The cornflower flower (Centaurea cyanus) belongs to the botanical family Asteraceae and the genus Centaurea. A herbaceous, fast-growing and erect plant, the cornflower flower 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 it can also be white, pink, yellow and purple.
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 of cereal grains. In the book “Sylva Sylvarum” written in the seventeenth century by Francis Bacon, the cornflower is described as a flower which 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 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 flower (Centaurea cyanus) is linked to the centaur Chiron. The specific epithet, cyanus, means dark blue.
The cornflower flower is native to the temperate climate of Europe. In many regions, the cornflower flower has become very scarce in the fields. The flower has acquired the status of an endangered species, due to the over-use of herbicides and intensive nitrogen fertilization. In North America and Australia, the cornflower flower has been naturalized as an ornamental plant. In these regions, the cornflower has been cultivated since Colonial times.
What do cornflower flowers symbolize?
In the symbolic language of flowers, the strongest cornflower flower meaning is associated to love, fertility, hope, anticipation, patience, elegance, delicacy, refinement and single blessedness. In medieval times, the cornflowers was associated to happy occasions— woven into a flower head wreath, the flowers were while dancing.
Cornflower flowers symbolize love and romantic anticipation
In earlier times, in some parts of Europe, men in love used to wear cornflower flowers, plucked while the due was still on them. If the flowers stayed fresh there was a hope that their love would be requited. A cornflower that faded too fast was seen as a bad omen. Sometimes, wearing a single cornflower flower 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 that 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 flower could be used as a floral oracle, to test if the lover was faithful. This game of divination 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 one remained.
According to another, Russian-origin legend, Vassili, a young man, was lured onto a cornfield and metamorphosed into a cornflower flower 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).
Cornflower flowers symbolize spiritual devotion
One of the cornflower flower meanings is derived from the specific botanical name of the flower, cyanus. According to the legend, the Greek youth Kyanos worshipped the goddess Flora. He was always gathering blue cornflowers to make garlands and place them on her altar. He even wore clothes in the same blue shade as the cornflowers which he admired. He rarely ever left the fields, and one day he was found lying dead in a cornfield. Around him, the blue cornflowers continued to bloom. Flora named those flowers after him, in honor of his devotion and veneration.
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 in spite of 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 the heads of saints and angels. In this context, the cornflower flower meaning was that saints and angels had heavenly status.
Cornflower flowers symbolize healing
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, Chiron was accidentally wounded in the foot by Hercules, 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 he was told that it had the power to cure any illness of the eyes.
In folklore medicine, it was once believed that blue cornflower flowers gathered on Corpus Christi Day would stop nose bleeding, if one held them in the hand long enough. The dried flowers could be preserved for future medicinal use. Herbalists believed that the cornflower flower had curative and calming effect. They used cornflowers to heal nervous system disorders. In the 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 cornflower was a way of driving away serpents. Finally, according to the seventeenth century botanist John Parkinson, cornflower flowers were an effective treatment for scorpion and spider stings.
Cornflower flowers symbolize freedom, courage and resilience
Blue cornflowers 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, the cornflower flower meaning also became strength and courage, resilience and freedom.
What do the various colors of the cornflower flower mean?
Blue Cornflower Flower
Blue is the most common and most popular color of the cornflower flower. The blue variant of the 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.
Pink Cornflower Flower
Traditionally, pink is a color of tender, romantic love. Pink is also a color of innocence and youth. The pink cornflower is a symbol of youthful infatuation. It is a symbol of sincere love and admiration.
White Cornflower Flower
White is a color of purity, innocence and honor. White cornflowers 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.
Yellow Cornflower Flower
Yellow is the color of the sun—of life, light and abundance. Therefore, a yellow cornflower is a symbol of fertility and abundance. However, the yellow color has sometimes been associated with weakness, cowardice and jealousy.
Violet Cornflower Flower
Dark shades of cornflowers are very much appreciated for their vibrancy and contrast they add to any floral arrangement. Violet and dark blue hues of cornflowers are associated with royalty, dignity, opulence and mystery.
Interesting facts and characteristics of the cornflower flower
- Since 1968, the cornflower has been the national flower of Estonia.
- In Finland and Sweden, the cornflower flower meaning is social liberalism.
- In France, the cornflower flower meaning is associated to veterans of the 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 the types of reproductive organs.
- Cornflowers are rich in nectar, which contains up to 34% sugar. This is attractive to the pollinators, including bees and butterflies. However, the cornflower is a self-pollinating flower, and it does not depend on pollinators.
- The blue color of blue cornflower flowers is due to the presence of protocyanin. Cornflowers are used for producing blue dye, when mixed with alum.
- The cornflower flower 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 time ago. Namely, the cornflower was introduced to Britain during the Iron Age.
- In Tut-ankh-Amun’s tomb, Howard Carter discovered wreaths and garlands made of cornflower flowers, along with blue lotus petals. In Ancient Egypt, floral motifs based on cornflowers were used in jewelry for women.
The best time to gift someone cornflower flowers
Commercially cultivated cornflower flowers are excellent for cutting. They can be used in both fresh and dried floral arrangements, especially since they retain their color after drying. There are both tall and dwarf cultivars, with blue, pink, purple and white flowers.
Cornflowers are popular flowers in Egypt, and they are often gifted at weddings. This is a part of a tradition tracing its origin in Ancient Egypt, when cornflowers symbolized fertility. Regardless the region and the culture, blue cornflowers are always excellent gift at weddings. They can be worn as boutonnieres by the groom, and can add 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.
Since almost every cornflower flower meaning is positive, a bouquet of cornflowers always makes a perfect gift. It can be given on the occasion of an anniversary, birthday and other celebrations.