of snapdragons and lion’s mouths

Before I moved to Italy, I was never good at remembering and identifying flowers and trees. No matter how many times someone told me “this is a peony and that’s a petunia,” the information just didn’t stick in my brain–like it just wasn’t wired that way.

Thankfully things have since changed, and I find my memory working in perfect harmony with nature. I am always happy to learn a new leaf shape, a new flower, and have it stick in my head without much effort especially since I am surrounded by plenty of flowers I’ve never seen before (not that I remember anyway).

For weeks I had been meaning to photograph some interesting flowers that I pass on my walk with the dogs. I finally grabbed the camera the other day, afraid that the magenta petals would shrivel up before I had a chance to immortalize them.

Bocca di Leone/Snapdragons on Flickr

For some reason, I kept thinking: “I *know* my mom would know what these are” but how could I describe them over the phone?

So I came home and put the photos up on Flickr, and asked if anyone knew what they were called. My new friend Doisemum kindly responded with a link in Italian telling me that these are Bocca di Leone (lion’s mouth) in Italian.

Bocca di Leone/Snapdragons on Flickr

P had actually told me they were called something that starts with a B and ends in “leone” so he was on the right track. Then I searched for the name in English and found out that these are Snapdragons.

Immediately I thought, “My mom loves snapdragons!”

Only I had no idea why I thought that. No specific memory in which my mom talked about snapdragons came to mind, but I just had this overwhelming feeling that I had to tell her about these flowers.

Later that evening, I walked with the pooches again and couldn’t believe what I saw–the very same flowers that I had photographed hours before had been pulled up from the roots and left to rot on the pavement!

I guess someone thought they were weeds (mind you no one lives where these flowers grow) and decided to do his/her civic duty–and then let them sit there in small piles on the ground, as if that looked prettier.

Good thing I had taken the photos in the morning, I thought, and gathered up the long stems, brought them home, and stuck them in some water in a jar on my fireplace, hoping to extend their life just a bit longer:

Bocca di leone/Snapdragons on Flickr

Later I told my mom about the whole strange experience–and her reaction when I told her I found out what “those” flowers” were?

“I love snapdragons!”

Turns out that she has very fond memories of playing with these as a child, making their “mouths” open up and talk.

Open Wide on Flickr

It is an understatement to say that my mom doesn’t have many fond memories from childhood, so this was extra-special for her to relive and also for me to hear.

I can only conclude that she must have told me about this somewhere along the way and that my brain kept just enough information handy for someday when I could truly appreciate the Story of the Snapdragons–for when it was rewired to handle it.

And now I will always remember what snapdragons look like and why it’s important that I stop and make them talk.

Bocca di Leone/Snapdragons on Flickr

30 Beans of Wisdom to “of snapdragons and lion’s mouths”
  1. 04.21.2008

    I love snapdragons too! They really are my favorite flowersβ€”because of their mouths. But instead of speaking, my snapdragons usually bark or meow. It’s even more fun teaching my little niece how to play with them. (Here’s a hint: Try squeezing the sides of the mouth, and the mouth will pop open for you.)

    Cordia Amant’s last blog post..Ah, the memories

    My snapdragons are meowing and barking too…as well as roaring πŸ˜‰ And yes I usually do pinch the sides, but I couldn’t manage to do that and take a decent photo at the same time!

  2. 04.21.2008

    I love them too, and we also made them talk. So fun!

    Waiting for Zufan’s last blog post..Zufan and her purse

    I can’t believe I’ve missed out on this for 30 years!

  3. 04.21.2008

    Beautiful pictures. How funny, my mom also loved to play with snapdragons as a child!

    Kathy’s last blog post..Finally, an explanation!

    Oh that is too funny Kathy! Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  4. 04.21.2008

    I can’t believe someone just ripped out those flowers! I mean if they have to kill them, you would think they would have taken them to keep. Very odd… Anyway, snapdragons are beautiful flowers. Thanks for the pictures! ; )

    Anali’s last blog post..Beans + Sprouts

    Anali, to tell you the truth, I had wanted to take those flowers for a while, but I *had* to get photos in their natural environment first. Then after I took the photos, I thought, well I’ll let them bloom just a little more…but someone had other plans!

  5. Gil

    Thanks you for posting those beautiful pictures. I’ll have to show them to my wife as we don’t see them growing around here.

    My pleasure Gil; I hope your wife enjoys them too πŸ™‚

  6. 04.21.2008

    I love snapdragons and I really enjoyed this story. Nice connect

    Bella Baita View’s last blog post..Grandma Denzio’s Ravioli -An Apples and Thyme Event

    Thanks Marla πŸ™‚

  7. 04.21.2008

    Now I will always remember snapdragons. I have the WORST memory for plants and flowers, and it only seems worse since moving to Italy, everybody knows their plants! If you give me one of your stories for every plant, I will surely remember them… there is an idea for a book!

    Beatriz’s last blog post..Compose

    Hah, that’s definitely an interesting idea Beatriz….

  8. 04.21.2008

    Love Snapdragons too!!! Yes I used to do that as a child…;-)

    Anne’s last blog post..Thank You

    Fun memories Anne πŸ™‚

  9. 04.21.2008

    I’ve always loved snapdragons and they’re one of the only flowers that I’ve been able to grow. I don’t have a green thumb but
    a black thumb of death when it comes to plants. Thanks for the beautiful pics and memories. I’ll try and make the flowers talk to my kids if and when it stops raining.

    Linda’s last blog post..Mellow Music

    Snapdragons are lucky for you then Linda! “Snap” away πŸ™‚

  10. 04.21.2008

    Those are beautiful, Michelle. I didn’t know that is what snapdragons were, although I have heard the name! lol

    Cherrye’s last blog post..Auguri Blog Reader …

    We were in the same boat less than a week ago Cherrye–always heard the name but had no idea what they looked like!

  11. Joanne

    I remember playing with them as a child too, I seem to remember that there was a part that you squeezed to make the mouth open. It is all a bit hazy but I was an only child until I was eight and spent a lot of time in the garden playing by myself … and the snapdragons!

    Joanne’s last blog post..Guilty Pleasures and Mangiacake Food

    Yes if you squeeze the sides, they talk! Ah to be playing in the garden….

  12. Christina

    I love almost all flowers, mine are finally starting to bloom. I really like the name in Italian over ‘Snapdragons’, but they sure are pretty either way πŸ™‚

    The name in Italian is pretty cool Christina; I definitely agree πŸ™‚

  13. 04.21.2008

    They are easy to grow, Michele, and delightful as cut flowers all summer. Buy some seeds and a big tub.

    Judith in Umbria’s last blog post..Pate Γ  Choux– the gate to French Paradise

    Will keep that in mind for the new house where I’ll have more balcony space–here it’s all taken up by edible plants (plus some roses that were a gift and a jasmine I’m plant-sitting).

  14. 04.21.2008

    Look at all of these people saying they have played with them and seen these flowers before. We must not have them in Australia and there are no wild flowers around in Rome so I have never (until reading your post) seen or heard of them. Pretty though. When I go back to Calabria I’ll keep my eyes opened.

    Leanne’s last blog post..Doing things backwards

    Too funny Leanne–yes definitely keep your eye out! They’ll be blooming throughout the summer πŸ™‚

  15. 04.21.2008

    What a sweet post. Snapdragons are so evocative of childhood, my grandma always grew them in her back garden so they remind me of her. My children love them too. I think I might try and grow some here once we clear the rubble.

    amanda’s last blog post..Dyed hair and false smiles

    Hah, I hear you about once the rubble is cleared. We have less rubble, but it’ll still need to be cleared up before I plant anything πŸ˜‰

  16. alexmom

    I love the way you connect the richness of the past with it’s relevance in the present, and then punctuate it all with gorgeous pictures.

    Thanks Alexmom; it’s always a pleasure when these little things come up in daily life πŸ™‚

  17. 04.21.2008

    These are beautiful. Flowers are my favorite things to photograph.

    bella’s last blog post..the girls

    Me too Bella, me too πŸ™‚

  18. 04.21.2008

    And now I will always remember what snapdragons look like and why it’s important that I stop and make them talk.

    Be still my heart. That line! You’re lovely.

    Aw thanks Nino; I think you’re pretty lovely too πŸ˜‰

  19. 04.21.2008

    I never remember the names of flowers, either. What a shame that someone pulled up the pretty wild flowers! And that’s a sweet story about your mom. Glad you could share that with her.

    Stefanie’s last blog post..We get by with a little help from our friends

    See, more evidence that you need to come to Italy–apparently the flower-remembering brain cells work better here πŸ˜‰

  20. 04.21.2008

    LOved this post and the pictures because it brought back so many great memories of many of the flowers my grandfather always had blooming in his flower garden in the side yard of our house. (No more, cause I have a black thumb with plants -indoors and outdoors too.) He always had a bunch of snapdragons planted though and they were always so beautiful. I never thought to play with them -opening the bloom to make their mouthes open though.

    Jeni Hill Ertmer’s last blog post..The Band Plays On

    Thanks Jeni; thanks for sharing your lovely memories. I hope you get to make some snapdragons talk soon πŸ™‚

  21. 04.21.2008

    I *LOVE* snapdragons, they are some of my favorite flowers, and they come in an array of colors… I always make them roar… it IS important to do that when you pass by them. There are rules about these things, you know.

    Thank you for sharing yours, that is a lovely color!

    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

    Wanderlust Scarlett’s last blog post..Write about that!

    I am so happy I’m learning more of the rules! Would *hate* to offend flowers πŸ˜‰

  22. 04.21.2008

    Michelle, I learned how to “make them talk” by my Italian grandma when I was really little, and have loved them ever since mainly for that childhood memory. I have the remnants of a rogue snapdragon in one of my oversized terra cotta pots on one of my balconies that tends to surprise me every summer or every other summer by reappearing. Seeing them always reminds me fondly of my childhood, too.

    Christina Arbini’s last blog post..Morning Commute

    Your snapdragons sound so lovely and lively πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing your memories!

  23. 04.21.2008

    Grandma used to plant pots of those out on the balcony.
    So pretty.
    Waving at you from New York,

    Frances’s last blog post..mating dance

    All these wonderful snapdragon memories! Wonderful πŸ™‚

  24. 04.21.2008

    They are one of my favorites; we had wild ones everywhere when I was a kid in Oregon.

    I hardly see them anymore. (I got a little fix at California Adventure. They had some smallish yellow ones. Better than nothing I guess.)

    Thanks for the shots.

    Glad to hear you got to see some recently Lisa, and thanks for stopping by πŸ™‚

  25. 04.22.2008

    Who would do such a terrible thing to those beautiful flowers??? How can you mistake them for a weed?? I can relate…as mia madre is such a green thumb in mia famiglia. I missed that gene though πŸ™‚

    I could feel your heartfelt words just popping from the screen. Nice post. Especially since Earth Day is domani.

    My Melange’s last blog post..Antiquing in the Hudson Valley

    Thanks Robin; Earth Day has definitely been on my mind as well….

  26. 04.22.2008

    Well, I guess you supplied my “learn something new every day” item. Firstly, bocca di leone is snapdragons in Italian, and secondly that they talk! Thanks! (P.S. Snaps are a snap to grow, you can plant them in fall or early spring, and even though they are annuals, they sometimes last a little longer than a year, if grown in a protected place.)

    Homebody at Heart’s last blog post..Saturday Still Life

    I think I’ll try to grow them next year, especially if I can find some different colors πŸ™‚

  27. Chrispy

    I saw the photos and it reminded me of my mom before I recognized them as snapdragons.

    So many memories among us; thanks for stopping by!

  28. 04.22.2008

    I also love snapdragons and now that I’ve cleaned out my perennial beds a little I’m going to plant some. I hope they look as nice as your photos…ciao

    rositta’s last blog post..I’m Here, Sort Of…

    Best of luck Rositta! And please take photos for us πŸ™‚

  29. 04.24.2008

    These are beautiful photos. I too love Snapdragons, and my memory is trying to come up with a memory of them in my past, because I know there’s one there…it was sort of triggered looking at the photo with your hand on the flower…but I just won’t come to the front of my brain right now…still, lovely photos! πŸ˜‰

    Karina’s last blog post..Un-Thursday

    Oh I hope your memory comes up with it and I hope you’ll share it!

  30. MoscowMom

    I also love snapdragons; never see them here in Moscow. I think your story about how you remembered subconsciously what your mom had said about them is truly special. Thanks for writing about it!

    Thanks MoscowMom; glad you enjoyed it πŸ™‚

Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

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Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
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Pasta with snails alla calabrese
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