Last updated on May 20th, 2023 at 09:51 pm
The cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) belongs to the botanical family Asteraceae and the genus Centaurea. The flower owes its name to the fact that, in the past, it often drew as a weed in the fields of arable crops, particularly cereal grains. In the book “Sylva Sylvarum” written in the seventeenth century by Francis Bacon, the cornflower is described as a flower that is seldom or never seen in other places except amongst corn.
The flower is also known under many popular names, including bachelor’s button, bluet, bluebottle, boutonniere flower, centaury, cyani flower, devil’s flower, and hurt-sickle. The common name bachelor’s button was given to the cornflower due to its resemblance to the buttons worn on men’s clothes in the sixteenth century. Other common names, such as hurt-sickle and blunt-sickle, were used in England since the hard stems of the flower were used to blunt the reaper’s sickle at the time of cutting the grain.
In naming the plant, the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus used the word centaur—the mythological half-man, half-horse. More specifically, the scientific name of the cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) is linked to the centaur Chiron. The specific epithet, cyanus, means dark blue.
The cornflower is native to the temperate climate of Europe. In many regions, the cornflower has become very scarce in the fields. The flower has become an endangered species due to the overuse of herbicides and intensive nitrogen fertilization. The cornflower has been naturalized as an ornamental plant in North America and Australia. In these regions, the cornflower has been cultivated since Colonial times.
What does the Cornflower (Bachelor Button) symbolize?
In earlier times, in some parts of Europe, men in love used to wear cornflowers (bachelor button), plucked while the dew was still on them. If the flowers stay fresh, there was a hope that their love would be required. A cornflower that faded too fast was seen as a bad omen. Sometimes, wearing a single cornflower was seen as a symbol of celibacy and an indication that the man was unmarried.
Girls, too, wore cornflowers. In England, girls wore cornflowers to show they were eligible to marry. There was a popular belief that if a girl hid a cornflower under her apron, she would marry a good bachelor.
According to other folk beliefs, the cornflower could be used as a floral oracle to test if the lover was faithful. This divination game was based on the “he loves me, he loves me not” formula. The flower petals were pulled off one at a time until only the last remained.
According to another Russian-origin legend, Vassili, a young man, was lured onto a cornfield and metamorphosed into a cornflower by a possessive nymph named Russalka. In Russian, the word Vassili is etymologically linked to the local name of the cornflower, basilek (the flower of Basil).
Another cornflower’s meaning is derived from the specific botanical name of the flower, cyanus. According to the legend, the Greek youth Kyanos worshiped the goddess Flora. He always gathered blue cornflowers to make garlands and placed them on her altar. He wore clothes in the same blue shade as the cornflowers he admired. He rarely ever left the fields; one day, he was found dead in a cornfield. Around him, the blue cornflowers continued to bloom. Flora named those flowers after him in honor of his devotion and reverence.
A Belgian legend tells the story of a young baron who used to always wear a cornflower. One day he saw a girl of very low social status who was decorating a statue of the Virgin with cornflowers. Impressed with her love and respect for the cornflower, he married the girl despite her modest background. Based on this legend, the cornflower in Belgium is called Blue Baron.
Sano di Pietro and other Italian painters of the Sienese school depicted cornflowers on saints’ heads and angels’ heads. In this context, the cornflower meaning was that saints and angels had heavenly status.
The story goes that the centaur Chiron taught humans how to use medicinal herbs. According to the first-century Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher Pliny, Chiron used the blue cornflower to heal himself. At that time, Hercules accidentally wounded Chiron in the foot with an arrow poisoned with the blood of Hydra.
Some historical records mention that cornflowers have been used to cure various eye problems, such as redness, pain, inflammation, and watery eyes. This healing effect of the blue cornflower has been attributed to another story involving Anacharsis, a Scythian philosopher. The story goes that the philosopher once visited the cave on Chiron on Mount Pelion. There, he was shown the blue cornflower and told that it had the power to cure any illness of the eyes.
In folklore medicine, it was once believed that blue cornflowers gathered on Corpus Christi Day would stop nose bleeding if one held them in hand long enough. The dried flowers could be preserved for future medicinal use. Herbalists believed that the cornflower had a curative and calming effect. They used cornflowers to heal nervous system disorders. In 12th-century England, monks used cornflowers to treat flu, coughs, kidney diseases, and vertigo.
There is an interesting mention of the cornflower in the Roman epic poem “Pharsalia,” written by the first-century poet Lucan. According to the poem, burning cornflowers was a way of driving away serpents.
Finally, according to the seventeenth-century botanist John Parkinson, cornflowers were an effective treatment for scorpion and spider stings.
Blue cornflower was an important national symbol of Prussia. The story goes that Queen Louise of Prussia, fleeing Berlin and hiding from the forces of Napoleon, hid her children in a field of blue cornflowers. When Wilhelm, one of her children, later became the king of Prussia and emperor of Germany, he proclaimed the cornflower the national emblem of the country. With it, this flower’s meaning also became strength and courage, resilience and freedom.
All in all, the cornflower (bachelor button) symbolic meanings are:
- single blessedness
Meaning of the Cornflower colors
Blue is the most common and most popular color of cornflowers (bachelor button). The blue variant of this flower inherits almost every traditional symbolism generally ascribed to cornflowers. Mostly, the blue cornflower is seen as a symbol of freedom, vastness, courage, and hope.
Blue is also a color of honesty, loyalty, and responsibility. Blue cornflowers also symbolize grief as well as unreturned love.
Traditionally, pink is a color of tender, romantic love. Pink is also a color of innocence and youth. The pink cornflower (bachelor button) is a symbol of youthful infatuation; it is a symbol of sincere love and admiration.
Pink is universally considered a symbol of feminine energy. Pink cornflowers symbolize feminine power and make a perfect gift on women’s day.
White is a color of purity, innocence, and honor. White cornflowers (bachelor button) are rare and mainly found as cultivars. A white cornflower (especially when used as a gift) can be an expression of respect and a way of saying to someone how special they are.
The white cornflower also symbolizes peace and calmness.
Yellow is the color of the sun—of life, light, and abundance. Therefore, a yellow cornflower (bachelor button) is a symbol of fertility and abundance. However, yellow is sometimes associated with weakness, cowardice, and jealousy.
The Kerria japonica plant produces the golden yellow cornflower. It is considered one of the most beautiful flowers native to East Asia. Yellow cornflowers also symbolize friendship and joy.
Dark shades of cornflowers (bachelor button) are very much appreciated for their vibrancy and contrast they add to any floral arrangement. The violet hues of cornflowers are associated with royalty, dignity, luxury, and mystery. It is also one of the most aesthetic shades of them all.
Black cornflower (bachelor button) petals are rare and do not have an agreed-upon cultural meaning. In some cultures, black is considered a color of mourning.
However, black is the ‘in’ color in the fashion industry. Thus, black cornflowers are very popular among those who like to keep up with the times.
Interesting facts about the Cornflower (Bachelor Button)
- Since 1968, the cornflower (bachelor button) has been the national flower of Estonia.
- In Finland and Sweden, the meaning of the cornflower is social liberalism.
- In France, the cornflower is associated with veterans of World War I.
- Cornflowers have been used as motifs in famous paintings. Cornflowers have been featured in “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli. They also appear in Vincent van Gogh’s “Vase with Cornflowers and Poppies” and “Wheatfield with Cornflowers.”
- Cornflowers are perfect flowers—they contain both types of reproductive organs.
- Cornflowers are rich in nectar, which contains up to 34% sugar. This is attractive to pollinators, including bees and butterflies. However, the cornflower is a self-pollinating flower and does not depend on pollinators.
- The blue color of blue cornflowers is due to the presence of protocyanin. Cornflowers are used for producing blue dye when mixed with alum.
- The cornflower is edible and has a cucumber-like taste. They are mostly consumed in salads, food garnish, and tea.
- It is native to the temperate climate zones of Europe. In Britain, it is an archaeophyte.
- The cornflower is an archaeophyte—a plant introduced to certain geographic areas by humans long ago. Namely, the cornflower was introduced to Britain during the Iron Age.
- In Tut-ankh-Amun’s tomb, Howard Carter discovered wreaths, garlands made of cornflowers, and blue lotus petals. In Ancient Egypt, floral motifs based on cornflowers were used in jewelry for women.
How to grow Cornflower (Bachelor Button)
A herbaceous, fast-growing, and erect plant, the cornflower (bachelor button) grows 40–90 cm tall. It has gray-grey leaves, which are 1–4 cm long. The flower head (capitula) has a diameter of up to 3 cm. It is a cluster of florets surrounded by bracts. The cornflower flower is typically blue or violet but can also be white, pink, yellow, and purple.
- Plant the cornflowers in moist, well-drained soil. They can withstand drought conditions once planted.
- Place them in a spot with full sun and broad fields.
- When planting, allow 8-12 inches between plants.
- To thrive, they must be watered frequently.
- In early spring, use a well-balanced fertilizer or one with a higher phosphorus content to promote bloom production.
- Mulch with bark mulch to protect the root system from drying out and too much sun.
How to care for Cornflower (Bachelor Button)
- Water the cornflowers as needed to keep the soil or compost moist during the spring and summer to prolong flowering.
- Remove any competing weeds while the plants are young and establishing.
- Apply a balanced liquid plant food during the growing season every couple of weeks to stimulate more, bigger, and better flowers.
- Regularly deadhead plants to extend the flowering season.
- Cut the blossoms to develop more buds; the plants will grow bushy and lush.
Best time to gift Cornflower (Bachelor Button)
Commercially cultivated cornflowers (bachelor button) are excellent for cutting. They can be used in fresh and dried floral arrangements, especially since they retain color after drying. There are tall and dwarf cultivars with blue, pink, purple, and white flowers.
Cornflowers are popular flowers in Egypt and are often gifted at weddings. This is a part of a tradition tracing its origin in Ancient Egypt when cornflowers symbolized fertility. Regardless of the region and the culture, blue cornflowers are always excellent gifts at weddings. The groom can wear them as boutonnieres and add a lively blue hue to the bride. The cornflower was the favorite flower of John F. Kennedy, and his son, John F. Kennedy, Jr., wore it at his wedding, honoring his father.
Flowers make for amazing gifts on most occasions. The trick is to put some thought in a while picking the flowers. Shades and patterns on flowers can have deep cultural and symbolic meanings. If you’re picking out a gift for someone who is acquainted with flowers and enjoys them, it’s a good idea to get cornflowers. You can pick a variety of colors and beautifully arrange them.
Cornflowers are tough and do not dry that easily. Thus, they last longer than other delicate flowers. Their toughness and aesthetics make them a great gift for flowers.
All in all, cornflowers make for amazing gifts and have great symbolic value. They are relatively inexpensive and also quite easy to grow.
Cornflowers (bachelor button) were first discovered in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. His death occurred in 1340 B.C. Thus, these flowers have had great cultural value since then. Even today, these flowers are used to honor the dead. The specific species that was discovered in the tomb was Centaurea cyanus.
As mentioned before, the cornflower is an umbrella term that encompasses many plant species. The interesting thing, however, is that this name was derived from a very popular cultural practice.
Bachelors would wear these flowers on their buttons to signal their availability to the ladies. In some cultures, there was superstition around the same practice. The bachelor’s love would be considered unreturned if the flower faded too quickly.
However, the flowers faded quickly because they needed to be plucked early in the morning.