Myosotis derives its name from the shape of the foliage, which resembles a mouse's ear. This genus of flowering plants in the family Boraginaceae includes a variety of shrubs, trees, and herbs totaling about 2,000 species in 146 genera. They are known as forget-me-nots and scorpion grass in the northern hemisphere. The colloquial name comes from the German and is thought to have first been used in AD 1398 by King Henry IV of England. Similar names can be found in many languages. The plant is often confused with Chatham Islands Forget-Me-Nots which belong to the related genus Myosotidium.

How To Identify The Plant

The genus name comes from the classical Greek word myosotis, mus meaning mouse and ous or otos meaning ear. The name designates plants with short, pointed leaves. Silvatica means growing in the woods, forest-loving.

Myosotis species have 5 flowers, each having 5 sepals and petals. Flowers are typically 1 cm or less in diameter. They are flat, blue, pink, white, or yellow with yellow centers and are born on cymes. Flowering typically occurs in the spring. They can be grown as either annuals or perennials. The foliage is alternate; roots are generally diffuse. The seeds are found in small, tulip-shaped pods along the stem. The pods attach to clothing and animal fur, eventually fall off where the small seeds inside then germinate elsewhere. Collect seeds by placing a sheet of paper under the stems and shaking the seed pods onto the paper.

honeybee on forget me not flowers

North American Varieties

Although native to Europe and Asia, the plant escaped gardens and naturalized in a number of locations in North America. More than 500 species names have been recorded, but only 74 are currently accepted. The remainder are considered either synonyms or proposed names. The genus is largely restricted to western Eurasia (60 confirmed species) and New Zealand (approximately 40 confirmed species). A scarcity of species occurs elsewhere including North and South America. Despite this, Myosotis species are now common throughout temperate regions because of the introduction of cultivars and alien species. Where not native, they prefer moist habitats and frequently escape to wetlands and riverbanks. Only those native to the Northern Hemisphere are called forget-me-nots.

Genetic analysis indicates the genus originated in the Northern Hemisphere and that the species is native to Australia, New Zealand, and South America, where all are derived from a single seed dispersal to the Southern Hemisphere. One or two European species like Myosotis sylvatica, woodland forget-me-nots, were introduced into most of the temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

container of pink forget me nots

Culture

Easily grown in organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade, plants appreciate some afternoon shade in hot summer climates. Although technically a short-lived perennial, the plant is often grown as a biennial by planting seed in mid-summer for bloom the following year. It is also grown as an annual by starting seed indoors about 8-10 weeks before last spring frost date for bloom the same year. Regardless of the method, plants will persist in the garden for many years since they freely self-seed. In formal garden areas such as border fronts where naturalization is not desirable, remove some of the cymes immediately after bloom to minimize self-seeding.

Landscaping Uses

Hardy in zones 3-8, forget-me-nots can be used as bedding plants and for borders, rock gardens, wild gardens, woodland areas, and around ponds where plants can naturalize. Interplant them with spring bulbs.

They are easy-care with no serious insect or disease problems but can be susceptible to mildew and rust.

Folklore

In Germany, the forget-me-not got its name from a romantic tragedy involving a knight and his lady. The most common version involves a couple who were strolling along the Danube River when the lady spotted a blue-flowered plant dislodged by the water and about to be swept downstream. She desired to save it, so the knight leapt into the water. The current was too swift for him, and as he was being swept out to sea, he threw the flowers onto the bank, calling out, "Vergiss mein nicht", or forget-me-not.

container of forget me nots on author's deck

(on my deck)