PLANTS IN GREECE

 The plants and flowers of ancient Greece were rich in mythology: ranging from the tale of Persephone and the pomegranate seeds, to the flowery metamorphoses of Hyakinthos, the golden apples of the Hesperides, and the tree-morphing nymph Daphne.
Have you ever wondered what some of the famous plants of myth looked like? All the plants are illustrated, just click on the thumbnails to view an image montage of each plant.
N.B. The identification of the plant species are from the Henry George Liddell Greek-English lexicon.

ACONITE

Also : Monkshood, Wolf's-bane
Greek : Akoniton, lykoktonon
Species : Aconitum napellus
Description : An herbaceous perennial plant with purplish-blue flowers which grows up to a metre in height. Its leaves and roots are extremely extremely toxic and were used by the ancients as a poison. The Greek's called it akoniton (without dirt) because it grows on rocky ground, and lykoktonon (wolf-slaying) because it was traditionally applied by their arrows when hunting wolves.
Myth 1 : Spittle of Kerberos. Herakles was sent to fetch Kerberos forth from the underworld as one of his twelve labours. The spittle of the beast dripped upon the earth, and from it sprang the first aconite plant. (Source: Ovid)
Myth 2 : Poison of Medea. Theseus once travelled to Athens to present himself to his long lost father King Aegeas. The king's wife Medea, recognised the youth, and persuaded Aegeas to let her offer him a cup of wine laced with deadly aconite. However, just in time, Aegeas caught sight of the sword which he had left Theseus to be a mark of his paternity, and dashed the cup from his hands. (Source: Ovid, Plutarch)

ALMOND TREE

Greek : Amugdalea
Species : Prunus amygdalus
Description : A small deciduous tree growing 4 to 9 metres tall. It flowers in pink-white blossoms in the spring and produces an autumn crop of edible nuts in a tough shell.
Sacred to : Attis (born of the almond nut)
Mythology : Birth of Attis. In Phrygia there was born an hermaphroditic deity named Agdistis. The gods were fearful and castrated it creating the goddess Kybele. The genitals were cast upon the earth where they sprouted and grew into an almond tree. Once when the nymph Nana was sitting beneath its branches a nut fell into her lap and impregnated her. The child conceived was Attis, who grew up to became the consort of the Kybele. (Source: Pausanias)

ANEMONE, POPPY or WINDFLOWER, GREEK

Greek : Anemônê
Species : Anemone coronaria
Description : A perennial spring-flowering bulb with delicate blood-red flowers. Their seed is carried on the wind, hence the ancient Greek name for the flower, anemone (from anemos, the wind).
Sacred to : Aphrodite (probably planted in the "Adonis-gardens")
Mythology : Death of Adonis. Adonis was a handsome youth loved by the goddess Aphrodite. When he was slain by a wild boar, the goddess created the red anemone flower from his blood. (Source: Ovid)

APPLE TREE

Greek : Mêlon
Species : Malus domestica
Description : The apple-tree was an important orchard fruit of ancient Greece. It was associated with love and marriage.
Sacred to : Hera (assoc. with weddings), Aphrodite (assoc. with love)
Myth 1 : Wedding of Hera. The earth-goddess Gaia produced first apple-tree as a wedding-present for the goddess Hera. This tree of the golden apples was guarded by the three goddess Hesperides. (Source: Apollodorus, Hyginus)
Myth 2 : Judgment of Paris. At the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, Eris the goddess of strife, cast a golden apple addressed to the fairest amongst the goddesses. Aphrodite, Hera and Athene all laid claim to the prize. They were referred by Zeus to the shepherd prince Paris, who awarded the apple to Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty. (Source: Stasinus, Apollodorus)
Myth 3 : Melanion & Atalanta. The beautiful-princess Atalanta was reluctant to wed, and insisted that her suitors best her in a race. Those who failed the contest would be put to death by her father. The youth Melanion (meaning he of the apples) prayed to Aphrodite for help, and the goddess presented him with three golden apples. These he cast before the princess in the race, slowing her down as she stooped to retrieve them and so won the race. (Source: Hesiod, Apollodorus, Ovid)
Myth 4 : Nymphai Epimelides. The nymph-protectors of apple-orchards.

ASH, MANNA

Greek : Melia
Species : Fraxinus ornus
Description : A small spring-flowering deciduous tree. It secretes a sweet sap known as manna in July and August which was harvested by the ancients. Manna was believed to be closely related to honey (the word for both was meli in Greek). The tree was said to have been first sprung from the blood of heaven, and its manna was often described as the sky-fallen juice of the stars. The stem of the young ash was in the crafting spear-shafts.
Sacred to : Zeus (manna juice), Kouretes & Ares (ash-spears)
Myth 1 : Nymphai Meliai. The Meliai were the Nymphs of the manna ash-tree who were born from the blood of the castrated Ouranos which splattered upon the earth. They were entrusted with the raising of the infant Zeus whom they fed on the honey and the milk of the goat Amaltheia. The Meliai were also the ancestresses of mankind. (Source: Hesiod, Apollodorus, Callimachus, et al)
Myth 2 : Pelian Ash Spear. The spear of Akhilleus, the great hero of the Trojan War, was crafted by the centaur Kheiron for his father Peleus from an ash growing on Mount Pelion. (Source: Homer, Apollodorus, et al)

ASPHODEL, COMMON

Greek : Asphodelos
Species : Asphodelus ramosus
Description : A spring-flowering perennial with grey-green leaves and pale pink-grey-white flowers. The tubers are edible.
Sacred to : Haides (asphodel planted around tombs), Persephone & Hekate (statues of these goddesses were adorned with asphodel on the island of Rhodes)
Mythology : Asphodel Plains. This ghostly grey plant was believed to dominate the fields of the land of the dead. It was regarded as the food of the dead. (Source: Homer)

BARLEY

Greek : Krithê
Species : Hordeum vulgare
Description : An important grain-crop in the ancient word, second only to wheat.
Sacred to : Demeter (her sacred Eleusinian drink was made of barley, honey and mint)
Mythology : Metamorphosis Askalabos. When Demeter was searching for Persephone, she stopped to rest at a farmer's cottage and quenched her thirst with a sweet barley-drink. A boy name Askalabos mocked her hunger and in anger the goddess cast the drink upon him, transforming him into a lizard. The flecks of barley became the creature's spots. (Source: Ovid)

BEAN, BROAD

Greek : Kyamos
Species : Vicia faba
Description : One of the main garden-crops of ancient Greece.
Prohibitions : Beans were a prohibited food in the mystery-cult of Demeter.
Mythology : Kyamites. The demi-god of beans whose myth was somehow connected with the Eleusinian mysteries. (Source: Pausanias)

BINDWEED or IVY, PRICKLY

Greek : Smilax
Species : Smilax aspera
Description : A climbing spiny vine with pale green flowers and red berries.
Sacred to : Dionysos (garlands of bindweed worn in the orgies of the god)
Mythology : Metamorphosis Smilax. The Nymph Smilax was slighted by the boy Krokos and transformed into the vine. (Sources: Ovid, Pliny)

CEDAR, PRICKLY or JUNIPER, PRICKLY

Greek : Kedros
Species : Juniperus oxycedrus
Description : A small tree with needle like leaves which grows to a height of 10 to 15 metres. The juniper's berries ripen to an orange-red, and the male cones are yellow. The tree is prized for its wood. The famous Phoenician cedar of Lebanon, also found in Crete, is another species.
Sacred to : Artemis (there was a sanctuary of Artemis Kedreatis, Lady of the Cedar, near Orkhomenos where the cult image was set in the tree)

CELERY, WILD and PARSLEY

Greek : Selinon
Species : Apium graveolens and Petroselinum sativum
Description : The Greeks did not distinguish between parsley and celery. Wreaths of wild celery or parsley were worn by mourners at funerals and hung in tombs.
Sacred to : Zeus (victors of his Nemean Games were crowned with wild celery), Poseidon (victors of his Isthmian Games were later also crowned with celery, replacing the pine wreath)
Mythology : Death of Opheltes. The nurse of the infant prince Opheltes lay him in a bed of wild celery as she gave directions to the heroes of the Seven Against Thebes. A serpent came forth and killed the baby. The warriors then founded the Nemean Games in his honour with a victor's wreath made from his celery death-bed. (Source: Apollodorus, et al)

CHASTE TREE or WITHY

Greek : Lygos, agnos
Species : Vitex agnus castus
Description : A small deciduous tree or large shrub with hemp-like leaves and branched clusters of purple flowers. Its stems were used to make wicker items. The plant was believed to calm sexual appetites and was used as a medicine for women.
Sacred to : Hera (assoc. with marital chastity, sacred tree in her Samian temple), Hestia (virgin priestesses carried chaste-tree stems), Artemis (Spartan statue bound in withy stems), Demeter (matrons strew their beds with flowers of the tree during the Thesmophoria festival)
Mythology : Birth of Hera. The goddess Hera was born and nursed beneath a sacred chaste-tree on the island of Samos. (Source: Pausanias)

CHERRY TREE, CORNELIAN

Also : European cornel
Greek : Kraneia
Species : Cornus mas
Description : A small, deciduous tree which grows to a height of 5 to 12 metres tall. It has yellow spring blossoms and bright red fruit which ripen in late summer. The fruit is edible but has an acidic tang. They ancients mostly used them as swine-feed. The tree was also prized for its wood.
Mythology : Hamadryas Kraneia. The Hamadryad nymph of the Cornelian cherry tree. (Source: Athenaeus)

CHESTNUT, SWEET

See Walnut (both were called karya in Greek)

CROCUS, SAFFRON

Greek : Krokos
Species : Crocus sativus
Description : A late-summer and autumn blooming perennial whose yellow stigmas are the source of saffron, a food spice and expensive yellow dye.
Sacred to : Hermes
Myth 1 : Metamorphosis Krokos. A boy loved by the god Hermes. After his accidental death the god transformed him into the saffron flower. Its red stems were desribed as his spilt blood. According to others Krokos was metamorphosed into the flower following the death of his love, the Nymph Smilax. (Source: Ovid, Pliny, et al)
Myth 2 : Bouquet of Persephone. The goddess Persephone and her companion Nymphs were gathering rose, crocus, violet, iris, lily and larkspur blooms in a springtime meadow when she was abducted by the god Haides. (Source: Homeric Hymns)
Myth 3 : Seduction of Europa. Zeus spied the Phoenician princess Europa gathering flowers in a spring-time meadow. He transformed himself into a bull and breathed a crocus from his mouth to drawn her near and so carry her away. (Source: Hesiod)

CYPRESS, ITALIAN

Greek : Kyparissos
Species : Cupressus sempervirens
Description : An evergreen pencil-shaped tree with needle like leaves and small cones.
Sacred to : Apollon (sacred cypress grove at Ortygia), Artemis (sacred cypress groves), Asklepios (his staff was made of cypress)
Myth 1 : Metamorphosis Kyparissos. A young prince of the island of Keos loved by the god Apollon. When he killed himself following the death of his beloved pet stag the god transformed him into the cypress tree. (Source: Ovid)
Myth 2 : Birth of Apollon. The god Apollon was born and raised in the sacred Ortygian cypress grove in Lykia. There he was nursed by the Nymph Ortygia and guarded by shield-clashing Kouretes. (Source: Strabo)

DAFFODIL

See Narcissus
ELM TREE, WYCH
Greek : Ptelea
Species : Ulmus glabra
Description : A deciduous tree which grows to a height of up to 40 metres. It has large oval leaves.
Sacred to : Dionysos (elm and plane saplings were used for the trellacing of vines) ; Haides (the tree was associated with graves of the dead)
Myth 1 : Tree of Dreams. The Oneiroi, spirits of dreams, roosted on the branches an elm tree near the entrance of Haides. (Source: Virgil)
Myth 2 : Barrow of Eetion. The Nymphs planted elms on the barrow of Eetion, the king of Trojan Thebes, who was slain by Akhilleus. (Source: Homer)
Myth 3 : Metamorphosis Hesperides. When Orpheus and the Argonauts encountered the Hesperides in their garden, the three nymphs transformed themselves into trees: Erytheia became an elm (ptelea), Hesperiea poplar (aigeiros), and Aigle a willow tree (itea). (Source: Apollonius Rhodius)
Myth 4 : Hamadryas Ptelea. The Hamadryad nymph of the elm tree. (Source: Athenaeus)

EVERLASTING FLOWER or STRAWFLOWER

Greek : Amarantos, helikhruson, khrysokomê
Species : Helichrysum siculum and Helichrysum orientale
Description : A creeping perennial with greyish leaves and stalks, and small, bright yellow flowers. These retain their colour after being dried. The Greek named the flower amarantos, the unfading, helikhryson, turning gold, and khrysokomê, the golden-haired.
Sacred to : the Gods (dried everlastings were used to decorate the temples of the gods)

FENNEL, GIANT

Greek : Narthêx
Species : Ferula communis
Description : A yellow-flowering perennial which grows 8 to 15 feet tall. Its slow-burning pith made it an effective torch. Travellers and sailors also used it to transport fire.
Sacred to : Prometheus (fennel-stalk torches were used in Promethean torch-race festival), Dionysos (his thyrsos staff was a pine-cone tipped fennel stalk)
Mythology : Fire of Prometheus. The Titan Prometheus stole fire from heaven for man, hiding the flame inside a fennel stalk. As punishment for the crime Zeus had him chained to a mountain and set an eagle to peck out his liver. (Source: Hesiod)

FIG TREE

Greek : Sykea
Species : Ficus carica
Description : An important orchard tree in ancient Greece. Figs were eaten fresh and dried for out of season consumption.
Sacred to : Demeter, Dionysos
Myth 1 : Metamorphosis Sykeus. One of the Titanes who fled from Zeus and was transformed by his mother Gaia into a fig-tree. (Source: Athenaeus)
Myth 2 : Hospitatity of Phytalos. A man who hospitably received the goddess Demeter when she was searching for her lost daughter Persephone. She rewarded him with the creation of the cultivated fig tree. (Source: Pausanias)
Myth 3 : Hamadryas Syke. The Hamadryad nymph of the fig-tree. (Source: Athenaeus)

FIR, GRECIAN and FIR, SILVER

Also : Turkish fir and Trojan fir
Greek : Elatê
Species : Abies cephalonica, A. alba, A. nordmanniana, A. equi-trojani
Description : Firs are mountain growing pyrmaidal-shaped conifers. The silver fir grows to a height of 100 to 150 feet and the Grecian fir around 80. Their tall cones ripen around October. The juice of the silver fir (a turpentine-like oil) was mixed by the Greeks with new wine to make it keep. Fir wood was used for building.
Sacred to : Dionysos (his devotees wielded fir-cone tipped staffs), Kybele (a sacred silver fir was decorated at the centre of her mountain orgies), Eileithyia (the gum of the silver fir called the menses of Eileithyia, perhaps with a medicinal use in childbirth)
Myth 1 : Thyrsos of Dionysos. The thyrsos of Dionysos was a fir- (or pine) cone tipped staff. The fir-cone was a symbol of the god's phallus.
Myth 2 : Metamorphosis Attis. Attis was a handsome youth loved by the goddess Kybele. However when she discovered that he had been unfaithful, she forced him to castrate himself and transformed him into a silver fir. The tree was decorated at the centre of her orgiastic rituals, its phallic cone representing the castrated members of her lover. (Sources: Pausanias, Ovid)
Myth 3 : Nymphai Oreiades. At the birth of a mountain Nymph a lofty silver fir or holm oak sprung up from the earth and withered when she died. (Homeric Hymns)

FRANKINCENSE TREE

Greek : Libanos
Species : Boswellia carterii
Description : A tree of southern Arabia whose aromatic gum was imported into Greece as an incense for use in religious ceremonies.
Sacred to : Helios
Mythology : Metamorphosis Leukothoe. A Persian princess who was loved by the sun-god Helios. When her father learned of the affair, he buried her beneath the sands. Helios then transformed her body into the frankincense tree. (Source: Ovid)

GRAPE VINE

Greek : Ampelos
Species : Vitis vinifera
Description : The grape was widely cultivated in ancient Greece for the production of wine.
Sacred to : Dionysos (god of wine and viticulture)
Myth 1 : Dionysos & Viticulture. The god Dionysos discovered or created the first grapevine and instructed mankind the arts of viticulture and winemaking. (Source: various)
Myth 2 : Metamorphosis Ampelos. A Satyr youth loved by the god Dionysos. After he was slain by a wild bull the god transformed him into a grape vine. (Source: Nonnus)
Myth 3 : Metamorphosis Ambrosia. One of the Mainas nurses of Dionysos. When she was slain by the impious Lykourgos, the god transformed her into a vine.
Myth 4 : Hamadryas Ampelos. The Hamadryad nymph of the wild grape vine. (Source: Athenaeus)
HAZELNUT
See Walnut (both were named karya in Greek)

HELIOTROPE, COMMON

Greek : Hêliotropion
Species : Heliotropium europaeum, H. hirsutissimum, H. supinum
Description : A summer-blooming herb whose flowers turn to face the sun.
Sacred to : Helios
Mythology : Metamorphosis Klytie. Klytie was a Nymphe loved by the sun-god Helios. When he left her for another, she wasted away and was transformed into a sun-gazing heliotrope. (Source: Ovid)

HELLEBORE

Also : Black hellebore, lenten rose
Greek : Helleboros
Species : Helleborus cyclophyllus (and H. orientalis and Veratrum album)
Description : An herbaceous perennial with leathery leaves and winter-blooming yellowish-green flowers. The plant is toxic but was used by the ancients as a treatment for madness and certain other illnesses.
Mythology : Cure of the Proitides. The daughters of King Proitos of Argos were driven mad by the god Dionysos as punishment for scorning his worship. The seer Melampos, in response to the plees of the king, found the girls wandering in the mountains and cured them with hellebore. (Source: Apollodorus, Pliny the Elder)

HEMLOCK, POISON

Greek : Kôneion
Species : Conium maculatum
Description : In ancient Athens hemlock poison was traditionally as the method of death for criminals. The most famous example was Sokrates. Ancient writers frequently associate hemlock with the magic of necromancers and witches, along with its deadly sister aconite.

HERBS, VARIOUS

Greek : Pharmakon (singular), pharmaka (plural)
Species : Various (some were purely mythical)
Description : In ancient Greek, the word pharmakeia referred to the use of herbal drugs, potions and charms. It included not only the physician's art, but also magic (i.e. the use of superstitious charms and spells by the average man), witchcraft (the harmful use of magic) and the concoction of poisons. The Greek word for witch was pharmakis. The ancient pharmacological writer Dioscurides describes the medicinal properties of herbs and other plants in great detail. Witchcraft is mentioned in passing by many poets, but the most descriptive account is surely to be found in the Golden Ass of Apuleius.
Sacred to : Asklepios (god of medicine) ; Hekate (goddess of witchcraft)
Myth 1 : Emetic of Kronos. The Titan Kronos devoured each of his children as soon as they were born, except Zeus, who was safely hidden away by his mother Rheia. When the god was grown he sought the aid of the goddess Metis or Gaia who served Kronos an herbal emetic which caused the Titan to disgorge his divine sibligns: Poseidon, Haides, Hera, Demeter and Hestia. (Source: Hesiod, Apollodorus, et al)
Myth 2 : Herb of the Gigantes. The Gigantes were monstrous sons of Gaia the earth who once made war on the gods of Olympos. Gaia had heard from an oracle that her sons were destined to be destroyed and so searched the world for a magical herb which would grant them immortality. Zeus, however, forbade the Sun, Moon and Dawn to shine, and found the drug before her. (Source: Apollodorus)
Myth 3 : Herb of Glaukos. Glaukos was a fisherman from the Boiotian town of Anthedon who found a magical herb growing near the shore. He ate it and was transformed into a fish-tailed sea-god. (Source: Pausanias, Ovid, Nonnus)
Myth 4 : Medicines of Kheiron. Kheiron was a learned centaur who made his home on Magnesian Mount Pelion. He was the first to discover the use of medicinal herbs and instructed many heroes in the craft, including the famous Asklepios. (Source: Homer, Pindar, Apollodorus, Aelian, et al)
Myth 5 : Medicines of Asklepios. Asklepios was the mythical founder of medicine. As a youth he was instructed by the centaur Kheiron in the use of herbal remedies, but went on to perfect the art. He became so skilled that he could even bring the dead back to life. The ancient guild of doctors, who were known as the Asklepiades, claimed descent from him. (Source: Homer, Pindar, Apollodorus, Aelian, et al)
Myth 6 : Herb of Polyidos. Polyidos was a seer summoned to the court of King Minos of Krete to find his missing son Glaukos. He found the boy drowned in a vat of honey, and was then locked by the king in a cell with the body and commanded to bring him back to life. When a serpent crawled toward the corpse, Polyidos killed it, and watched as its mate appeared with a magical herb and restored it to life. Using this plant he then revived the Glaukos and was freed. (Source: Apollodorus, Hyginus, et al)
Myth 7 : Herb of Moria. Moria was a Lydian nymph whose brother Tylos was killed by a giant serpent. The hero Damasen killed the beast, but afterwards, as Moria was watching, its mate appeared and restored it to life with a magical herb. She then used the same to revive her own dead brother. (Source: Nonnus)
Myth 8 : Witchcraft of Kirke. The witch Kirke was titled polypharmakos (of the many herbs) by Homer. She was said to have been the first to devise magical herbal potions, and used these magical concoctions to transform men into beasts, including the comrades of Odysseus, the Italian youth Pikos, and the nymph Skylla. (Source: Homer, Ovid, et al)
Myth 9 : Witchcraft of Medea. The witch Medea was skilled in the use of magical herbs. She made a fire-resistant salve for the hero Jason when he was forced to face the fire-breathing bulls of king Aeetes ; she put the serpent guardian of the Golden Fleece to sleep with a potion ; restored Jason's father and also the Hyades to youth by boiling them in a cauldron with magical herbs ; and various other magical wonders. Medea was said to have left her basket of Kolkhian herbs on Mount Pelion where they sprouted for the use of later Thessalian withces. She also later tried to kill the hero Theseus with poison aconite. (Source: Apollonius Rhodius, Valerius Flaccus, et al)
See also : Aconite, Hellebore, Hemlock, Mint and Moly (separate entries)

HYACINTH

The plant that is now named hyacinth is not the same as the ancient Greek hyakinthos. For that plant and the story of the boy Hyakinthos see Larkspur.

IRIS, DWARF and IRIS, SWEET

Greek : Agallis, iris
Species : Iris attica, I. pallida
Description : A spring flowering bulb with purple, blue or mauve blooms.
Myth 1 : Bouquet of Persephone. The goddess Persephone and her companion Nymphs were gathering rose, crocus, violet, dwarf iris (agallis), lily and larkspur blooms in a springtime meadow when she was abducted by the god Haides. (Source: Homeric Hymns)
Myth 2 : Goddess Iris. The sweet iris was named by the Greeks after the goddess of the rainbow.

IVY, COMMON

Greek : Kissos
Species : Hedera helix
Description : A creeping vine which flowers in autumn and whose black berries ripen in late winter.
Sacred to : Dionysos (ivy garlands were worn by celebrants of the god's orgies and ivy was used to decorate their thyrsos-staffs)
Myth 1 : Nursing of Dionysos. After the birth of Dionysos his jealous stepmother Hera sought to destroy him. So his nurses, the Nymphai Nysiades, screened his crib with ivy-leaves to keep him safely hidden. Kisseis (the lady of the ivy) was the name of one of these Nymphs. (Source: Ovid)
Myth 2 : Korymbos. The son of one of the nurses of Dionysos. He was the god of the fruit of the ivy (in Greek korymbos). (Source: Nonnus)
JUNIPER
See Cedar

LARKSPUR, ROCKET

Greek : Hyakinthos
Species : Delphinium ajacis
Description : A late spring, early summer flowering perennial with tall stems of blue flowers.
Sacred to : Apollon (the plant was probably used in the god's Hyakinthia festival held near Sparta in early summer)
Myth 1 : Metamorphosis Hyakinthos. Hyakinthos was a handsome, young Spartan prince loved by the gods Apollon and Zephyros. Zephyros grew jealous and one day when Apollon was playing quoits with the boy he caught up the disc with his windy breath and struck him in the head. As Hyakinthos lay dying, Apollon caused the larkspur or iris flower to spring forth from his blood, inscribing it with the Greek words "ai ai", alas, alas. (Sources: Ovid, Philostratus, Pausanias, et al)
Myth 2 : Death of Aias. Aias (or Ajax) was a Greek hero of the Trojan war. After the armour of Akhilleus was awarded to Odysseus he went mad and threw himself upon his own sword. The larkspur flower sprang from his blood, its petals inscribed with the "ai" of his name. (Source: Ovid)
Myth 3 : Bouquet of Persephone. The goddess Persephone and her companion Nymphs were gathering rose, crocus, violet, iris, lily and larkspur blooms in a springtime meadow when she was abducted by the god Haides. (Source: Homeric Hymns)
(NB The flower now called the hyacinth is not the same as the Greek hyakinthos. Rather it is identified with the larkspur. In the image right - click on thumbnail - , the letters AI are typed beside the letter shapes on the central petal.)

LAUREL or BAY, SWEET

Greek : Daphnê
Species : Laurus nobilis
Description : A small tree growing to a maximum height of 40 feet. It flowers in late spring and produces purplish black berries in the fall. The aromatic leaves of the bay are edible and are / were used in cooking.
Sacred to : Apollon (the god and victors of his Phthian Games were crowned with wreaths of laurel ; he was titled Daphnaios) ; Artemis (she had sacred laurel groves and was titled Daphnaia)
Mythology : Metamorphosis Daphne. Daphne was an Arkadian Nymphe loved by the god Apollon. When he pursued her, she fled and transformed into a laurel tree to escape him. The plant was ever after sacred to the god. (Sources: Pausanias, Ovid, Hyginus)

LETTUCE, PRICKLY

Greek : Thridax
Species : Lactuca serriola
Description : The ancient Greeks cultivated the wild prickly lettuce. The plant has tall stalks with elongated leaves, yellow flowers and feathery seeds. The ball-shaped lettuce of today is a derivitive species (Lactuca sativa).
Sacred to : Aphrodite (the plant was associated with impotency)
Mythology : Death of Adonis. Adonis was a handsome youth loved by the goddess Aphrodite. He was slain by a wild boar in a bed of lettuce, or was laid out amongst the plants by the goddess following his death. The lettuce was therefore regarded as the plant of the death of love, and so of impotency. Others say that the baby Adonis was hidden in a lettuce bed by the goddess following his birth from the trunk of the tree Myrrha. (Source: Athenaeus)

LILY, MADONNA

Greek : Leirion, krinon
Species : Lilium candidum
Description : A white-flowered spring perennial which grows to a height of up to 1.2 metres.
Mythology : Bouquet of Persephone. The goddess Persephone and her companion Nymphs were gathering rose, crocus, violet, dwarf iris, lily (leirion) and larkspur blooms in a springtime meadow when she was abducted by the god Haides. (Source: Homeric Hymns)

LINDEN, BIG-LEAF or LIME, LARGE-LEAFED

Greek : Philyra
Species : Tilia platyphyllos
Description : A deciduous tree which grows to a height of 60 to 80 feet. The linden blooms with fragrant yellowish-white flowers in mid-summer.
Sacred to : Perhaps Aphrodite
Myth 1 : Metamorphosis Philyre. Philyra was a Thessalian Nymphe loved by the Titan Kronos. When his wife Rhea interrupted their rendeavous he transformed himself into a horse and fled. Philyra was later so ashamed at having given birth to the half-horse Kheiron that she begged Zeus to change her form. He agreed, transforming her into a linden tree. (Source: Hyginus)
Myth 2 : Metamorphosis Baukis. Philemon and Baukis were a pious couple who hospitably received the gods Zeus and Hermes when they were travelling amongst mankind in disguise. The gods destroyed those who had turned them away and rewarded the couple by making them priests of the temple and transforming them into a pair of entwined trees at death: Baukis a linden, and Philemon an oak. (Source: Ovid)

LOTUS TREE or DATE PLUM

Greek : Lotos
Species : Diospyrus lotus
Description : A small deciduous tree which flowers with lotus-shaped blossoms in mid-summer. Its sweet red fruit ripens in late autumn.
Sacred to : Priapos
Myth 1 : Metamorphosis Lotis. Lotis was a Dryopian Nymphe who was transformed into a lotus-tree to escape the lustful pursuit of the god Priapos. (Source: Ovid)
Myth 2 : Tribe of the Lotus-Eaters. The Lotus-Eaters (Greek Lotophagoi) were a tribe of men addicted to the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus tree.Tthe hero Odysseus encountered them during his travels. When some of his men tasted the fruit, they lost the desire to leave and had to be dragged, bound, back to the ship. (Source: Homer)

MINT, SPEAR

Greek : Minthê
Species : Mentha spicata (or viridis)
Description : An herbaceous perennial with aromatic leaves.
Sacred to : Demeter and Persephone (the sacred barley-drink of the Eleusinian Mysteries was flavoured with mint), Haides (aromatic mint was perhaps used on the bodies of the dead)
Mythology : Metamorphosis Minthe. Minthe was a Nymph loved by the god Haides. When she boasted that she was superior to his queen Persephone, the goddess, or her mother Demeter, transformed her into the mint plant. (Sources: Strabo, Ovid, Oppian)

"MOLY PLANT"

Greek : Môlu
Species : Unknown (perhaps entirely mythical)
Description : A poisonous herb with black roots and milk-white flowers.
Mythology : Witchcraft of Kirke. When Odysseus was travelling to the palace of the witch Kirke, the god Hermes plucked a moly plant from the earth and presented it to the hero for protection against her magics. (Source: Homer)

MULBERRY, BLACK

Greek : Moron
Species : Morus nigra
Description : A small deciduous tree or bush native to western Asia. It is cultivated for its juicy, dark-red berries.
Myth 1 : Death of Pyramos & Thisbe. Pyramos and Thisbe were a pair of ill-fated lovers from the Assyrian city of Babylon. Their parents forbade their romance and the pair agreed to meet secretly beneath a white-berried mulberry tree outside the city limits. When Pyramos arrived he found Thisbe's shawl in the jaws of a lion and believing her killed plunged a sword through his breast. The girl upon discovering her dead lover also killed herself. The mulberry tree soaked up the lovers' blood and its berries were turned from white to black-red. (Source: Ovid)
Myth 2 : Hamadryas Morea. The Hamadryad nymph of the mulberry-tree. (Source: Athenaeus)

MUSHROOM, FIELD

Greek : Mukês
Species : Agaricus campestris and other species
Descriptions : Mushrooms were regarded as a delicacy in the ancient world and were harvested from the wild.
Mythology : Origin of Ephyraian Men. After the Great Deluge the Isthmos was repopulated by men grown from mushrooms. (Source: Ovid)

MYRRH TREE

Greek : Smyrna, myrra
Species : Commiphora myrrha
Description : A small, spiny desert tree native to Arabia and the horn of Africa. Its valuable, aromatic gum resin was harvested and burnt as an incense in ancient religious shrines.
Sacred to : Aphrodite (festal myrrh incense)
Myth : Metamorphosis Smyrna. Smyrna (or Myrrha) was a Cyprian, Lebanese or Assyrian princess whose mother dared to compare her in beauty to the goddess Aphrodite. The offended divinity caused the girl to fall in love with her own father as punishment. When the King discovered his daughter had seduced him in disguise, he pursued her with an axe, but the goddess mercifully intervened by transforming Smyrna into a myrrh tree. Adonis was later born of the incestuous union from the tree's trunk and entrusted to the care of Nymphs. The tears of the girl formed the aromatic gum of myrrh. A similar story was told of Myrrha and the myrtle tree. (Sources: Apollodorus, Antoninus Liberalis, Plutarch, Hyginus, Ovid)

MYRTLE

Greek : Myrsinê, myrrinê, myrtos
Species : Myrtus communis
Description : A small evergreen tree or shrub with aromatic, spicy-tasting leaves. It blooms with sweet-scented, white flowers in spring and summer, and produces edible blue-black berries.
Sacred to : Aphrodite (brides wore myrtle-garlands and bathed in myrtle-scented water on their wedding day)
Myth : Metamorphosis Myrrha. Myrrha was a Cyprian princess who fell in love with her father and conspired to seduce him in disguise. When he learned of her crime, she fled his wrath and was transformed into a myrtle tree. The boy Adonis was later born from her trunk. The same ory was told of Myrrha or Smyrna and the myrrh tree. (Source: Pausanias)

NARCISSUS, POLYANTHUS or DAFFODIL, MINNOW

Also : Poet's Narcissus or Pheasant's eye Daffodil, and Late Daffodil
Greek : Narkissos, leirion
Species : Narcissus tazetta, N. poeticus, N. serotinus
Description : A late winter, early spring flowering bulb with pale cream-petalled and yellow-trumpeted blooms. According to Plutarch, the plant was named for the numbing effect (narkê) of the ingested bulb.
Myth 1 : Metamorphosis Narkissos. Narkissos was a hubristic youth who callously scorned all those who sought to court him. The goddess Nemesis exacted revenge by causing him to fall in love with his own reflection. The boy became obsessed with the image and slowly wasting away was transformed into a narcissus flower. (Source: Ovid)
Myth 2 : Nymphe Leiriope. Leiriope was a Phokian Nymph, and the mother of the hubristic boy Narkissos (above). Her name means "narcissus-face" suggesting that she, like her son, may have been transformed into a daffodil flower. (Source: Ovid)
Myth 3 : Rape of Persephone. The goddess Persephone and her companion Nymphs were gathering rose, crocus, violet, iris, lily and larkspur blooms in a springtime meadow when she was lured away by a cluster of bright narcissus flowers produced by Gaia the Earth. When she went to pluck them, the god Haides seized and carried her off to the underworld to be his bride. (Source: Homeric Hymns)

OAK, HOLM and OAK, VALONIA

Also : Evergreen oak, prickly-cupped oak and ilex (alternative names for the holm)
Greek : Drys
Species : Quercus ilex, Q. ithaburensis macrolepis and Q. aegilops
Description : The oak was the dominant tree of the ancient Greek landscape. In fact the ancient Greek word for oak, 'drys', was also the word for tree. The two main commonly found in the region are the evergreen holm oak and the deciduous Valonian. Both range in size from thick low shrub (forming the basis of the modern-day Meditteranean scrub forests) to large trees. They were valued for their wood and for the autumn-ripening acorns. Tanin was also extracted from the acorn cups of the Valonian oak. This substance was a vital component employed in the tanning of leather hides. In Greek lore, the primitive, pre-agrarian tribes of Arkadia were said to have lived on a stable diet of acorns. In classical times it was a food only of last resort consumed in times of famine. Usually acorns were reserved for animal feed.
Sacred to : Zeus (gave his oracles from the sacred oaks of Dodona)
Myth 1 : Nymphai Dryades. Dryads or Hamadryads were Nymphs whose life force was irrevocably bound up with that of a tree, usually a mighty oak. At their birth, a symbiotic plant sprang up fully grown from the earth and when they died it withered away. The premature felling of the tree also brought about the death of the Nymph. (Source: Various)
Myth 2 : Metamorphosis Byblis. Byblis was a Miletian princess who fell in love with her own brother. When the boy rejected her advances, she fled in shame, and cast herself off a mountainside. The Nymphs pitied her fate and transformed Byblis into a holm oak Dryad. Her tears became a spring which rose from the tree's roots. (Sources: Antoninus Liberalis, Ovid)
Myth 3 : Metamorphosis Philemon. Philemon and Baukis were a pious couple who hospitably received the gods Zeus and Hermes when they were travelling amongst mankind in disguise. The gods destroyed those who had turned them away and rewarded the couple by making them priests of the temple and transforming them into a pair of entwined trees at death: Baukis a linden, and Philemon an oak. (Source: Ovid)
Myth 4 : The Golden Fleece. The golden fleece was nailed to the branches of an oak tree in the sacred grove of Ares at Kolkhis. The god sent a giant serpent (drakon) to guard it. (Source: Apollodorus, Apollonius Rhodius, Valerius Flaccus)
Myth 5 : Sacrilege of Erysikthon. See Poplar, black.
Myth 6 : Hamadryas Balanos. The Hamadryad nymph of the acorn. (Source: Athenaeus)

OLIVE TREE

Greek : Elaia, moria
Species : Olea europaea
Description : The olive was the most important tree of ancient Greek horticulture. The fruit was used as a relish with bread, and its oil employed in cooking, lamps for light, and as a, sometimes perfumed, lotion for the skin and hair.
Sacred to : Athene (the most sacred olive tree grew in her sanctuary on the Acropolis of Athens) ; Zeus (victors at the Olympian Games were crowned with wild olive)
Myth 1 : Contest for Athens. Athene and Poseidon once engaged in a contest for dominion of Athens. Zeus agreed to award the city to the god who produced the best gift for man. Athene then created the first olive tree which she caused to spring forth from the rock of the Akropolis, whilst Poseidon produced a horse. The gods judged Athene's the better gift and awarded her the city. (Source: Apollodorus, Pausanias, Hyginus, Ovid)
Myth 2 : Metamorphosis Moria. Moria was an Athenian maiden dear to the goddess Athena. At her death the goddess transformed her into a sacred olive tree (moria). (Source: tba)

PALM, DATE

Greek : Phoinix
Species : Phoenix dactylifera
Description :A medium sized tree which grows to a height of 15 to 25 metres. Its edible dates are harvested.
Sacred to : Apollon and Leto (the sacred palm tree of Apollon's birth grew in his sanctuary on the island of Delos); Nike (the goddess of victory held a palm branch as an attribute).
Mythology : Birth of Apollon. The goddess Leto gave birth to Apollon on hte island of Delos whilst clinging to a palm tree beside the Inopos River. (Source: Homeric Hymns, Callimachus, et al)

PARSLEY

See Celery (both were called selinon in Greek and barely distinguished)

PEAR TREE

Greek : Onkhnê, apios
Species : Pyrus communis
Description : The pear was one of the mainstays of the ancient Greek orchard, alongside the apple, pomegranate, fig and olive. Despite its prominence the tree is curiously absent from myth. The travel writer Pausanias mentions an old cult statue or two crafted out of pear-wood.
"But without the courtyard, hard by the door, is a great orchard of four acres, and a hedge runs about it on either side. Therein grow trees, tall and luxuriant, pears and pomegranates and apple-trees with their bright fruit, and sweet figs, and luxuriant olives." Homer's Odyssey 7.112

PINE, ALEPPO and PINE, TURKISH

Greek : Peukê, pitys
Species : Pinus halepensis and Pinus brutia
Description : The Aleppo is a coastal pine which grows to a height of 15 to 25 metres. The Turkish pine is another coastal pine, somewhat larger at 20 to 35 metres, with edible seeds. Pine wood was commonly used by the ancients for shipbuilding and also for torches.
Sacred to : Poseidon (victors at the god's Isthmian games were crowned with wreaths of pine; he had sacred pine groves at Korinthos and Onkhestos) ; Dionysos (his devotees wielded pine or fir-cone tipped thrysoi staffs)
Mythology : Banditry of Sinis. Sinis Pityokamptes (the Pine-Bender) was a Korinthian bandit, and a son of the god Poseidon, who waylayed travellers passing through the Isthmos. He bound his victims to the tops of curbed pine-trees and let spring up to tear the men asunder. Sinis was slain by Theseus in the same manner. Afterwards the hero instituted the Isthmian Games to appease the ghost of Sinis and his father Poseidon. (Sources: Apollodorus, Plutarch, et al)

PINE, CORSICAN and PINE, STONE

Greek : Pitys, peukê
Species : Pinus nigra laricio and Pinus pinea and Pinus brutia
Description : The Corsican pine is a mountain growing tree which reaches a height of 20 to 55 metres. It is a subspecies of the European black pine. The stone pine is smaller, at 15 to 25 metres, has umbrella-shaped crown and produces the edible pine nut.
Sacred to : Pan (the god had sacred pine groves on Mount Mainalos) ; Dionysos (as per the Aleppo pine)
Myth 1 : Metamorphosis Pitys. Pitys was a nymph loved by the god Pan. She fled his advances and was transformed into a pine tree. (Source: Lucian, Nonnus)
Myth 2 : Nymphai Oreiades. The Oreiades were nymphs of the mountain peaks who were born and who died with their native pines. (Source: Homeric Hymns)
Myth 3 : Metamorphosis Oikhaliai. When the Oikhalian princess Dryope had departed to join the nymphs, maidens of the village spread the rumour that she had been abducted. The nymphs were angered by this and transformed the girls into pine trees. (Source: Antoninus Liberalis)

PLANE, ORIENTAL

Greek : Platanos
Species : Platanus orientalis
Description : A wide-spreading deciduous tree usually found growing in river plains. The tree produces round, burr-like fruits in autumn. Many Greek cities, including Athens, planted plane trees for shade. Plane and elm tree saplings were also used for vine trellacing.
Sacred to : Helene (at Sparta, girls celebrated her wedding by pouring libations of oil and hanging garlands on her sacred plane tree)
Myth 1 : Sacrifice at Aulis. When the Greek fleet was gathered at Aulis in preparation for the departure to Troy, Agamamemnon and the other leaders made sacrifices to the gods beneath the sacred plane tree. Zeus then sent an omen: a speckled serpent devoured a nest of birds in the tree, eight chicks with their mother, and was afterwards turned to stone. The seer Kalkhas interpreted this to mean that the Trojan War would last nine years with Troy finally falling in the tenth. (Source: Homer)
Myth 2 : Death of Helene. After the death of her husband Menelaus, Helene sought refuge with Queen Polyxo of Rhodes. The woman nursed a grudge for the death of her husband in the Trojan War, and with her handmaidens, dressed themselves up as Erinyes and hung Helene from a plane tree. She was afterwards worshipped as Helene Dendrytis (of the Tree). (Source: Pausanias)

"PLANY PLANT"

Greek : Psalakantha
Species : Unknown, similar to Artemisia absinthium and Melilot officinalis
Description : According to ancient sources the plany resembled or was a type of absinth wormwood (aka armoise), a herbaceous perennial with silvery green leaves and pale yellow flowers. It was also likened to melilot (yellow sweet clover).
Sacred to : Dionysos & Ariadne (a wreath of the plant was probably worn at their Naxian and Ikarian festivals)
Mythology : Metamorphosis Psalakantha. Psalakantha was an Ikarian who Dionysos sought to assist him in the wooing of Ariadne. She, however, developed a passion for the god and, when he refused her tried, to dissuade Ariadne from the union. The god in anger transformed her into a plany plant, but afterwards, feeling remorse set her plant in the crown of his wife. (Ptolemy Hephaestion)

POMEGRANATE TREE

Greek : Rhoa, sidê
Species : Punica granatum
Description : A fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree which grows to a height of 5 to 8 metres. It produces a red fruit about the size of an orange, rich in seeds and with a juicy red fruit pulp. The tree was cultivated in ancient orchards alongside the apple, pear, fig and olive..
Sacred to : Hera (the fruit was her attribute as goddess of marriage - the bloody red seeds representing female fertility), Aphrodite (for similar reasons)
Prohibitions : Demeter and Persephone (the fruit was one of the foods prohibited in the Mystery initiations)
Myth 1 : Metamorphosis Side. Side was the wife of the giant Orion who boasted to be more beautiful than the goddess Hera. In anger the goddess sent her to Haides. Presumably this was accompanied by a metamorphosis into her namesake fruit tree, the pomegranate. (Source: Apollodorus)
Myth 2 : Rape of Persephone. Haides the king of the underworld abducted Persephone for his wife. She refused to eat while she remained with him, until he tempted her with the seed of the pomegranate. She tasted these and in so doing was condemned to spend a portion of each year in the underworld. (Source: Homeric Hymns, et. al.)
Myth 3 : Orchadist Askalaphos. The keeper of the pomegranate orchards of Haides reported to his master that Persephone had tasted of the seed. As punishment for this Demeter turned him into a screech owl. (Source: Apollodorus, Ovid)

POPLAR, BLACK

Greek : Aigeiros
Species : Populus nigra
Description : A tall, narrow deciduous tree which grows to a height of 30 to 40 metres. Poplars are commonly found growing along the banks of rivers.
Sacred to : Helios (the trees as sources of amber), Persephone (Homer describes her sacred poplar and willow tree grove near the entrance of Hades)
Myth 1 : Metamorphosis Heliades. The Heliades were nymph daughters of the sun-god Helios. After the death of their brother Phaethon, who had fallen from the chariot of the sun, the sisters gathered on the banks of the northern river Eridanos in ceaseless mourning and were transformed into amber-teared poplar trees.
Myth 2 : Metamorphosis Sperkheides. The Sperkheides were nymphs of the river Sperkheios in Malis. While Poseidon was seducing their sister Diopatre, he transformed them into poplar trees. (Source: Antoninus Liberalis)
Myth 3 : Metamorphosis Dryope. Dryope was a princess of Oikhalia loved by the god Apollon. When their son was grown, she departed with the Hamadryad nymphs (her aunts) who transformed her into a sacred poplar in the god's sanctuary. Others say this occurred after she plucked the flower of the metamorphosed nymph Lotis. (Source: Antoninus Liberalis, Ovid)
Myth 4 : Metamorphosis Hesperides. When Orpheus and the Argonauts encountered the Hesperides in their garden, the three nymphs transformed themselves into trees: Erytheia became an elm (ptelea), Hesperiea poplar (aigeiros), and Aigle a willow tree (itea). (Source: Apollonius Rhodius)
Myth 4 : Sacrilege of Erysikhthon. The Thessalian king Erysikhthon felled the holy poplars or oak tree in the sacred grove of the goddess Demeter, in order to build a roof for his feast-hall. The Dryad nymphs cried out in pain, and as punishment the goddess inflicted him with an unquenchable hunger. (Source: Callimachus, Ovid)
Myth 5 : Hamadryas Aigeiros. The Hamadryad nymph of the black poplar tree. (Source: Athenaeus)

POPLAR, WHITE

Greek : Leukê
Species : Populus alba
Description : A deciduous tree which grows to a height of 15 to 25 metres. Its has smooth, grey-white bark, and leaves which are green on top with white undersides. New leaves are covered in a whitish-grey down.
Sacred to : Haides (white poplars grew abundantly around the river Akheron in Thesprotia where the god had his oracle of the dead) ; Zeus and Herakles (the tree was established at Olympia by Herakles when he founded the games ; the Eleians also used its wood for the sacrificial fires of Zeus and titled him Leukaios, god of the white poplar)
Myth 1 : Metamorphosis Leuke. Leuke was a nymph who was carried off by the god Haides. After her death she was transformed into a white poplar in Elysium. (Source: Servius).
Myth 2 : Herakles & the Olympics. When Herakles established the Olympic games at Olympia he introduced the white poplar from Thesprotia for its shade. (Source: Pindar, Pausanias, et al)

POPPY, CORN and POPPY, OPIUM

Greek : Mêkôn
Species : Papaver rhoeus and Papaver somniferum
Description : A bright red spring and summer flowing perennial. The ancients apparently planted it in their crop rotations to revitalise the soil. It was also naturally found growing amongst the wheat fields. Opiates were extracted from the seed of the opium poppy variety.
Sacred to : Demeter (poppy flowers were used for festive adornment, and a cake baked with poppy-seeds featured in her mysteries; opiates may also have been used in some of her Mystery cults), Hypnos (the god of sleep dripped poppy juice, i.e. opium, from his wand)
Mythology : Metamorphosis Mekon. Mekon was a youth loved by the goddess Demeter. Following his premature death she transformed him into a poppy flower. (Source: Servius)

REED, SWEET FLAG or CALAMUS

Greek : Kalamos
Species : Acorus calamus
Description : A perennial wetland reed with scented leaves. Its seed spikes grow on tall stalks. The rustic panpipe of the ancients was made from the hollowed out stalks of the plant..
Sacred to : Pan (his famous panpipes were crafted from its hollow stalks, and the spikes were a phallic symbol) ; Dionysos (the rhizome was a wine additive, and the spike a phallic symbol)
Myth 1 : Metamorphosis Syrinx. Syrinx was a nymph loved by the god Pan. She fled his advances and reaching the banks of hte river Ladon transformed into a stand of reeds to escape him. The god made his panpipes from her stalks. (Source: Ovid, Nonnus)
Myth 2 : Metamorphosis Kalamos. Kalamos was a son of the Karian river Maiandros. When his beloved Karpos (fruit) drowned, the grievingKalamos was transformed into a stand of reeds. (Source: Nonnus)

ROCK-ROSE

Greek : Kisthos
Species : Cistus villosus
Description : A low growing perennial shrub with large, delicate, pink or yellow flowers.
Sacred to : Poseidon (perhaps)
Mythology : Seduction of Medousa. The Gorgon Medousa was seduced by Poseidon in a meadow of rock roses on the island of Kisthene. The isle was named Kisthene for the flower kisthos.

ROSE, GALLIC

Greek : Rhodon
Species : Rosa gallica
Description : A deciduous thorny shrub with bright pink flowers. The rose was cultivated by the Greeks and Romans.
Sacred to : Aphrodite (symbol of love)
Myth 1 : Death of Adonis. The flower was said to have sprung or been coloured by the blood of Aphrodite's dying love Adonis.
Myth 2 : Bouquet of Persephone The goddess Persephone and her companion Nymphs were gathering rose, crocus, violet, iris, lily and larkspur blooms in a springtime meadow when she was abducted by the god Haides. (Source: Homeric Hymns)

STRAWBERRY TREE, GRECIAN

Greek : Andrakhnos, komaros
Species : Arbutus andrachne and Arbutus unedo
Description : A small evergreen tree or shrub which grows to a height of 5 to 10 metres. It produces bell shaped flowers in spring, and red berries in the autumn. The fruit is edible but bland.
Sacred to : Hermes (a sacred strawberry tree stood in his sanctuary at Tanagra).
Mythology : Birth of Hermes. The infant god was nursed beneath a strawberry tree. (Source: Pausanias)

VIOLET, SWEET

Greek : Ion
Species : Viola odorata
Description : A small perennial with sweet-scented, violet-coloured flowers.
Sacred to : Apollon (perhaps)
Myth 1 : Birth of Iamos. Iamos was a son of Apollon and the nymph Euadne. He was abandoned by his mother at birth. She left him lying in the Arkadian wilds on a bed of violets where he was fed honey by serpents. Eventually he was discovered by passing shepherds who named him Iamos after the violet (ion) bed. (Source: Pindar)
Myth 2 : Bouquet of Persephone The goddess Persephone and her companion Nymphs were gathering rose, crocus, violet, iris, lily and larkspur blooms in a springtime meadow when she was abducted by the god Haides. (Source: Homeric Hymns)

WALNUT, PERSIAN

Also : English walnut, and the Hazelnut and Sweet chestnut trees
Greek : Karya
Species : Juglans regia, Coryllus avellana, Castanea vesca
Description : The Greek word karya was used for three types of nut tree, but usually the walnut and hazel. The walnut is a deciduous tree growing 25 to 35 metres tall. The male flowers are drooping catkins which fruit in autumn with green, fleshy husks containing an edible nut. Walnuts, as well as hazelnuts and sweet chestnuts were harvested by the ancients.
Sacred to : Artemis (had a sacred grove of sacred walnut or hazelnut trees at Karyai in Lakonia; the priestesses were named Karyatides, i.e. "ladies of the nut tree")
Myth 1 : Metamorphosis Karya. Karya was a Lakonian maiden loved by the god Dionysos. When her two sisters tried to prevent the liaison, the pair were driven mad and having gone to Mount Taygetos were transformed into stones. Karya meanwhile died and was changed into a nut tree. The goddess Artemis informed her father Dion of the affair and commanded he found a sanctuary in honour of Artemis Karyatis. (Source: Servius)
Myth 2 : Hamadryas Karya. The Hamadryad nymph of the nut-tree. (Source: Athenaeus)

WHEAT

Greek : Pyros
Species : Triticum vulgare
Description : The chief agricultural crop. The Greeks sowed in late autumn or early and spring, and reaped the ripened grain in mid summer.
Sacred to : Demeter and Persephone (goddesses of the grain)
Myth 1 : Demeter Bestows Grain. After the return of Persephone from the underworld, Demeter bestowed the art of agriculture upon mankind. (Source: Homeric Hymns, et al)
Myth 2 : Instruction of Triptolemos. The Eleusinian hero Triptolemos was given a chariot drawn by flying serpents by the goddess Demeter and sent to instruct the whole of mankind in the art of agriculture. (Source: Homeric Hymns, et al)

"WILLOW", VITEX

See Chaste tree

WILLOW, WHITE

Greek : Itea
Species : Salix alba
Description : A deciduous tree which grows to a height of 20 to 30 metres tall. Silky white hairs on its long thin leaves give the tree a silver sheen. Its flowers are catkins. Wicker baskets, shields and other items were made from its stems.
Sacred to : Persephone (Homer describes her sacred grove of willows and black poplars near the entrance of Hades)
Mythology : Metamorphosis Hesperides. When Orpheus and the Argonauts encountered the Hesperides in their garden, the three nymphs transformed themselves into trees: Erytheia became an elm (ptelea), Hesperiea poplar (aigeiros), and Aigle a willow tree (itea). (Source: Apollonius Rhodius)
WOLF'S BANE
See Aconite

YEW, EUROPEAN

Also : Common yew, English yew
Greek : Smilos, milos, taxos
Species : Taxus baccata
Description : A small to medium-sized evergreen conifer growing to a height of 10 to 20 metres. The plant fruits with small red berries. The strong, flexible wood of the yew was used by the ancients for crafting bows. The leaves and seeds are toxic, and the burning wood emits toxic fumes.
Sacred to : The Erinyes (a yew branch was one of their attributes, used to drip purifying drops of water and as a flaming torch).

 

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