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Forget-me-nots are any one of a number of species of flowering plants in the genus Myosotis. Its common name was calqued from the French, ne m'oubliez pas and first used in English in c. 1532. Similar names and variations are found in many languages.
Although there may be up to 100 species in the genus, only those native to the Northern hemisphere are commonly called Forget-me-not. Many are popular in gardens, preferring moist habitats. In areas where they are not native, they have frequently escaped to wetlands and riverbanks.
Forget-me-nots may be annual or perennial plants. Their root systems are generally diffuse. Their seeds are found in small, tulip-shaped pods along the stem to the flower. The pods attach to clothing when brushed against and eventually fall off, leaving the small seed within the pod to germinate elsewhere. Seeds can be collected by putting a piece of paper under the stems and shaking the seed pods and some seeds will fall out.
It is possible that the genus originated in the Northern Hemisphere although it is equally possible that evolution occurred in New Zealand. One or two European species, especially the wood forget-me-not, Myosotis sylvatica have been introduced into most of the temperate regions of Europe, Asia and the Americas.
Folklore and legend
In a German legend, God named all the plants when a tiny unnamed one cried out, "Forget-me-not, O Lord!" God replied, "That shall be your name." Another legend tells when the Creator thought he had finished giving the flowers their colours, he heard one whisper "Forget me not!" There was nothing left but a very small amount of blue, but the forget-me-not was delighted to wear such a light blue shade.
In 15th-century Germany, it was supposed that the wearers of the flower would not be forgotten by their lovers. Legend has it that in medieval times, a knight and his lady were walking along the side of a river. He picked a posy of flowers, but because of the weight of his armour he fell into the river. As he was drowning he threw the posy to his loved one and shouted "forget me not". It was often worn by ladies as a sign of faithfulness and enduring love.
Margaret Freeman, who cites the use of forget-me-not as a token of steadfastness by several fifteenth-century German love poets, speculates that the color blue, associated with fidelity in the Middle Ages, may have contributed to the flower’s meaning.
Prior to becoming the tenth province of Canada in 1949, Newfoundland (then a separate British Dominion) used the forget-me-not as a symbol of remembrance of that nation's war dead. This practice is still in limited use today, though Newfoundlanders have adopted the Flanders Poppy as well.
Freemasons began using the flower in 1926 as a symbol well known in Germany as message not to forget the poor and desperate. Many other German charities were also using it at this time. In later years, by a handful of Masons, it was a means of recognition in place of the square and compass design. This was done across Nazi occupied Europe to avoid any danger of being singled out and persecuted. Today it is an interchangeable symbol with Freemasonry and some also use the forget-me-not to remember those Masons who were victimized by the Nazi regime. In English Freemasonry it is more commonly now worn to remember those that have died as a symbol that you may be gone but not forgotten.
The forget-me-not is used as the flower of remembrance of the Armenian Genocide, which took place between 1915 and 1923. It is a prominent spring plant throughout Europe on the 24 April, which is the anniversary of the day the genocide began, and its name in many Indo-European languages conveys the same meaning of 'remember'. The Republic of Armenia issued an official illustration of the flower as a badge for the remembrance in preparation for the 2015 centenary.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, "The mouse-ear forget-me-not, Myosotis laxa, has now extended its racemes very much, and hangs over the edge of the brook. It is one of the most interesting minute flowers. It is the more beautiful for being small and unpretending; even flowers must be modest."
In his 1947 long poem "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction," Wallace Stevens mentions the forget-me-not, using its scientific Greek-derived name:
- It observes the effortless weather turning blue
- And sees the myosotis on its bush.
Keith Douglas, 1920–1944, wrote his poem "Vergissmeinnicht" (forget-me-not) about a dead German soldier in World War II whose body is found by the poet with a photograph of his girl with her words written "Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht".
- Richard C. Winkworth, Jürke Grau, Alastair W. Robertson & Peter J. Lockhart (2002). "The origins and evolution of the genus Myosotis" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 24 (2): 180–193. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(02)00210-5. PMID 12144755.
- Sanders, Jack. The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History. Globe Pequot, 2003. ISBN 1-58574-668-1. ISBN 978-1-58574-668-2.
- When This You See, Remember Me, Metmuseum.org Friday, May 10, 2013
- Jeff Stokes (May 31, 2010). "Das Vergissmeinnicht". Retrieved 4 July 2011.
- Virtual-loi.co.uk[dead link]
- In anticipation of the milestone year of 2015, the Republic of Armenia issued the illustration at left as the official emblem of the worldwide observance of the centennial year of the Armenian Genocide. http://www.armenianchurch-ed.net/uploaded_files/tinymce/files/pdf/GenocideEmblemExplanationFlyer.pdf
- Thoreau, Henry David; Blake, Harrison Gray Otis; Emerson, Ralph Waldo; Sanborn, Franklin Benjamin (1884). The Writings of Henry David Thoreau 6. p. 109.