Greek Plant Mythology

February 19, 2009 at 9:12 AM (Floral Design)

Greek Mythology describes the creation of plants essential to the Greek life. These myths were found in the Greek epics and their stories have survived to present day.

Monkshood, called lykotonon by the Greeks, has toxic leaves and roots. Lykoktonon means wolf slaying; this plant earned the name because it was rubbed on the arrows used when hunting wolves. Monkshood originated from the spittle of the beast Kerberos was dripped on the ground and this lead to the sprouting of Monkshood.
Almond trees are sacred to Attis, who was born out of an almond nut. The almond came to earth when Agdistis, a hermaphroditic god, was castrated by the goddess Kybele. The genitals were discarded and sprouted into an almond tree. The name Attis comes from the name of the child conceived by the Nymph Nana. Nana was sitting beneath an almond tree when a nut fell and impregnated her.
The Poppy was given the Greek name anemone, stemming from anemos, meaning the wind, because the seeds were carried by the wind. This flower was created by Aphrodite. She created the flower from the blood of Adonis, who was slain by a boar.
The apple tree is very important to Greek history. It is associated with both Hera and Aphrodite, respectively love and marriage. At Hera’s wedding, Gaia the earth goddess presented the first apple tree to Hera. The golden apples of this tree were guarded by three goddesses, Hesperides. At the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, the parents of Akhilleus, Eris the goddess of chaos cast an apple into the ceremony. The golden apple was to be awarded to the finest goddess. Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena all claimed to be the rightful owner of the golden apple. The three goddesses went to Zeus and awaited a judgment; however, Zeus directed them to Paris of Troy. All three goddesses offered Paris gifts in return for a judgment in their favor. Paris chose Aphrodite, his prize being Helen, the wife of the Greek Menelaos. This decision brought the wrath of Athena and Hera upon Paris and his fellow Trojans and ultimately led to the downfall of Troy. A third myth appears in Greek literature. The Princess Atalanta insisted that her suitors compete against her in a foot race to earn marriage. Melanion, meaning man of the apples, prayed to Aphrodite. She presented him with three golden apples to distract Atalanta during the race. The gift of the golden apples allowed Melanion to beat Atalanta in a foot race and win her hand in marriage.
The Ash tree secreted a sap called Namma that was described as the juice of the stars and the tree itself sprang from the blood of heaven. Zeus was entrusted to Meliai, Nymphs of the Ash tree. Later in Greek history, Kheiron created a spear of Ash from Mount Pelion. This spear was used by Akhilleus to kill Hektor of Troy.
Barley was an important grain crop to the Greeks; they too turned it into a drink. Persephone, daughter of Demeter, stopped and asked for a drink and was given a barley drink. A young bog mocked her thirst and the goddess Persephone doused him with her drink. The boy was then transformed into a lizard and the grains of barley became the lizard’s spots.
The large shrub with purple flowers called the Chaste tree was used as a medicine to calm sexual urges in women and therefore associated with the goddess of marriage and chastity, Hera. In addition, according to mythology, Hera was born and nursed beneath a Chaste tree.
Saffron is the metamorphosis of Krokos. Krokos, a boy loved be Hermes, died and was transformed into Saffron. The red stems symbolized his spilt blood. After the creation of Saffron, Persephone was abducted be Hades as she was gathering saffron. Zeus later employed Saffron to seduce the princess Europa. He transformed himself into a bull and produced a Saffron flower from his mouth to gain her attention.
is a large, yellow-flowering plant that could be used as an effective torch. It was created by the Titan Prometheus. To punish Zeus for hanging Prometheus from Mount Olympos and leaving him to have his liver pecked out by an eagle; Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to Man in the form of the Fennel plant.
The Fir was the metamorphosis of Attis, who was fathered by the Almond tree. Attis was unfaithful to Kybele. Kybele forced Attis to castrate himself and transformed him into a fig.
The grape vine was the invention of Dionysus. A youth slaughtered by a bull was transformed into a grape vine by Dionysus, who then taught the Greeks viticulture and winemaking.
Herbs were called pharmakiea; these herbs were used in potions and medicines by the Greeks. The Titan Kronos devoured his children, except Zeus, because of his fear that his children would over power him. His wife Rhea and the Goddess Gaia slipped Kronos an herb to relieve him of his children: Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter, and Hestia. Gaia made use of herbs again when she hoped to make her sons immortal. Her sons made war with the Gods of Olympos and were destined to die. Gaia began her search for an herb to make the immortal; however, Zeus forbade the Sun, Moon, and Dawn to shine on the herb. Asklepios, the founder of medicine, was taught the use of herbs by Kheiron, a centaur.
Larkspur is a summer perennial with blue flowers. Hyakinthos, a Spartan loved by Apollo and Zephyros, was caught in a quarrel between Apollo and Zephyros. Zephyros, jealous of Apollo, struck Hyakinthos in the head. As Hyakinthos bled to death, Apollo turned his blood into larkspur and inscribed it with the words “ai, ai” meaning “alas, alas.” The word ai is supposed to be patterned in a tint of lavender on the flower petals.
The Greeks cultivated a wild prickly lettuce and after the death of Adonis, it was regarded as the plant of the death of love and the plant of impotency. Adonis, a man loved by the Goddess Aphrodite, was slain by a boar and died in a patch of lettuce. Mythology also says that Adonis was hidden in the lettuce by Aphrodite after his birth from the tree.
The Linden tree was the metamorphosis of Philyra, a nymph loved by the Titan Kronos. Rhea caught Philyra and Kronos in a tryst and Kronos transformed himself into a horse and escaped with Philyra. Later Philyra gave birth to Kheiron, the centaur. Ashamed of Kheiron, she begged Zeus to transform her into something else. Zeus morphed her into the Linden tree.
The nymph Lotis was transformed into a Lotus tree to escape the lust of Priapos. On the return journey from Troy, Odysseus and his men encountered a tribe of lotus-eaters. The men of Odysseus ate fruit of the Lotus and lost their desire to continue their homeward journey; the men had t be dragged and bound to the ship.
The Narcissus is a yellow-trumpeted bloom and was named after the numbing effect it has after it is ingested. Narkissos, a young man, refused to greet those who courted him. The goddess Nemesis caused him to fall in love with his own image and he eventually wasted away and transformed into a narcissus flower.
The olive is and was an important part of Greek agriculture. Athena created the Olive tree when Moria, a maiden close to Athena, died. Athena then transformed her into an Olive tree. Athena used the Olive tree to win the city of Athens. She competed against Poseidon and Zeus was to judge who created the better gift for man. Poseidon crafted a horse and Athena produced an Olive tree from a rock from the Akropolis. Athena’s gift was judged the best and she was awarded the city.
The pomegranate is sacred to both Hera and Aphrodite. The pomegranate tree was the metamorphosis of Side. Side, wife to Orion, claimed to be more beautiful than Hera. Hera, in her characteristic anger, banished her to the underworld and transformed her into a pomegranate. Persephone, kidnapped and wed to Hades, refused to eat. However, she was finally tempted to eat pomegranate seeds. The seeds she ate forced her to spend part of each year in the underworld after she was rescued from the underworld; this was done to punish Demeter, Persephone’s mother, because Demeter turned the keeper of the pomegranate trees into a screech owl.

Works Cited

Atsma, A. (n.d.). Flora Plants of Greek Mythology. Retrieved Feb 17, 2009, from


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