August Flower Lore: Gladiolus and Poppy

Learn all about the history and folklore attached to the gladiolus, August's official flower.

Flowers, perhaps more than any other part of the natural world, are fascinating because of the many layers of meaning people have shrouded them in throughout history. There is a whole sub-category of etiquette surrounding which flowers are appropriate to give at what times, and to whom. The unending rules surrounding something so simple as a flower can be dizzying. There are designated flowers for each month of the year. August’s official flower is the gladiolus, also known as the “sword iris.”

History and Lore of the Gladiolus

The name gladiolus comes from Latin word for “sword,” so named because the flowers grow up a long sword-like shaft. The name is commonly used for any of about 260 species of flowers, all of which share a similar body structure. They come in a range of colors, including pink, red, purple, orange, white, and more.

To the ancient Romans, gladioli represented strength of character, sincerity, and generosity. Their sword-like shape caused them to be associated with gladiators.

The ancient Greeks believed the flower sprang from the ground from the blood of Hyacinthus, a lover of the god Apollo who was accidentally slain by a discus. This myth eventually became more general, and one popular belief was that gladioli grew whenever anyone was slain by a sword.

Gladiolus’ Health Properties

In parts of Africa, the gladiolus is believed to have magical properties. It has been used to cure everything from common colds to painful menstruation but is most effective for digestive disturbances, including diarrhea, and constipation. In cultures where dysentery is common, it is often used to ease the symptoms.

The Poppy: August’s Other Official Flower

Poppy Field at Sunset

Poppies are vibrant flowers with large, round, papery petals. Poppy plants produce one flower per stem, each with four to six petals, depending on the species. They come in a wide variety of colors, including white, pink, orange, yellow, and most commonly red, and often have dark centers.

Poppy seeds are a popular culinary ingredient, most often used to top pastries. Opium poppies also contain compounds that are used to produce morphine and codeine, two powerful pain-relieving drugs. In ancient Egypt, doctors prescribed poppy seeds to patients as a pain reliever.

Poppy Symbolism

Poppies are rich in symbolism, having long been used as a symbol of sleep, peace, and death, due both to their deep red color, resembling blood, and their opiate properties. Poppies were used as offerings to the dead in ancient Greece and Rome, and were sometimes said to be a symbol of resurrection.

Today, poppies are most often associated with honoring soldiers who lost their lives at war, and are worn on Memorial Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Canada.

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Jaime McLeod

Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.

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