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Myosotis (//; from the Greek: "mouse's ear", after the leaf) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Boraginaceae (or Cynoglossum family) that are commonly called forget-me-nots. Its common name was calqued from the French, ne m'oubliez pas and first used in English in c. 1532. Similar names and variations are found in many languages.
There are approximately 200 species in the genus, with much variation. Most have small, (1 cm diameter or less) flat, 5-lobed blue, pink or white flowers with yellow centers, growing on scorpioid cymes. They bloom in spring. Leaves are alternate. Popular in gardens, forget-me-nots prefer moist habitats and where they are not native, they have escaped to wetlands and riverbanks. They can tolerate partial sun and shade.
Forget-me-nots may be annual or perennial plants. Their root systems are generally diffuse. Their seeds are found in small, tulip-shaped pods along the stem to the flower. The pods attach to clothing when brushed against and eventually fall off, leaving the small seed within the pod to germinate elsewhere. Seeds can be collected by putting a piece of paper under the stems and shaking them. The seed pods and some seeds will fall out.
They are widely distributed. Many Myosotis species are endemic to New Zealand, although it is likely that the genus originated in the Northern Hemisphere. One or two European species, especially the wood forget-me-not, Myosotis sylvatica have been introduced into most of the temperate regions of Europe, Asia and the Americas. Myosotis scorpioides is also known as scorpion grass due to the spiraling curve of its inflorescence. Myosotis alpestris is the state flower of Alaska.
Other plants called forget-me-not
The Chatham Islands forget-me-not belongs to a related genus, Myosotidium.
Folklore and legend
In a German legend, God named all the plants when a tiny unnamed one cried out, "Forget-me-not, O Lord!" God replied, "That shall be your name." Another legend tells when the Creator thought he had finished giving the flowers their colours, he heard one whisper "Forget me not!" There was nothing left but a very small amount of blue, but the forget-me-not was delighted to wear such a light blue shade.
In 15th-century Germany, it was supposed that the wearers of the flower would not be forgotten by their lovers. Legend has it that in medieval times, a knight and his lady were walking along the side of a river. He picked a posy of flowers, but because of the weight of his armour he fell into the river. As he was drowning he threw the posy to his loved one and shouted "forget me not". It was often worn by ladies as a sign of faithfulness and enduring love.
Prior to becoming the tenth province of Canada in 1949, Newfoundland (then a separate British Dominion) used the forget-me-not as a symbol of remembrance of that nation's war dead. This practice is still in limited use today, though Newfoundlanders have adopted the Flanders Poppy as well.
Freemasons began using the flower in 1926 as a symbol well known in Germany as message not to forget the poor and desperate. Many other German charities were also using it at this time. In later years, by a handful of Masons, it was a means of recognition in place of the square and compass design. This was done across Nazi occupied Europe to avoid any danger of being singled out and persecuted. The symbol of the forget-me-not in modern Masonry has become more prevalent and exaggerated claims about the use of the symbol are often made in order to promote sales of bumper stickers of the symbol. Today it is an interchangeable symbol with Freemasonry and some also use the forget-me-not to remember those masons who were victimized by the Nazi regime. In English Freemasonry it is more commonly now worn to remember those that have died as a symbol that you may be gone but not forgotten.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, "The mouse-ear forget-me-not, Myosotis laxa, has now extended its racemes very much, and hangs over the edge of the brook. It is one of the most interesting minute flowers. It is the more beautiful for being small and unpretending; even flowers must be modest."
In his 1947 long poem "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction," Wallace Stevens mentions the forget-me-not, using its scientific Greek-derived name:
- It observes the effortless weather turning blue
- And sees the myosotis on its bush.
Keith Douglas, 1920–1944, wrote his poem "Vergissmeinnicht" (forget-me-not) about a dead German soldier in World War II whose body is found by the poet with a photograph of his girl with her words written "Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht" but it's not believed by some people.
- Myosotis albiflora Banks & Sol. ex Hook. f.
- Myosotis alpestris F.W. Schmidt
- Myosotis antarctica Hook. f.
- Myosotis arvensis (L.) Hill
- Myosotis asiatica (Vestergr. ex Hultén) Schischk. & Serg.
- Myosotis azorica H.C. Watson
- Myosotis baltica Sam. ex Lindm.
- Myosotis bothriospermoides Kitag.
- Myosotis caespitosa Schultz
- Myosotis decumbens Host
- Myosotis densiflora C. Koch
- Myosotis incrassata Guss.
- Myosotis krylovii Serg.
- Myosotis lamottiana (Braun-Blanq. ex Chass.) Grau
- Myosotis latifolia Poir.
- Myosotis laxa Lehm.
- Myosotis lithospermifolia Hornem.
- Myosotis nemorosa Besser
- Myosotis popovii Dobrocz.
- Myosotis ramosissima Rochel
- Myosotis rivularis (Vestergr.) A.P. Khokhr.
- Myosotis sachalinensis Popov
- Myosotis scorpioides L.
- Myosotis sicula Guss.
- Myosotis sparsiflora J.C.Mikan ex Pohl
- Myosotis speluncicola Schott ex Boiss.
- Myosotis stenophylla Knaf
- Myosotis stricta Link ex Roem. & Schult.
- Myosotis strigulosa Rchb.
- Myosotis sylvatica Ehrh. ex Hoffm.
- Myosotis verna Nutt.
- Carlos Lehnebach (2012). "Lectotypification of three species of forget-me-nots (Myosotis: Boraginaceae) from Australasia". Tuhinga 23: 17–28.
- "Myosotis". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.
- Richard C. Winkworth, Jürke Grau, Alastair W. Robertson & Peter J. Lockhart (2002). "The origins and evolution of the genus Myosotis" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 24 (2): 180–193. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(02)00210-5. PMID 12144755.
- Sanders, Jack. The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History. Globe Pequot, 2003. ISBN 1-58574-668-1. ISBN 978-1-58574-668-2.
- Jeff Stokes (May 31, 2010). "Das Vergissmeinnicht". Retrieved 4 July 2011.
- Virtual-loi.co.uk[dead link]
- Thoreau, Henry David; Blake, Harrison Gray Otis; Emerson, Ralph Waldo; Sanborn, Franklin Benjamin (1884). The Writings of Henry David Thoreau 6. p. 109.
- "Species in Myosotis". The Plant List. Retrieved October 22, 2013.