The pansy has long been associated with love. The name comes from the French word pensée, or thought, and was so named because the flower resembled a human face. In many cultures around the world, the pansy has been believed to inspire thoughts of a loved one – and even heal a broken heart.
According to Greek legend, Eros (known as Cupid in Roman mythology) once shot a love-inducing arrow at a young woman and missed, hitting a flower, turning it purple, and causing it to smile. British playwright William Shakespeare referenced this myth in his play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In his story, mischievous woodland fairies create a love potion from the love-in-idleness plant, “before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,” to make the characters fall in love.
Ancient German legends claimed that the pansy once smelled so sweet that people traveled miles just to smell it. However, in doing so, they trampled the vegetation around it, leaving no feed for cows or food for humans. So the pansy prayed to God, who removed its smell, and instead made it the beautiful flower it is today.
In England, the legendary Knights of the Round Table were said to have visited fortune tellers who used pansies to predict their romantic futures. Happy was the knight when the pansy’s face showed no more than seven lines. For then the flower promised good luck with love.