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Plants, Flowers and Trees in A Midsummer Night's Dream

During the Elizabethan age, most people were familiar with common plants, flowers, and trees. Shakespeare often used this knowledge to convey special meaning to his audiences. Below you will find examples used in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Entries are organized in the approximate order in which they are first mentioned in the play.

Content by Lori Ricigliano, Theatre Arts Liaison Librarian at the University of Puget Sound. Send email to

==Peaseblossom ==

Image:25987801_3270412c89_m.jpg Peaseblossom is the flower of a pea plant.

Shakespeare may have chosen this name to indicate the fairy's small size.
Image Source: Flickr. Everlasting Pea by Roger B.

==Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha) ==

Image:hawthorn2.gif The hawthorn is a small tree with fruit (haws) and thorny branches. Common folk belief associated the tree with fairies.

It represents good hope and flowers on the eve of summer.
The long branches and leaves are often used for shade and shelter.
"This green plot shall be our stage, this hawthorn brake our tiring house."
Act I, Scene i; Act III; Scene i; Act V, Scene i
Image Source: LoveToKnowCorp

==Musk Rose (Rosa moschata)==

Image:muskrose.jpg Adored by Elizabethans, the musk rose has a scent unlike any other rose. Its flower is usually white, although there are varieties with pale yellow and pink.

The musk rose adorned Titania's bower. It was considered her favorite rose as she commanded her fairies to "kill cankers in the Musk Rosebuds."
Act 1, Scene i; Act II, Scene i; Act IV, Scene i
Image Source: Singleton, Esther. The Shakespeare Garden. NY: Century, 1922.

==Primrose (Primula vulgaris)==

Image:primrose.jpg The primrose is regarded by English poets as the first flower of spring.

Shakespeare alludes to the delicate hue and perfume of this flower.
Act I, Scene i
Image Source: Flickr. Primrose Primula Vulgaris by color line.


During Shakepeare's time, the brier was not restricted to the sweet briar as it is today. It referred to any type of wild rose. It may also represent any wild thorny plant.

Act II, Scene i; Act III, Scene i; Act III, scene ii; Act V, Scene i
Image Source: Flickr. Wild Rose by bc anna.
-- LR

==Cowslip (Paralysis vulgaris pratensis) ==

Image:clowslip.jpg The cowslip grows in bunches of yellow flowers with tiny reddish spots on the petals. The red and yellow colors are the same as the the uniforms of Queen Elizabeth's bodyguard, the Gentlemen Pensioners. The unique scent has been likened to a cow's breath or to that of a new baby. It flowers in April and May.

Act II, Scene i
Image Source: Flickr. Cowslips by Scoobymoo.

==Eglantine (Rosa eglanteria)==

Image:eglantine2.jpg Also known as sweetbrier, this native plant of Britain has a five petaled, sweet smelling flower. It has been associated with the queen in Elizabethan times.

Act II, Scene i
Image Source: Flickr. Eglantines by La Miss.

==Pansy (Viola tricolor)==

Image:pansy.jpg Also know as hearts-ease or love-in-idleness, this flower is a common ingredient in love charms. Its name is similar to the French word pensees, or thoughts.

The juice of a pansy "on sleeping eye-lids laid, will make or man or woman madly dote upon the next live creature that it sees."
Act II, Scene I
Image Source: Flickr. Angry Pansies by Grant Matthews.

==Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) ==

Image:thyme.jpg Regarded as a symbol of sweetness

Fairies were thought to be particularly fond of thyme. The flowers have an aromatic, pungent scent.
Act II, Scene i
Image Source: Flickr. Wild Thyme by Floralimages.

==Violet (Viola odorata) ==

Image:violets.jpg This plant, also known as the sweet violet, is found near the edges of forests. Its flowers can be purple or white and they last until the end of April. Shakespeare speaks of the "nodding violet" which refers to the characteristic downward bend of the flower's stalk.

Act II, Scene i
Image Source: Flickr. Wild Violets by Viewoftheworld.

==Woodbine ==

Image:woodbine.jpg Also known as the honeysuckle.

Although the woodbine is mentioned, Shakespeare seems to refer to a plant other than the woodbine in A Midsummer Night's Dream, most likely a deciduous woody stemmed twining climber (see Kirstin Olsen's All Things Shakespeare).
"Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms, so doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle gently entwist."
Act II, Scene i and Act IV, Scene i
Image Source: United States Department of Agriculture. Plants Database.

==Oxlips (Primula elatior) ==

Image:oxlipdrawing.jpg Paler and less fragrant than the cowslip, the oxlip is found in woods, fields, and medows. It grows in spring and into the summer. The root leaves resemble a cradle and is associated with sleep.

Oxlips were found on the bank where Titania slept.
Act II, Scene i
Image Source: Rohde, Eleanor Sinclair. Shakespeare's Wild Flowers. London: Medici Society, 1925.

==Dian's Bud (Artemisia absinthium) ==

Image:wormwood small.jpg Also known as absinthe or wormwood, this plant was named after the goddess Artemis or Diana.

It has feathery, grayish green poisonous leaves.
Associated with sorcery, Dian's Bud was used by Oberon to free Titania from the spell cast on her by Puck.
Act II, Scene ii; Act IV, Scene i
Image Source: Turner, William. A New Herball, Part I.

Acorn (Quercus robur)

Image:acorn.jpg The acorn is the fruit of an oak tree.

Shakespeare compares the size of the fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream to acorns.
Act III, Scenes i & ii
Image Source: Flick. Acorn by Hans S.

==Burr (Arctium lappa) ==

Image:bur.jpg Burs are the unopened flowers of burdock and they are noted for their clinging nature.

"Hang off, thou cat, thou burr."
Act III, Scene i
Image Source: Turner, Willliam. A New Herball, Part II (1562).

==Dewberries (the fruit of Rubus caesius) ==

Image:dewberry.jpg A deep purple colored fruit coated with a waxy dew layer. It grows on a plant whose stems are covered with stickers.

"Feed him with apricocks and dewberries..."
Act III, Scene i
Image Source: Wikipedia. Rubus caesius (Dewberry) growing on Newborough warren. (public domain image)

==Fig (Ficus carica) ==

Image:fig.jpg A shrub or tree whose fruit is edible.

Green figs were among the fruits offered to Bottom.
Act III, Scene i
Image Source: Flickr. Fig by antmoose.


==Lily (Lilium candidum) ==

Image:Lilliessmall.jpg Also known as the Madonna Lily.

The leafy stem bears white flowers in summer. It is regarded as the most beautiful member of the lily family.
It symbolizes female elegance and purity.
"Most radiant Pyramus, most lily-white of hue."
Act III, Scene i; Act V, Scene i
Image Source: Singleton, Esther. The Shakespeare Garden. NY: Century, 1922.

==Mulberry (Morus nigra) ==

Image:mulberry.jpg A tree bearing dark purple fruit.

Mulberries were among the fruits that the fairies offered to Bottom.
Act III, Scene i
Image Source: Flickr. Mulberries in the Garden by tobo.

==Knot-Grass (Polygonum aviculare) ==

Image:buckwheat.jpg A member of the buckwheat family, knot-grass is considered a noxious, invasive weed. There is a belief that the plant will stunt growth if ingested. Shakespeare makes reference to Hermia's short stature in the line " dwarf; you minimus, of hind'ring knotgrass made."

Act III, Scene i and Scene ii
Image Source: Flickr. Buckwheat field by Michael L.

Elm (Ulmus minor)

The English elm is a large, deciduous tree with dense populations in the countryside.

Warwickshire, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, is famous for its elm trees.
"The female ivy so enrings the barky fingers of the elm."
Act IV, Scene i
Image Source: Flickr. Winter Elm by Mark Jefferson.


==Ivy (Hedera helix) ==

Image:ivy.jpg As a wild plant, ivy is found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is often found growing over walls, buildings and trees.

Act IV, Scene i
Image Source: Flickr. Bergef√ły - English Ivy - Hedera helix by Color Line.

Thistle (Onopordum acanthium)

Image:thistles.jpg The thistle is a biennial plant with reddish-purple flowers and spiny leaves. It symbolizes untidiness and carelessness.

Shakespeare was aware that bees are attracted to thistles.
"Kill me a good red-hipped humble bee on the top of a thistle..."
Act IV, Scene i
Image Source: Flickr. Thistles by D H Wright.


==Garlick (Allium ursinum) ==

Image:wildgarlic.jpg Also known as ransoms, this wild garlic grows in swampy woodlands. Its wide leaves are similar to those of the lily of the valley and its flowers are white. The fragrance is strong and unpleasant.

Act IV, Scene ii
Image Source. Flickr. Wild Garlic by Russell J. Smith.

==Broom (Cytisus scoparius) ==

Image:broom.jpg Also known as Scotch Broom

A plant held in high regard in England during the reign of Henry II. It has large yellow flowers.
Act V, Scene i
Image Source: Flickr. Scotch Broom Flower, Boeing Creek by pfly.

==Leek (Allium porum) ==

Image:leek.jpg A member of the onion family

"His eyes were green as leeks."
Act V, Scene vii
Image Source: Flickr. Leek by wanko.

Recommended Readings

Bloom, J. Harvey. Shakespeare's Garden. London: Methuen, 1903.
Ellacombe, Henry N. Plant-Lore & Garden-Craft of Shakespeare. London: Satchell, 1884.
Rohde, Eleanour Sinclair. Shakespeare's Wild Flowers. London: Medici Society, 1935.
Singleton, Esther. The Shakespeare Garden. NY: Century, 1922.

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