pierre laszlo

Centaurea cyanus (Asteraceae)

When did flowers become an attribute of sovereignty? Æons ago. Relatively recent examples that come to mind include fleur-de-lys and the War of the Roses. Indeed, English sports teams continue to display a rose on their jerseys. The tricolor flag of France is likewise held to combine poppy red, lily white and cornflower blue.
The latter plant thrives on the edges of fields and meadows in the French countryside. 
Native to Europe, it has emigrated to other parts of the world as well. After being planted in North American gardens, this annual has naturalized throughout much of the Continental United States and of Southern Canada.

Modest in size, it grows only to 1-3 ft. Its name may be unimaginative. But the flower is exquisite in elegance and delicacy. To pay it justice, I have to resort to technical idioms: “stems are clad with lyrate-pinnatifid lower leaves and narrow lanceolate upper leaves. An involucre of overlapping bracts” 1 forms a throne for each flower, of a superb purple-blue hue. Cornflowers bloom from May to July.

Their name in English reflects their frequent association with fields of wheat — “corn” in British English. In French they are bleuets, for their color. Germans know them as Kornblume, Spaniards as harina de maiz, Italians as fiordaliso, Portuguese as centáurea-azul, Hungarians as búzavirag (virag is flower and búza is wheat).
A European Union of sorts in the name of this most attractive plant!

1 lyrate : having or suggesting the shape of a lyre — pinnatifid: divided or cleft in a pinnate fashion, pinnate refers to feather-like or multi-divided features arising from both sides of a common axis — lanceolate: lance-shaped, much longer than wide — involucre: a series of bracts beneath or around a flower or flower cluster.