The delicate cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis), also known as lady’s smock or milkmaids, blooms with pale pink flowers in spring. Shakespeare mentions these lovely blossoms, which are so named because they bloom in spring when cuckoos start to sing. In this guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about cuckoo flower meaning and symbolism in the language of flowers.
The Meaning & Symbolism of Cuckoo Flowers
Cardamine comes from the Greek word for watercress, or kardamine. The genus was named by Linnaeus in 1753. The species name pratensis is the Latin term for “meadow.”
The common name, cuckoo flower, stems from the British Isles. In the 16th century, herbalist John Gerad wrote that the flowers begin to bloom at the same time the cuckoo starts to sing in spring. Other common names, lady’s smock, and milkmaids, come from the flowers’ resemblance to clothing worn by women in this era.
The flowers even figure in the work of Shakespeare, who wrote in Love’s Labour Lost:
When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver white
And Cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight
At that time, cuckoo flowers were associated with fairies. Because cuckoo blossoms were considered sacred to the wee folk, bringing them indoors was considered bad luck. The fairy connection also meant the flowers were not included in May Day floral decorations, even though they were in bloom at that time of year.
Cuckoo Flower Symbolism in The Language of Flowers
In the language of flowers, the Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis) holds symbolic meanings associated with purity, innocence, and new beginnings. The dainty pink, purple, or white blossoms evoke a sense of freshness and newness, symbolizing the arrival of spring and the renewal of life.
Folklore and Medicinal Uses
Historically, the cuckoo flower was also used in folk medicine for various ailments. This use has imparted an aura of healing and protection to the plant.
In Christian symbolism, the Cuckoo Flower is often associated with the Virgin Mary. Its blooming period in spring coincides with the Feast of the Annunciation, which is dedicated to Mary.
Cuckoo flowers add a splash of delicate pink or white color to the landscape, heralding the coming of spring. These fresh flowers are lovely in cut arrangements, too. For the best results, grow them in shaded, boggy spots in the landscape.