Forget-Me-Not plant by any other name would not be so sweet to gardeners, nor would the other numerous little blue flowers affectionately given the same name by their admirers.
It does seem strange that through the years, both here and abroad, so many annuals and perennials have been called forget-me-nots indiscriminately.
True forget-me-nots have been prized by gardeners for generations. Perhaps the little blue flowers are cherished because they are reminiscent of gardens of the long ago childhood gardens, or those of a beloved mother or grandmother. Certainly forget-me-nots are not showy or striking; rather, their attraction is daintiness and exquisite, heavenly color.
That these tiny blue flowers have been cherished and remembered for generations is attested to by the numerous legends regarding their origin which have persisted and been handed down in many different lands. One of the earliest and most delightful of these legends comes from Wales, an unusual source for such tales.
In that country in the mountains of Glamorgan, fairy gold was hidden so goes the story. On the mountainside nearby grew a carpet of bluest forget-me-nots, dainty and ethereal. Evil men heard rumors of the elfin gold and decided to steal it. They took no notice of the heavenly blue of the flowers close by. As they were carrying off the treasure a sweet elfln voice spoke to them from one of the little blue flowers. “You have taken the least and left the best. Forget-me-not.”
The men paid no attention and were about to disappear with the loot, regardless. This angered the mountains and they shook their sides, swallowing up both men and gold. The forget-me-nots, too, were covered for a time but soon thrust their way up and up to deck the mountain slopes once again with a coverlet of blue. There they continue to grow and bloom. Passers-by whose ears are attuned to the “little voices” hear them calling from the mountainside again and again, “Forget-me-not… Forget-me-not.”
True forget-me-nots of our garden are listed in botanically as Myosotis alpestris (sylvatica) and Myosotis palustris (scorpioides). Myosotis is a Greek name meaning “mouse-ear” and was given to the plant because of the shape of the small leaves. Both the annual and perennial are native to Eurasia, but other forms will be found listed, among them named hybrids.
Myosotis alpestris is the most popular and considered by many preferable to the perennial. This annual is dwarf, growing to 9 inches, with pink, blue or white flowers. The blooms of perennial M. palustris are blue with yellow, pink or white centers. This type has narrow leaves and grows somewhat taller.
True forget-me-nots may be set out in spring or fall, or plants may be grown from seeds sown from early spring throughout summer. M. alpestris needs a sunny, well-drained location while the perennial M. palustris, frequently called the “marsh” forget-me-not, prefers moist soil and a semi-shaded location.
These forget-me-nots are useful in planning a rock garden design, as a carpet around spring and summer flowering bulbs, and toward the foreground of borders.
Many flowers of our gardens as well as wild flowers are called forget-me-nots when actually they belong to several widely different plant families other than the myosotis.
One of the most common of these false ones is the wild flower, bluet. It has dainty blue blossoms which in spring dance in the wind down sunny slopes and roadsides. Bluets botanically are Houstonia caerulea and have such common names as Quaker Ladies and Innocence. The true wild forget-me-not, Myosotis virginica, is comparatively unknown beside the more common bluet.
Except in name the Chinese forget-me-not is also not a true one. Its botanical name is Cynoglossum, given to the plant because of its rough foliage which also accounts for its other name, hound’s tongue.
Though usually listed as biennials, Chinese forget-me-nots are grown from seed as annuals. They come up quickly from seed and are easy to care for. Their showy clusters of bright blue, pink and white flowers appear in mid-summer from spring sown seeds. These are attractive garden plants. They’re an excellent source of flowers for cutting from, summer into fall. Cynoglossum grande, a perennial species, is also easy to grow from seed.
Another biennial, also a false type, is the cape forget-me-not (Anchusa capensis), known also as alkanet. This one comes from South Africa and belongs to the Boraginaceae family.
This, too, is easy to grow from seed. It has red flower buds and very small blossoms of bright blue. In a friend’s West Virginia garden it failed to survive the winters.
The heart-leaf bugloss, a charming little herb from Siberia, is often called a forget-me-not because of its brilliant blue flowers. To add to the confusion, this perennial is listed in many nursery catalog’s as Anchusa myosotidiflora and not under its true botanical name of Brunnera macrophylla.
In our section and farther south this flower supplies the need for a contrast of vivid blue against the yellow and white flowers of spring bulbs. Its growth is tidy and it provides new plants from self-sown seed which bloom the following spring.
In the North, the foliage of the heart-leaf bugloss grows rank and coarse, out of proportion to the minute flowers. Hence, it is not so desirable there as elsewhere.
A recent novelty is Anchusa caespitosa, Blue Stars. This plant produces, over a long season, quantities of intensely blue flowers on tidy plants.
Potted plants of Blue Stars, displayed at an International Flower Show in New York City years ago, attracted attention and favorable comment. In the garden the blue blossoms of this plant begin in May and, if old flowers are cut off, continue to mid-summer.
Whether the gardener chooses true or false forget-me-nots, they will enjoy them. For, unlike most impostors masquerading under assumed names, the false forget-me-nots are as lovely as the true.