The Daisy - known as the birth flower of April, assigned to the astrological birth sign Taurus and given as a gift for a 5th year wedding anniversary - but where did these associations come from?
As a maker and historian who is fascinated both with taking photographs of flowers and with the history and meanings of ‘things’ - I am always surprised when I research a topic and start uncovering its symbolisms and origins.
And ‘daisy’ is no exception to this.
From its more traditional meanings of being associated with childhood, purity and innocence. To discovering the intriguing origins of its name. And to its connections to true love, the life partnership and journey of a couple through to motherhood.
The ‘Daisy’ is a real hidden gem that should be gifted and worn as an amuletic token by friends, lovers, mothers and children alike!
If we go way back to Roman times, the origin of the word ‘daisy’ comes from its Latin name ‘Bellis’, which is derived from ‘Belides’ and the story of Vertumnus, an old Roman myth.
Vertumnus was the god of seasons who fell in love with the nymph, Belides. Legend states that he ruthlessly pursued her - aka stalked her - to the point where she decided to turn herself into a daisy so that she could escape his advances.
Hence the latin name ‘Bellis’ was given to the daisy flower, and the daisy symbolised chastity and transformation in old Roman culture.
Then there's the actual name ‘daisy’ itself - maybe you already knew this fact - but the word ‘daisy’ originates from an old English term ‘dægeseage’ that means ‘day’s eye’.
This name was literally bestowed upon the flower because the petals - or ‘lashes’ - of the daisy close around the yellow center of the flower when the sun sets at night, and then the petals reopen to the light the following day.
How ah-mazing is that?
The traits of the daisy - to close its petals at night and reopen at daylight - later inspired the term ‘fresh as a daisy’.
Which means that someone has had a good night’s sleep and has woken bright and cheerful and reinvigorated the next day!
In the 1800s, the phrase ‘ups-a-daisy’ was used to encourage children to get back up again when they fell down.
And later, adaptations of this phrase like ‘oopsy daisy’ or ‘whoops-a-daisy’ became a saying for stumbling or making a mistake.
During this time ‘daisy’ also became English slang for something excellent or appealing.
Who has not heard of ‘daisy chains’. That childhood art of both picking daisies and then spending hours threading them together to make a necklace. Made by splitting the stem with your thumbnail and threading the next daisy through it to produce a chain.
I wonder if this was my first adventure into the art of jewellery making?
This gave rise to the ‘lazy daisy stitch’ - an embroidery stitch used to make flower patterns, which consists of a long chain stitch - representing the daisy chain.
Then we also have the ‘daisy wheel’ - a name given to typewriter or printer wheels, whose spokes radiating outwards from their centres ending with different characters - whose design resembles the petals of a daisy.
And of course, one final and slightly less cheerful phrase ‘to push up the daisies’ or ‘pushing up the daisies’ - as a euphemism for being ‘dead and buried’.
The idea being that dead bodies will fertilize the soil and stimulate the growth of daisies. A term first recorded in a poem by Wilfred Own written during the first world war. Although Keats is said to have written a much earlier letter on the year of his death in 1821 using a similar phrase ‘daisies growing over me’.
In terms of the living, daisies have been used in various cultures for different healing properties:
There have been many interesting words and symbolisms bestowed upon the daisy throughout history…
Lets start with the ‘language of flowers’ - known as floriography. This is described as ‘the cryptological communication through the use or arrangement of flowers’. Or more simply put, using the arrangement of different flowers to convey hidden messages and meanings between the giver and the receiver.
Although this was a pursuit that dates back thousands of years in European, African and Asian cultures, it later became particularly popular in England and America during the 18th and 19th century centuries.
In a beautiful little book I have called, ‘The Language Of Flowers’ dating to 1913, with its hand written explanations and illustrations, different types of daisies are listed with the following meanings:
Today we have added into this other more modern flower symbols, like flower emojis in text messages, but the messages told with flowers are just as meaningful today as they have been throughout history.
The daisy is typically considered to be a western traditional symbol of innocence and purity.
This is said to stem from an old Celtic legend, which states that whenever an infant died, God sprinkled daisies over the earth to cheer the parents up.
This interpretation later developed into daisy flowers being associated with newborns and babies for protection, and hence babies represent innocence and purity.
Throughout Christianity, the daisy has been used as a sacred symbol of Virgin Mary signifying her chastity, grace and purity as well as a symbol of the Christ child.
During the Renaissance period, we see this in paintings when artists used the daisy to represent baby Jesus, symbolising the purity and modesty of his soul.
It's said that the daisy was used instead of the lily to represent the infant Christ, because daisies resembled ‘simple virtue’, whereas the lily had more ‘exotic’ symbolism, which was deemed an ‘inappropriate’ representative of Christ.
Daisies have been commonly gifted to congratulate new mothers and to represent fertility and motherhood in general.
In Norse mythology, the daisy is Freya’s sacred flower. Freya is the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility, and as such the daisy came to symbolise childbirth, motherhood, unblemished youth and new beginnings.
Thus the daisy became a flower that symbolises femininity and as a gift to represent ‘mother’.
New beginnings further went on to associate the daisy as a flower of hope - a further connection also to closing their petals at dawn and opening them in the sunlight - hence bringing with it fresh hope and new beginnings.
I’m not sure if I think this connotation is negative, but the giving of a daisy flower between friends, was meant to symbolise ‘keeping a secret’, with its meaning ‘I’ll never tell’!
Perhaps that could be more positively re-translated as loyalty in friendships!
I’ve already told you the story of Vertumnus, god of seasons and gardens, who became enamored with Belides - a nymph who then transformed herself into a daisy to escape him.
As well as the daisy meaning chastity and transformation in Roman culture, the daisy also became Belides' emblem.
Talking of emblems and designs, the form of a daisy also has really interesting meanings and symbolisms.
There are many different types of daisies with petals ranging in colour from white to pink, around a bold yellow centre.
Although they may be described as a ‘simple’ flower, they are in fact highly complex in design and are known as ‘composite flowers’ - meaning that they actually consist of two flowers combined into one.
The inner section is called a ‘disc floret’, and the outer petal section is called a ‘ray floret’.
I did not know this and as a designer, this fact alone fascinates me - two flowers in one - one circular centre and one of radiating rays!
This association with radiating rays connects the daisy to solar and sun symbols.
Like the Native American’s, whose wisdom recognized the daisy as a sun symbol by observing the bright yellow center with its radiating white petals to resemble the sun's rays.
Further connections of the daisy to the Spring season and back to the origins of its name the ‘days eye’ where it closes its petals in the dark and opens them again in sunlight - strongly affiliates the daisy to the power of the sun
Hence relating the daisy and its solar properties to meaning: cheer, clarity, constancy, energy, eternity, joy, life energy, light, positivity, provision, truth and warmth
Following on from associations of daisy to the sun, we also symbolise daisy with the colours white and yellow.
White - the main colour of most daisies - represents purity, innocence, cleansing. With the colour white itself symbolising purification and healing.
Yellow - as well as connections to the sun - as a colour symbolises creativity, communication, quick wit, radiance and vitality.
As we’ve learnt, because the daisy is composed of two flowers as one, they have been used to symbolize the perfect ‘bond’ of two parts together.
Hence the daisy is known to represent two people living as one, which further goes on to mean ‘true love’, ‘loyal love’ and ‘undying love’.
The centre of the daisy is said to represent the central part of a union and the foundation from which everything else grows. And all the daisy’s petals represent the life’s journey of the couple - including all of life's ups and downs - which radiates outwards from its central core.
So the daisy’s centre symbolizes the intense bond of the married couple and all their shared experiences. Whereas, each petal, both delicate and strong, represents all the ways the couple will expand and grow.
Both combining to represent a long and happily married life, loyalty and fidelity!
A further meaning of love came again from ‘the language of flowers’ where, according to Lady Mary Wortley’s flower decoder, the daisy sends a message that says, ‘I accept your affections, and reciprocate’!
And before we even get to wedding bells, who can forget that other childhood favourite of playing the game ‘he/she loves me, he/she loves me not’.
Where each petal of the daisy is picked off one at a time saying the words above until the last petal remaining decides the fate of whether he/she loves you or not!
Another connection of the daisy to love matches as well as to childhood!
How did the daisy become the birth flower of April?
Daisies are native to central and northern Europe and Western Asia. They are said to have originated as wildflowers in open fields in England, but of course nowadays, daisies are grown all over the world. The first known cultivation of daisies dates to around 2,200 BC.
Traditionally, as a western symbol and flower, the english daisy typically bloomed during April and June in the Northern Hemisphere. And hence the daisy became associated with the onset of Spring and the month of April.
An old English folklore saying states that ‘spring had truly arrived if one could set one's foot on 7, 9 or 12 daisies at once’!
Likewise, in astrology, the daisy also corresponds to the sign of Taurus which dates cycles around the dates April 20th to May 20th.
Taurus attributes connected with the symbolic meaning of daisy, therefore stands for traits like: appreciation, family, patience, persistence, quiet strength and security.
Wow! I have to say that my daisy research really surprised me and I am fascinated by the stories I’ve just told!
I went through all the meanings above and pulled out a list or round up of daisy symbolism:
It’s hard to pick a favourite meaning, but what really stood out for me is the origins of the daisy’s name to the ‘days eye’ taken directly from its actions of closing its petals at night and opening them again in the sunlight. And with this I love its meaning of being bright and cheerful, fresh and reinvigorated!
Daisy certainly has many opportunities and meanings for it to be given as a gift or worn as an amulet for friendship, for love, for marriage, for mothers and for the birth of a child, innocence and purity.