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Beyond the Lone Islands

Monday, 4 October 2010

Heather and Folklore


Heather is one of our most common outdoor decoration plants this time of the year.


From my youth I remember being told by a Swedish friend (I can’t remember whom, though) that having heather in the house was supposed to be unlucky and connected with death. Happily unaware of this superstition I had been picking wild heather for indoors decoration, and someone objected to it. (Well, I never was superstitious anyway…)

Searching the internet now, I find the “unlucky” superstition listed in several Swedish web sites. In English, however, the connotations seem to be just the opposite: Purple heather is associated with admiration, beauty and solitude; pink heather with good luck; white heather with protection from danger.

In Britain, the idea that white heather is lucky was popularised by the Victorians.  White heather is less common than purple/pink. Folklore suggests that it grows over the final resting places of faeries, or on patches of ground where no blood had been shed.

The origin of the Swedish superstition I have not been able to find, except that besides death, to have heather indoors also seems to be associated with “inviting poverty”. Perhaps that’s where it comes from: Heather being used by poor people for different purposes, and so becoming a sort of anti-status symbol.(?)

The Latin name is Calluna Vulgaris. Calluna is derived from a Greek word meaning 'to sweep', and the plant was used to make brooms. Vulgaris means 'common'.

Anyway, I just love that street decoration in the top photo above: the heather in the old milk can, which I found outside a shop in town.

The second picture is from a garden center, just to show you that we do buy lots of it – although I think still mostly for outdoors use.

PS. I forgot to add: In Sweden each province is represented by a flower or plant, and heather is the province flower of Västergötland, where I live. 




GB said...

The moors covered in heather here are so beautiful I cannot understand any attribute other than a good one being attached to it.

Ginny said...

I love the street decoration, as well, so, so charming! And I love the garden center shot, outstanding color with all those rows of heather! I loved the strange information. When I think of heather, I think that it grows on the English moors. And in the Gothic romance novels, the beleagured heroine was always running around on the moors, likely as not in a rainstorm and with her nightgown on.

DawnTreader said...

PS. I forgot to add: In Sweden each province is represented by a flower or plant, and heather is the province flower of Västergötland, where I live. [I added that sentence to the end of the post today.]

I can't say that we have exactly the equivalent of the Scottish moors down here in the south west - at least not nowadays. But it's still a common plant here. It also grows far up in the north of Sweden - the fells, or mountain area.

I too find it beautiful and that's why I'm struggling to understand why it came to be connected to negative superstitions here, when it isn't in Britain.

Sandra said...

the heather in the container photos is beautiful, i would like to have it in my yard or in the house. I have seen lots of purple heather, but never this gorgeous pink. if i had room i would go buy some to plant. do you have any on your balcony? thanks for the info on heather, i like learning all these things. just hope the old senior memory will hang on the what i learn


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