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Unforgettable talk sparks renewed interest in forget-me-not flower

At the annual general Relief Society meeting last fall, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, departed from his signature stories about airplanes and instead talked about flowers.

He talked about walking through a beautiful garden with his wife and daughter and marveling at God's creation. He continued, "And then I noticed, among all the glorious blooms, the tiniest flower. I knew the name of this flower because since I was a child I have had a tender connection to it. The flower is called forget-me-not.

"I'm not exactly sure why this tiny flower has meant so much to me over the years. It does not attract immediate attention; it is easy to overlook among larger and more vibrant flowers; yet it is just as beautiful, with its rich color that mirrors that of the bluest skies — perhaps this is one reason why I like it so much."

He then referenced a German legend, which says "That just as God had finished naming all the plants, one was left unnamed. A tiny voice spoke out, 'Forget me not, O Lord!' And God replied that this would be its name."

From there, he went on to inspire his audience by discussing five things women as daughters of a Heavenly Father must "forget not." His five metaphors, corresponding to the five petals on the flower, sparked an interest in the sometimes forgotten plant.

Some nurseries report an increase in customers wanting the plants, and I have seen seed packages indicating this is the plant featured in the address.

I would like to add some horticulture information in case you would like to grow these unforgettable flowers in your garden. They grow well, but must be treated the right way.

There are actually several different plants that are called forget-me-not. Brunnera macrophylla is sometimes called perennial forget-me-not. Cynoglossum amabile is a tender plant with the common name of Chinese forget-me-not.

However, the plants most often referred to as forget-me-nots belong to the genus myosotis. It contains some 50 species that are quite variable. However, almost all have small flowers that are less than one-half inch in diameter. The flowers are flat with five lobes and yellow or white centers. The most common color is blue, but some are white or pink.

The genus name, Myosotis, is Latin for "mouse ear," and the flowers' leaves are that shape.

Another theory behind the plant's name is that since the plant goes dormant over the winter, it has lost its life but is remembered as it grows in the spring.

The common name is also attributed to the unforgettably bad flavor of the plants. Another legend is that whoever wore this flower wouldn't be forgotten by his or her lover.

The exquisite light sky blue color of some of the blossoms also ties into Christian belief. Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, is often pictured in a blue cloak.

Myosotis sylvatica, or wood forget-me-not, is the common variety grown in flower gardens. It is established as a wildflower throughout much of the world where the habitat is suitable. A similar flower, Myosotis alpestris, is the state flower of Alaska.

Forget-me-nots may be grown as annual or perennial plants. Because they bloom in the spring, they are best grown as a perennial in a more traditional garden or as a winter annual if changing out all of the flowers in the spring or fall.

The plants prefer rich, organic soil with adequate moisture and adequate drainage. When grown only as a spring plant, they prefer full sun. If you try to keep them over the summer, protect them with some afternoon shade.

The easiest way and best time to plant these is in the fall. Purchase and plant them when you set out spring flowering bulbs and pansies. They are cold hardy and do well if they get a good root system established in the fall.

Sow the seeds in mid-summer in a protected area. They will establish that fall and bloom in the spring. With a favorable environment, the plants will naturalize if left undisturbed. They will perenniate, or self-seed.

You can collect seed out of the small, tulip-shape pods along the stem by putting a sheet of paper under the stems and shaking them.

The plants have no serious insect or disease problems, although you might see mildew and rust on occasion. They are resistant to deer browsing.

The plants are excellent bedding for borders and mixed beds. They are excellent for rock gardens and also naturalize in wildflower gardens and woodland areas.

The LDS Church garden staff has not forgotten these flowers. If you visit, you can find forget-me-nots to enjoy in beds on Temple Square. More concentrated plantings are in the Utah Garden between the Church Administration Building and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building — where you and President Uchtdorf can enjoy his wonderful, metaphor-inspiring flowers.

Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist for the Utah State University Extension Service at Thanksgiving Point.