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Flower Spotlight: Snapdragons


Snapdragons are one of the first flowers I remember as a kid. There were a good number of gardens on my walk to school, and I would always make sure to give a squeeze to every snapdragon flower that I saw and now I see my own kids' fascination with this most interactive of flowers.


While there are varieties of snapdragons native to North America and North Africa, the one we are most used to cultivating in our gardens comes from Southern Europe (most likely Spain or Italy). Its cultivation started at least as early as the rise of the Roman Empire, and the Romans helped spread them across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Of course these flowers have been thought to hold many healing and protective properties throughout the past few millennia. The first-century CE Greek physician Dioscorides and Roman encyclopedist Pliny advised wearing a bracelet of the flowers to stave off illness and protect against poisoning. During the Renaissance, snapdragons were believed to bring charisma, glory, honor, and social status; wearing them on one’s sleeve was believed to lead to favorable receptions at court and among one’s betters. Pliny recorded that rubbing oneself with snapdragon could improve one’s appearance. Ancient Greek magicians believed that, by holding a snapdragon flower beneath one’s tongue during sleep, and reciting a magical incantation upon rising, invisibility could be achieved.

Modern breeding of hybrid varieties, which began in the early 20th century, has made them more popular by removing the plant’s one ornamental defect, namely, that the blooms of unhybridized plants fall off after being pollinated. As early as 1629, English herbalist John Parkinson, in his Paradisi de Sole, wrote of the many colors and varieties of snapdragon flowers. European settlers brought their snapdragon cultivars with them to the New World, and seeds were available for sale in the colonies as early as 1760


In the modern day, snapdragons are mostly used as an ornamental. Evidence of our love of snapdragons can be found in the writing of English herbalist John Parkinson, who wrote of the many colours and varieties of snapdragons in his 1629 book Paradisi de Sole. The European varieties were brought over by settlers and seeds were available for sale in North American colonies as early as 1760. Breeding of hybrid varieties started in the 20th century. Before this, the blooms of non-hybrid varieties would fall odd once they were pollinated. With this defect (from an ornamental viewpoint at least) solved, snapdragons continue to see incredible popularity as a garden plant and cut flower today.

And aside from being beautiful, edible oil can also be extracted from the seed that's said to be as healthy as olive oil (though this practice is pretty much limited to Russia).

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