Photo by Melody

The Magic of Green

By Kelli Kallenborn (KelliJanuary 24, 2010

The color green could be considered the color of life. Humans cannot be self-supporting for long in a place that is never green. What is more bleak than an iceberg, lava field, or empty parking lot? Green is the color of plants and plants are making our oxygen and directly and indirectly making our food. Plants are the basis of most of the life on earth.

Gardening picture

Green is everywhere, from shallow sea to alpine tundra.  Such a ubiquitous color is bound to be loaded symbolism, both good and bad.  A person can be green with envy.  An inexperienced person may be called green.  In the United States, green is symbolic of money, and by extension, wealth.  It is associated with Ireland more than any other country.  Green is used in some Christian denominations to indicate Ordinary Time, that is, the time between Pentecost and Advent, when there are no major church festivals.  In modern times, being "green" refers to doing or making things in ways that are less harmful to the environment.   

Where there is a lot of symbolism, there are bound to be contradictory meanings.  Here are a few examples.

  • I have thought that if there was such a thing as a lucky color, it would have to be green, and that thinking likely came from four-leafed clovers and the "luck of the Irish".  However, in the British Isles, green - and particularly wearing green - is widely believed to bring bad luck[1].  However, that does nothing to explain the existence of British racing green. 
  • Green is said to be a healing color, but when a person is not feeling well, he might say that he is feeling "green".  I can remember as a child making a mobile that I was going to hang in my bedroom.  I was careful to not make any part green, because I knew that if I was laying in bed sick, looking at green parts would make me feel sicker.   
  • The army uses green because of camouflage qualities, but the irony is that green is said to be one of the most peaceful colors to the human mind.
  • A green light is a sign that it is safe to go, but depending on the time and place, green can also represent hidden dangers like predators, enemies, or bewitching fairies in the forests, jungles, and swamps.

Perhaps it is the "magic" of life that makes green a color of choice for many fantasy characters.  In olden times, fairies were thought to wear green.  Robin Hood wore Lincoln green.  Leprechauns always wear green and Santa's elves are usually shown wearing green.  In more modern times, we have Peter Pan, the Jolly Green Giant, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and "little green men" from outer space.

The word green is derived from an Old English word that means to grow.  Words like verdant and vernal come from the Latin word for green, viridis.  The chloro- in chlorophyll comes from the Greek word for yellow-green.  You may encounter the Spanish word for green, verde.  It appears in terms like salsa verde and palo verde


 Sword Fern Aptenia cordifolia California Poppy Organ Pipe Cactus
 Sedum 'Coppertone' JuniperAloe vera hybrid Toyon 
 Texas Ranger Bearss Lime Rose Hesperoyucca whipplei
 Mediterranean Fan Palm Lavender Wax Leaf Privet Meyer's Asparagus

A sampling of the countless shades and textures of green


There are countless shades of green in the plant world - from pale to very dark and from pure green to greenish shades of blue, yellow, and grey.  The pictures above were all taken in my yard, and you might have noticed the presence of a lot of the bluish, yellowish, and greyish greens.  That is common in plants that are drought-tolerant.  The colors are due to the presence of hairs or waxes that shade the plant, buffer drying winds, or reduce evaporation from the leaves.  These features can also be found on high altitude plants where they provide protection from strong ultraviolet radiation and the effects of the cold and wind. 

Besides leaves, green plant parts can include stems or trunks and flowers[2], [3].  There was a time when regarding green flowers I would have thought, "What's the point?"  However, our house came with some green gladiolus, and I really like them.  Green flowers often come in shades of green not found in leaves.   


Ledebouria socialis Aloe hemmingii Syngonium  GasteriaSanseveria 

Multiple shades of green produce interesting and attractive leaves



Green plants can make their own food.  They don't have to hunt, fish, farm, dig, pick, cook, or even chew.  They just sit in the sun and the food is made for them.  They never get overweight.  They don't develop eating disorders or addictions.  They don't have allergies.  As far as I know, they never say, "Yuck!  Chlorophyll again?"  How about that for magic? 

Green vegetables may or many not be magic elixirs, but you already know they are healthful foods.  Broadly speaking, the darker the green and the more of it, the more nutrients in the food.  Light-colored iceberg lettuce is a nutritional lightweight compared to darker lettuces and spinach.  Green plant foods tend to be high in vitamin C, folate, and fiber, and are often a good source of vitamin A.  Additionally, celery is a good source of potassium, olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat, peas are a good source of thiamine, riboflavin, potassium, and protein, and seaweeds are an excellent source of iodine and provide a wide range of minerals[4].  Some consider spirulina to be a wonder food. 

Green is more than nature's neutral or a blank canvas.  It can be more than an ignored backdrop for flowers and garden art.  A visually-soothing garden could be produced with the skillful use of only the many shades and textures of green[5].  It seems that nothing clashes with green foliage, be it red rocks, orange flowers, or blue sky.  You do not need to be afraid to use it anywhere.  Live houseplants always complement the decor.  Outdoors, plant the hemlock or the ash.  Either one will go with the house, whether it is red, blue, white, yellow, brown, another shade of green or multicolored.  Natural greens go well together, too.  You never have to think about whether the Christmas fern will look right with the Colorado blue spruce.  It always seems to work.  It's a magic trick anyone can do. 





[2]  How peculiar:  A green flower

[3] How peculiar:  Green cultivars

[4] Nutrition information in this paragraph taken from Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal, Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1997.  Information in this paragraph is to be considered anecdotal and not professional advice.

[5] Think Green:  Foliage as an Alternative to Flowers 


 Photos are the property of Kelli Kallenborn.






  About Kelli Kallenborn  
Kelli KallenbornKelli has lived in California for 25 years and really enjoys the climate and all of the varied natural ecosystems. You can also follow Kelli on Google.

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