Cornflowers provide a rare, natural glimpse of blue in living nature. These familiar yet striking flowers aren’t just pretty to look at; they also have a rich history of meaning and symbolism that spans the ages throughout human civilization.
The Symbolic Meaning of Cornflowers – The Essentials
Cornflowers symbolize love, fertility, tenderness, unity, the future, hope, anticipation, devotion, fidelity, reliability, remembrance, delicacy, prosperity, and wealth. In the Victorian language of flowers, they represented celibacy.
The Centaurea plant genus contains more than 700 species of plants, including the Centaurea cyanus. This is a species of flowering plant in the Asteraceae (daisy, composite, aster, and sunflower) plant family. It is commonly called cornflower or bachelor’s button.
Cornflowers are annual plants that produce slender, branching stems that grow to be about one to three feet tall. When in bloom, the plants have circular inflorescences (or flower clusters). The flower heads are button-shaped. A few large ray florets spread out to form the circle’s outer portion, and a cluster of smaller ray florets fill in the center.
The flowers are most commonly a striking blue color. However, they can also be purple, pink, or white.
History and Origins
Centaurea cyanus is native to northern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean region, growing naturally in countries including Italy, Greece, Turkey, Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, and Syria.
The species is considered an archaeophyte in Britain and Ireland because it was introduced to the areas in ancient times during prehistory in the Iron Age.
The species has also been widely distributed and is now naturalized across much of the globe. While this distribution is concentrated across the Northern Hemisphere, the plant has also been naturalized in certain areas around the equator and in the Southern Hemisphere as well.
The genus name, Centaurea, is a Latinate derivative of the Greek word kentauros which means centaur. The specific name, cyanus, is a Latinate form of the English word cyan which is a vibrant color of greenish aqua blue. This particular name was assigned to the cornflower, even though the most common cornflower blossoms tend to be more of a pure blue or bluish purple.
The plant earned its common name, cornflower because it tended to grow alongside corn (and other grain-type crops such as oats, rye, wheat, or barley) as a weed. So, since these flowers tended to pop up alongside corn plants, they became known as cornflowers.
The common name bachelor’s button refers to the button-like shape of the plant’s inflorescence. It may also have come from the practice in which young, eligible bachelors would wear cornflowers in their buttonholes during the Victorian era.
Uses and Benefits of Cornflowers
Cornflowers offer a variety of interesting uses and benefits:
Cutting Gardens and Ornamental Gardens
Although many regard cornflower as a weed, the flowers are really quite attractive and striking to look at. Several varieties have been cultivated for ornamental purposes. With their long stems, they do well in cutting gardens in addition to borders, beds, and cottage gardens.
Pollinators and Birds
Cornflowers will also attract butterflies and birds to a garden.
Food and Drink
Cornflowers are edible. Although they don’t offer much in terms of taste, their vibrant-blue petals create a major visual impact. They’re commonly used to adorn desserts, drinks, salads, oils, and cheese. Additionally, they’re commonly included in tea and are a frequent ingredient in lady grey tea mixes.
The natural pigments responsible for cornflower’s blue petals are often extracted and used as a natural pigment, especially in food products.
Some studies have shown that cornflowers are adept at extracting and removing lead deposits from contaminated areas when certain bacteria are present in the soil.
The flowers, leaves, and seeds of cornflowers contain several pharmacologically active compounds. Some of their medicinal applications include anti-inflammatory use, antioxidant use, and gastrointestinal benefits.
The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Cornflowers
The Modern Meaning and Symbolism of Cornflowers
Cornflowers have a long list of symbolic meanings associated with them. These include love, tenderness, fertility, unity, the future, hope, anticipation, devotion, fidelity, reliability, remembrance, delicacy, prosperity, and wealth.
Common Cornflower Colors and Their Symbolic Meanings
The different colors of cornflowers have their own symbolic significance.
- Blue Flower Meaning – Peace, tranquility, hope, and striving for the unattainable
- Purple Flower Meaning – Royalty, nobility, power, dignity, elegance, and wealth
- Pink Flower Meaning – Gentle affection, admiration, and femininity
- White Flowers Meaning – Purity, chastity, innocence, sympathy, and mourning
The Meaning and Symbolism of Cornflowers in the Language of Flowers
Several different Victorian-era texts provide references for the language of flowers (floriography). Two of these list bachelor’s buttons (another common name for Centaurea cyanus) as representing celibacy.
An earlier language-of-flowers text references a “corn flower” as representing perseverance. However, this “corn flower” is denoted with an abbreviated scientific name, “Githago.” This is likely referring to the Agrostemma githago, an entirely different plant from the carnation plant family that is today commonly called corn-cockle.
Cornflower Meaning in Victorian Times
The symbolic association of cornflowers – or bachelor’s buttons – with celibacy is perhaps why bachelors often wore the flowers in their buttonholes. This signified their status as bachelors and subsequent availability/eligibility for marriage. As a result, bachelor’s buttons have also come to symbolize love and have become a popular flower choice for men’s wedding boutonnieres.
Cornflower Meaning in Ancient Egypt
In ancient Egypt, cornflowers symbolized fertility and life. Artistic depictions of them have been found on walls, floors, earthenware, and jewelry dating back as far as the stone age (4 millennia B.C.E.).
Along with olive branches and poppies, cornflowers were included in floral collars and burial wreaths adorning King Tutankhamun’s tomb. It is believed that cornflowers were placed in graves at this time to help the deceased reanimate.
Cornflowers in Greek Mythology
According to Greek mythology, the centaur, Chiron, used cornflower plants to heal Achilles after a poisoned arrow wounded him.
Cornflowers in Christianity
Cornflowers are poisonous to slugs, which are a common symbol of the devil in Christianity. As a result, cornflower plants became a powerful symbol of Mary and Christ. They’re depicted in famous Christian artwork and are commonly present in church architecture and decor.
Cornflowers in State and Official Symbolism
Cornflowers have a long history of official and state symbolism in Europe. They are or have been the official flower and/or symbol of the following countries and organizations:
- Estonian Conservative People’s Party
- Austrian Freedom Party
- Finnish National Coalition Party
- Liberal People’s Party of Sweden
- Winchester College
- Dulwich College
- German-American Steuben Parade
The cornflower is also the national symbol of the November 11, 1918, armistice in France.
Cornflowers in Art
Cornflowers have historically been a popular subject in fine art. Consider these famous works of art depicting cornflowers:
- Wheat Field With Cornflowers, 1890, Vincent van Gogh
- Cornflowers, 1894, Isaac Levitan
- Group Portrait With Cornflowers, 1914, Igor Grabar
- Cornflowers, 1976, Sergei Osipov
Suitable Gifting Occasions for Cornflowers
The symbolic meanings associated with cornflowers really run the gambit, making them a suitable choice for almost any occasion. Thanks to their blue color, they’re commonly included in congratulatory bouquets for new baby boys in addition to celebratory bouquets for Father’s Day.
Cornflower Meaning FAQs:
What Do Cornflowers Symbolize?
Cornflowers symbolize love, fertility, tenderness, unity, the future, hope, anticipation, devotion, fidelity, reliability, remembrance, and delicacy, in addition to prosperity and wealth. In the Victorian language of flowers, they represented celibacy.
Do Cornflowers Symbolize Love?
Yes, love is one of the many symbolic meanings of cornflowers.
Do Cornflowers Come Back Every Year?
Cornflowers are annuals. However, they are self-sowing, meaning new cornflower plants will grow from seeds yearly.
How Long Do Cornflowers Last?
Cornflowers typically bloom from mid-spring through early summer.
Are Cornflowers Toxic?
Cornflowers are not toxic to humans, dogs, or cats.
The Meaning and Symbolism of Cornflowers: The Final Word
Popular for what seems like the entirety of human history, cornflowers have traveled with our grain crops and spread throughout the world. Whether you stop to appreciate them growing wild in a field by the road or cultivate them in your own garden, take a moment to appreciate their long and rich history.
Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.
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