Nature Blues

A post inspired by Memorial Day from the Good Earth Plants folks looks at the commonplace assumptions and difficulties of incorporating “blue” into flower arrangements. Sure the sky is blue, sometimes, and if you set some flower cuttings in blue dyed water after a day or two they will start looking similar, but ‘blue’ as a color/conception is a fairly recent human adjective. Get in a time machine and ask Homer, author of the Odyssey about blue. He’d certainly give you puzzled response, rather describing the ocean as wine red. This isn’t because of any hypothetical blindness, but because “blue” didn’t exist for him. (There’s a fascinating Radiolab about the color,


“Blue” doesn’t occur much in nature. It’s first documented occurrence circa 4,000 years ago in Egypt as cuprorivaite, a mineral used to decorate vases. Lapis Lazuli, Cobalt, and Cerulean were all subsequent mineral concoctions that each radically effected the arts of their time. Woad, the plant, was king during medieval Europe. Indigo was a major crop of the southern states of America during the colonial era. So much striving for a color that barely exists in nature.


The only blue flower I could think of was Lobelia. A plant I know in relation to its use in Tobacco smoking cessation. It has an alkaloid Lobeline that satisfies Nicotine receptors in the brain, ie gives the pleasure of a cigarette, but also causes uncomfortable nausea. Thereby helping some smokers, myself included (two years since), quit smoking via Pavlovian training.


An internet search produces at least 3 dozen more flowers that are sort of blue, maybe shades of purple, but blue is a rare find. Especially compared to any wildflower book arranged by color, white and yellow are the bulk. Blue is not even a category in my “Guide to Florida Wildflowers”, by WK Taylor. (Only White, Yellow, Green, Pink, Purple, Red.) Leaving a lacking palette for our foliage designs.


The Blue Rose has always stood for horticulturists as an unattainable mystery. Countless plant scientists since medieval days have tried and failed to produce a flowering blue rose absent the use of dye. A little over ten years ago in Japan a company genetically engineered one. So maybe in the near future there will be a real blue Poinsetta for holiday arrangements, with just a little luck, and a few copy and pasted gene splices…

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