According to legend, a monk who would later be named Saint David, helped out in a sixth century battle between the Welsh and the Saxons. The Welsh were struggling to maintain their ground against the Saxons and the monk saw that part of the problem was that the men were not able to differentiate between their own and the other side. The monk found some wild leek on the battleground and told all of his fellow Welshmen to put a piece of the plant in their helmets so they would know who was who. The Welsh army won the battle, and the lowly leek became part of a legend.
The monk who would be named the patron of Wales died on March 1 some time in the sixth century, and that date each year is called Saint David’s Day. Based on historical literature, Saint David lived a monastic life and therefore it was unlikely he was out in the midst of a battlefield handing out leeks. However, leek legend number two occurred 800 years later when the Welsh battled the French in a field of leeks. So if a plant cries out for legend status in Welsh history, it most certainly is the leek.
Gardeners know leeks are in the onion family, and have a flower that is rounded, a bit bigger than a golf ball, and resembles a pale purple sphere.
|Leek relative, ornamental Allium|
Its beauty is visible up close, as it’s not a particularly showy bloom in color or size. It wasn’t until 1911 that the daffodil was embraced by the Welsh as their national flower. The rationale at the time seems to have involved the fact that on Saint David’s day, March 1, daffodils were usually in bloom. And that they don’t smell as out of place in social circumstances as leeks.
|UK Supreme Court emblem|
Fast forward to 2008 when the official emblem of the new United Kingdom Supreme Court was unveiled, and Welshmen took offense at the daffodil’s absence. While flowers of the other nations—the Tudor rose for England, the Scotch thistle for Scotland and flax for Ireland—are represented in colorful renderings, the leek shows up as a set of three leaves between the thistle and rose. From a design perspective, three focal points are more artistic than four, so it makes sense to use only three spots of color in the layout. Also from a design perspective, the leek flower rendered in a simple design in keeping with the other three flowers would likely be too similar to the thistle in both color and form.
|Stylized version of the four flowers|
I've written about how Indiana chose the peony as its state flower (It revolved around politics), and now realize just how widespread and prevalent the practice seems to be.
- England - the Tudor rose
- Ireland – the flax, orange lily, or shamrock
- Scotland – the Scotch thistle, Scottish bluebell (harebell) or heather
- Wales - the daffodil, leek or sessile oak