I turned to that old-fashioned and almost outmoded means of solitary entertainment, a book. Thumbing through the pages of ‘Creating a Wildflower Garden’ by Jonathan Andrews, my eye was caught by the page headed Forget-me-Nots, recalling a memory of my mother having grown these little flowers in our garden in Perth during my childhood. Or were they in my aunt’s garden in Newburgh? Perhaps I used to see them on Kinnoull Hill? And I was struck by the splendid irony of being unable to remember where I used to see Forget-me-Nots … Jonathan Andrews’ spelling … or Forgetmenots … the spelling preferred by the authors of ‘Collins Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers’ … or even forget-me nots, as favoured by Plantlife, the leading wild plant conservation charity. Whatever, I cannot recall having seen forget-me-nots anywhere recently, which is a matter of some personal regret although I read that, despite changes in agricultural practice, distribution of the plant … and it can be found throughout the United Kingdom … has remained stable since 1900, probably due partly to its flexible life history and seed longevity.
And now I must add a caveat. In my boyhood, forget-me-nots were just that – forget-me-nots. I read now that there are bur forget-me-nots, changing forget-me-nots, early forget-me-nots and that the name forget-me-not can also be preceded by the specific terms field, jersey, pale, tufted, water and wood. I think I am correct in supposing that those with which I was once familiar were what Plantlife calls the common forget-me-not … Myosotis arvensis… the field forget-me-not of the Collins Guide. (Now you know, gentle reader, why true botanists prefer to use a universally-accepted Latin name to identify any plant.)
Myosotis arvensis … the plant with leaves reminiscent of mouse’s ears (Myosotis) which grows in cultivated ground (arvensis) … which used to be known as scorpion-grass, carries clusters of dainty, star-shaped, sky-blue flowers with bright yellow centres during the late spring and early summer. Here in central Scotland these delicate flowers don’t usually appear until the month of June. Their seeds form in small pods along the stem and attach to clothing, to animal fur or to birds’ feathers when brushed against, eventually falling off, allowing the small seed within to germinate elsewhere. The once-common name ‘scorpion-grass’ came from the fact that its curled clusters of flowers resemble a scorpion’s tail: but there are many accounts of how the plant acquired its current common name of forget-me-not. One of my personal favourites is the story that, when God was naming all the flowers, one small flower cried out, “Forget me not, O Lord!” and God said, “That shall be your name!” However, the most common reason for the name is a claim that, when a young German knight and his lady were walking along a river bank, the knight lost his footing and fell into the water when he bent down to pick his lady some flowers. Weighed down by his armour, he called out, “Vergiss mein nicht!” … “Forget me not!” … before he sank below the surface to his watery grave. And it’s easy to see where that story originated, given that one variant of forget-me-not chooses to live on the banks of streams and rivers.
Intriguingly, Myosotis arvensis has, until comparatively recently, been found occurring naturally only in New Zealand and in western Eurasia, Eurasia being the combined landmass of Europe and Asia, which are on the same tectonic plate. Human intervention has spread forget-me-not to other parts of the globe nowadays and yes, although I don’t recall having seen any recently, forget-me-nots are apparently still alive and well here in Scotland.