Pansy.

COMMON NAME:  pansy
GENUS:  Viola
SPECIES, HYBRIDS, CULTIVARS,
V. wittrockiana ‘Universal’ hybrids-heavy blooms; heat and cold tolerant.
V. w. ‘Crystal Bowl’-clear colors without markings; small 2 1/2-inch blooms
V. w. ‘Majestic Giants’-large plants with 4-inch blooms.
FAMILY:  Violaceae
BLOOMS:  early spring
TYPE:  annual
DESCRIPTION:  Unusual markings on the petals of pansy blossoms have earned the flowers the name “faces.” There are many flowers to each plant, each one borne on a separate stem. Flowers come in many colors, including blue, purple, yellow, apricot, orange, mahogany, red, white, and bicolor.
CULTIVATION:  In regions with a mild climate, sow pansy seeds in late summer or set out plants in early fall. In colder areas, sow seeds indoors during January or February and set out the plants in early spring. Pansies like cool, moist soil that is rich in organic matter. They are heavy feeders and should be treated with applications of a general fertilizer every two to three weeks during the active growing season.

Pansies are all descendants of the small Johnny-jump-up, Viola tricolor. The pansy’s transition from the small wildflower to the beautiful garden flower resulted from the dedicated efforts of an English gardener named  Thompson and the generosity of his employer, Lord Gambier, a British naval commander. Thompson experimented with Johnny-jump-up for thirty years and finally arrived at flowers that retained the lively charm of the small wildflower but also had the size and beauty necessary to please even the most discriminating gardener. The spur that is characteristic of the Violet family was lost, and the petals were large and flat.
The folklore of the pansy is rich and diverse. Johnny-jump-up is just one of dozens {some even say hundreds} of common names. The faces created by the patterns on the petals give rise to names like monkey faces, peeping Tom, and three faces in a hood. It’s supposed magical powers in the ways of love resulted in names such as cull-me-to-you, tickle-my-fancy, love-in-idleness, kiss-her-in-the-pantry, and heartsease. The three petals were thought to the representative of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and thus, the flower was sometimes called herb trinity.
According to German and Scottish folktales, pansies were called stepmother; The large lower petal is the mother, the two large petals to either side of her are the well-dressed daughters, and the two small upper petals are the poor stepdaughters.
In another German story, the pansy at one time had a wonderfully strong, sweet scent. People would travel from miles around to smell this scent. In doing so, however, they would trample down the grasses surrounding the pansy. Because this ruined the feed for cattle, the pansy prayed to God for help. God gave the plant great beauty but took away the scent.
Pansies have always been associated with love and thoughts of love. The Celts made a tea from the dried leaves and used it as a love potion. According to the doctrine of signatures, pansy leaves, which are heart shaped, were used to cure a broken heart. Nicholas Culpepper, a seventeenth-century English writer, said that a syrup made from the flowers was used as a cure for a veneral disease.
Both the leaves and flowers are edible and are high in vitamins A and C. The flowers impart a strong flavor and have been used to make syrup, flavor honey, and make the custard. Both the leaves and flowers can be used as a garnish, such as on cold fruit or cream soups. The flowers are also useful as a dye.
The name pansy comes from the French word  pensee, which means “thought.” This name was given centuries ago, for the French believed that pansies could make your lover think of you. The three colors of the original pansy-purple, white, and yellow were thought to symbolize memories, loving thoughts, and souvenirs. These were all things that ease the hearts of separated lovers.
Legend says that at one time all pansies were white, and it was not until they were pierced by cupid’s arrow that they gained the purple and yellow colors. With the colors, however, came to the magic power to be used in love potions. Shakespeare described the pansy as the flower that was “…before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound.” Shakespeare was also well aware of the pansy’s magic, which he used extensively in A Midsummer-Night’s Dream:

                     “The juice of it, on sleeping eyelids laid,
                        Will make a man or woman madly dote
                       Upon the next live creature that it sees.”

The confusion arising from the power of the pansy in this play should convince anyone to use care when handling a love potion containing pansies.
Not all folktales about pansies have such pleasant connotations. According to English superstition, to pick a pansy with dew still on it will cause the death of a loved one.
Neil Ewart  in The Lore of Flowers says that pansies were fortune tellers for the Knights of the Round Table. Plucking a pansy petal, the knights would look for secret signs. If the petal had four lines, this meant hope. If the lines were thick and leaned toward the left, this meant a life of trouble. Lines leaning toward the right signified prosperity until the end. Seven lines meant constancy in love {and if the center streak were the longest, Sunday would be the wedding day}. Eight streaks meant fickleness, nine meant a changing of heart, and eleven signified disappointment in love and an early grave.
Peter Coats, a noted English garden writer, suggests another game to play with pansy petals: There were five girls who went to see their grandmother {pick off petals one by one} who was sick in bed {reveal little pouch, which looks like the granny in bed with the sheets pulled up}. “Grandma, you look so much better!” said the girls. “Thank you,” said the grandmother, “but just look how thin my legs are” {remove the spur and pull out two skinny stamens}.

According to the Victorian language of flowers, pansy means “to think”-particularly of love. It is, however, considered a bad-luck gift for a man.

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