I’ve just finished a painting of Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Herbstonne’ and it has brought summer to my mind in the midst of the seemingly endless rain pouring down outside my window. This plant is easily seven feet tall and reaches towards the sky with its butter-yellow petals. For me, it is the embodiment of summer at its peak.
In one of those instances of synchronicity that seem to occur more often than mere chance would allow, while gathering my thoughts and doing a little research for this post, I learned that Rudbeckia is a symbol of justice and then, less than an hour later, I came across a news item about James Comey’s tweets on truth and justice:
If you want truth to go around the world you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go around the world, it will fly; it is light as a feather and a breath will carry it.
–Charles Haddon Spurgeon
But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream
It’s always been a mystery to me how the Victorian “Language of Flowers” arrived at the symbols attached to each flower. The symbols were meant to express feelings and were often derived from Greek or Roman mythology. In this case, the reference is to Justitia, or Lady Justice, the personification of moral force in judicial systems. Since she is always encumbered with balance scales and a large sword, I don’t see how she could possibly hold a bouquet of Rudbeckias as well!
The “father of modern taxonomy”, Carl Linnaeus, called the coneflower Rudbeckia after Olof Rudbeck the Younger, who taught at Uppsala University and whose father had founded its botanical garden.
Linnaeus had been so poor he used to block the holes in his shoes with paper and he was frequently short of food. But in Rudbeck’s house, his days of poverty were over. He named the coneflower after his patron, saying, “So long as the earth shall survive and as each spring shall see it covered with flowers, the Rudbeckia will preserve your glorious name.” He added that he had chosen a noble, tall plant that flowered freely and that “its rayed flowers will bear witness that you shone among savants like the sun among the stars”
–Diana Wells, 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names
Common names for Rudbeckia include brown-eyed Susan, brown betty, gloriosa daisy, golden Jerusalem, English bull’s eye, poor-land daisy, yellow daisy, and yellow ox-eye daisy. Common names for Rudbeckia lacianata include cutleaf, cutleaf coneflower, goldenglow, tall coneflower, and thimbleweed.
Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.