Botanical nomenclature in Early Modern English is often different from that used today, both in terms and in meanings. And even in those cases where the names of flowers, herbs, shrubs, and other plants are the same as in modern English, there is sometimes a symbolic association no longer present. The following list illustrates these differences, but excludes plants used as food (lettuce, potato, etc); distinctive usage here is covered under individual entries in the Glossary. Clusters of plant names can be found at Ham IV.v.176,ff, TNK I.i.1,ff, WT IV.iv.73,ff, and MND II.i.249,ff.


Item Example Identity Comment
burnet H5 V.ii.49 Rosaceae: Sanguisorba; Poterium flower ‘brought sweetly forth’ in meadows
carnation WT IV.iv.82 Caryophyllaceae: Dianthus caryophyllus one of the ‘fairest flowers o’th’ season’
clover H5 V.ii.49 Leguminosae: Trifolium plant ‘brought sweetly forth’ in meadows
columbine Ham IV.v.181 Ranunculaceae: Aquilegia nectar organs horned in shape; associated with cuckoldry
cowslip H5 V.ii.49 Primulaceae: Primula veris flower ‘brought sweetly forth’ in meadows
crowflower Ham IV.vii.169 possibly Caryophyllaceae: Lychnis flos-cuculi unclear meaning; probably the ragged robin; used as part of a ‘fantastic garland’
cuckoo-bud LLL V.ii.885 unclear meaning ‘of yellow hue’; possibly the buttercup, or an invented name
Cupid’s flower MND IV.i.72 pansy below
daffodil WT IV.iv.118 Liliaceae: Asphodelus ‘That ... take / The winds of March with beauty’
daisy Ham IV.v.184 Compositae: Bellis perennis common in meadows; associated with unhappy love, dissembling
dead-men’s fingers Ham IV.vii.171 long purple below
Dian’s bud MND IV.i.72 unclear meaning herb associated with chastity; perhaps artemisia
eglantine Cym IV.ii.223 Rosaceae: Rosa rubiginosa sweet briar, known for its sweet smell; it ‘out-sweetened not’ Innogen’s breath
gillyvor WT IV.iv.82 Caryophyllaceae: Dianthus caryophyllus gillyflower, clove-scented pink; one of the ‘fairest flowers o’th’ season’; also called ‘nature’s bastard’
harebell TNK I.i.9 Liliaceae: Scilla nutans wild hyacinth, bluebell; ‘dim’ and ‘azured’ (Cym IV.ii.222)
lady-smock LLL V.ii.884 Cruciferae: Cardamine pratensis cuckoo-flower; ‘all silver-white’
lark’s-heels TNK I.i.12 Ranunculaceae: Delphinium consolida larkspur; described as ‘trim’
lily TG II.iii.19 Liliaceae: usually Lilium candidum associated with purity, freshness, whiteness; described as ‘sweetest, fairest’ (Cym IV.ii.201)
long purple Ham IV.vii.169 possibly Orchidaceae: Orchis mascula unclear meaning; probably a type of wild orchis; used as part of a ‘fantastic garland’; also called ‘dead-men’s fingers’
love in idleness MND II.i.168 pansy below
marigold WT IV.iv.105 Compositae: Calendula officinalis opens when the sun shines; ‘goes to bed with’ sun / And with him rises weeping’; one of the ‘flowers of middle summer ... given / To men of middle age’
Mary-bud Cym II.iii.23 marigold bud of a marigold
pansy Ham IV.v.177 Violaceae: Viola tricolor associated with ‘thoughts’ [French: pensées], especially of lovers; also called ‘love-in-idleness’, ‘Cupid’s flower’
muskrose MND II.i.252 Rosaceae: Rosa moschata wild rambling rose; ‘a bank ... / Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine, / With sweet muskroses’
narcissus TNK II.i.173 Amaryllidaceae: Narcissus poeticus associated with Narcissus CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY
oxlip MND II.i.250 Primulaceae: Primula ‘a bank ... / Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows’
pink TNK I.i.4 Caryophyllaceae: Dianthus plumarius ‘maiden pinks, of odour faint’
primrose TNK I.i.7 Primulaceae: Primula veris ‘first-born child of Ver’; described as ‘fair’ and ‘pale’
rose TNK I.i.1 Rosaceae: Rosa ‘Not royal in their smells alone, / But in their hue’; ‘the very emblem of a maid’ (TNK II.i.190); white and red varieties as political symbols in H6
sedge TG II.vii.29 general meaning several species of long grassy plant growing in wet places
violet Ham IV.v.185 Violaceae: Viola odorata associated with love; proverbial for the transience of life or faithfulness
woodbine MND II.i.251 Caprifoliaceae: Lonicera periclymenum honeysuckle; ‘a bank ... / Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine’
woodbine MND IV.i.41 possibly Convolvulaceae: Convolvulus ‘So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle / Gently entwine’

Herbs and spices

Item Example Identity Comment
carduus benedictus MA III.iv.66 Latin: blessed thistle medicinal herb; ‘the only thing for a qualm’
fennel Ham IV.v.181 Umbelliferae: Foeniculum vulgare aromatic, used as a condiment; associated with flattery, insincerity
hyssop Oth I.iii.319 Labiatae: Hyssopus officinalis aromatic herb, used medicinally
lavender WT IV.iv.104 Labiatae: Lavandula vera known for its perfume; one of the ‘flowers of middle summer ... given / To men of middle age’
marjoram WT IV.iv.104 Labiatae: Origanum one of the ‘flowers of middle summer ... given / To men of middle age’; culinary and medicinal properties
mint WT IV.iv.104 Labiatae: Mentha viridis aromatic plant used in cookery; one of the ‘flowers of middle summer ... given / To men of middle age’
nose-herb AW IV.v.16 plant for smelling distinguished from herbs which can be eaten
rosemary Ham IV.v.176 Labiatae: Rosmarinus officinalis aromatic shrub; associated with ‘remembrance’, funerals
samphire KL Umbelliferae: Crithmum maritinum aromatic plant used in pickles
savory WT IV.iv.104 Labiatae: Satureia herb used as in cookery; one of the ‘flowers of middle summer ... given / To men of middle age’
sweet-marjoram AW IV.v.14 Labiatae: Origanum majorana aromatic herb used in cookery; [of Helena] ‘the sweet-marjoram of the sallet’

Trees and shrubs

Item Example Identity Comment
bay Per Lauraceae: Laurus nobilis bay-tree; also called laurel; associated with fame, reputation
elder MW II.iii.26 Caprifoliaceae: Sambucus nigra shrub or small tree with elaborate growth; known for its soft wood
herb-grace, herb of grace Ham IV.v.183 rue below
ivy CE II.ii.187 Araliaceae: Hedera helix climbing shrub; associated with concealment
laurel Tit I.i.77 bay above
line Tem IV.i.192 Tiliaceae: Tilia lime-tree, linden tree
medlar AYL III.ii.114 Rosaceae: Mespilus germanica fruit-tree; fruit eaten when its flesh has begun to decay ; also, thought to resemble buttocks or female genitalia
plantain TNK I.ii.61 Plantaginaceae: Plantago major herb for treating wounds
rue Ham IV.v.182 Rutaceae: Ruta graveolens aromatic shrub, leaves often used medicinally; associated with repentance, pity; also called ‘herb of grace’, described as ‘sour’ (R2 III.iv.105)
senna Mac V.iii.55 Leguminosae: Cassia shrub with purgative medicinal properties
sycamore Oth IV.iii.38 Moraceae: Ficus sycomorus Mediterranean species; different from the English species (as in LLL V.ii.89)
thyme MND II.i.249 Labiatae: Thymus aromatic herb; ‘a bank where the wild thyme blows’; ‘sweet thyme true’ (TNK I.i.6)
willow 3H6 III.iii.228 Salicaceae: Salix associated with grief, unrequited love

Plants viewed as unpleasant

Item Example Identity Comment
aconitum 2H4 IV.iv.48 Ranunculaceae; Aconitum napellus highly poisonous plant
burdock [F hardokes] KL IV.iv.4 Compositae: Arctium lappa type of weed; associated with the ‘idle weeds that grow / In our sustaining corn’
bur, burr H5 V.ii.52 prickly flower-head known for its sticky properties; especially associated with the burdock
cockle LLL IV.iii.359 Caryophyllaceae: Lychnis githago corn-weed; associated with the Bible (Matt 13)
cuckoo-flower KL IV.iv.4 various species of wild flower which bloom when the cuckoo is heard here, associated with the ‘idle weeds that grow / In our sustaining corn’
darnel KL IV.iv.5 Gramineae: Lolium temulentum type of weed, associated with the ‘idle weeds that grow / In our sustaining corn’
dock H5 V.ii.52 Polygonaceae: Rumex obtusifolius ‘hateful’ weed; one of the plants ‘losing both beauty and utility’
fumiter KL IV.iv.3 Fumariaceae: usually Fumaria officinalis type of weed; described as ‘rank’
fumitory H5 V.ii.45 Fumariaceae: usually Fumaria officinalis type of weed; described as ‘rank’
furrow-weed KL IV.iv.3 general meaning weed growing on the furrows of a ploughed field
hardoke KL IV.iv.4 unclear meaning type of weed, possibly burdock; associated with the ‘idle weeds that grow / In our sustaining corn’
hebona Ham I.v.62 unclear meaning poisonous plant, perhaps henbane
hemlock KL IV.iv.4 Umbelliferae: Conium maculatum poisonous weed ; associated with rankness and (Mac IV.i.25) darkness
kecksies H5 V.ii.52 hollow-stemmed weedy plants associated with plants ‘losing both beauty and utility’
mallow Tem II.i.146 Malvaceae: Malva sylvestris common hairy wild plant
mandrake RJ IV.iii.47 Solanaceae: Mandragora poisonous plant, whose roots resemble the lower human body; supposedly emits a lethal shriek on being pulled up; also, supposed aphrodisiac properties; as mandragora (AC I.v.4), a narcotic
nettle KL IV.iv.4 Urticaceae: Urtica stinging weed; associated with pain, poison, ugliness
spear-grass 1H4 II.iv.302 Ranunculaceae: Ranunculus spearwort; used by beggars and others to make artificial wounds
thistle H5 V.ii.52 Compositae: Carduus one of the plants ‘losing both beauty and utility’
wormwood Luc 893 Compositae: Artemisia absinthium absinthe plant, proverbial for its bitter taste

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