are hybrids named for Laura and Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan and Lady Bird Johnson.
Lots of married gals hold claim to lovely hibiscus blooms, including "Mrs. Helen Spangler," "Mrs. Mary Johnson" and "Mrs. James E. Hendry." No doubt some of them did the wash, ironed shirts and mended torn trousers. For all those without a hibiscus to their name, there's the miniature gold and red variety called "Mother's Day."
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who bore six children (one died in infancy), is the namesake of a tropical green-and-yellow croton you'll occasionally find at local nurseries. Pair it with the croton named for her husband, Franklin D. Roosevelt, for true harmony in the garden.
The succulent plant "Mother of a Thousand" is aptly named because it produces a multitude of tiny pink, magenta or orange flowers in its full blooming glory. At other times, it's a gangly plant that some people think is unattractive, but perhaps it's taking a much-needed rest from bearing all those blooms. This mother of a plant asks little in the way of care, but if you completely ignore her, she'll invade your garden.
"Mother-in-Law's Tongue," or "Snake Plant," is a tropical plant noted for its pointedly sharp, long and stiff growth habit. Unbending and poisonous, it's a tough stalwart whose underground rhizomes are difficult to completely remove from the garden, if desired. But when she's happy, this plant produces lovely, fragrant white flowers.
A search of plant names didn't turn up a flower dedicated to Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother's Day, who was childless. She abhorred the commercialization of Mother's Day by the floral industry and spent most of her life campaigning against it. When she died penniless and alone in 1948, it was the very group she despised — florists — who paid to bury her.
Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a master gardener for Pinellas County.