If you've ever heard Patrice Rushen's 1982 hit "Forget-Me-Nots," we know you got an earworm after reading that headline. Or maybe it makes you think of Will Smith's theme for Men In Black, in which the actor/recording artist sampled the tune and repackaged it for a new generation.
No matter the reason you remember the song, it's going to wear you down until you find a spot in your garden to plant this charming plant with its pretty blue, pink, white, or lilac flowers.
Legends & Lore
Alpine forget-me-not, like white daisies and handsome blue bachelor's buttons, represents pure love and faithfulness. While bachelor's buttons would adorn a man's lapel to signify availability—or determine his beloved's love by the flower's rate of fade—women wore forget-me-not to express romantic fidelity.
But forget-me-nots also symbolize tragedy.
Legend has it that in medieval times, a knight and his lady were walking along the side of a river. He picked a posy of flowers, but because of the weight of his armour he fell into the river. As he was drowning he threw the posy to his loved one and shouted "Forget-me-not!"
Sad as that story may be, it reminds us of all the derpy moments we've all experienced when trying to impress a crush.
Medieval sword smiths decorated their workshops with forget-me-nots, or created concoctions from the flower's juices, to ensure the quality and hardness of their steel. Around this time in continental Europe, it was used in herbal medicine as a remedy for respiratory issues and eye problems.
In the 1930s, the Freemasons used blue forget-me-not flowers as a symbol of solidarity and defiance against Hitler's decree that membership in the fraternal organization was a crime punishable by death.
Finally, alpine forget-me-nots were selected as Alaska's state flower in 1949.
Forget-Me-Nots: A Comparison Between Species
There are three separate genera for forget-me-nots; Chinese, cape, and the standard alpine. All three are in the borage family (Boraginaceae) and while their general growing requirements and appearances are similar, you might favor one type over the other based on size or flower color.
All species make fantastic cut flowers, attract tons of bees and butterflies, and easily regenerate from copious amounts of dropped seeds. They prefer partial shade to full sun, and they're considered cool-weather plants in part due to their native mountainous ecosystems.
We'll get to details specific to our favorite varieties in just a minute, but here are the characteristics common to all:
- Biennial/Annual; sometimes referred to as a perennial in temperate zones
- Cold hardy down to USDA Zone 4, but grown as an annual down to zone 2
- Medium to fertile well-drained soil with a pH range between 6.0 to 7.8
- 12 to 18 inches tall, 6 to 8-inch spread
- Prefers consistent moisture
- Natural environment is mountainous riparian areas
- Long, prolific bloom period (spring through first frost)
- 1/4 inch, five-petaled flowers grow on one side of tall, tapered stalks
- New growth can be a deep, showy burgundy color
The somewhat hairy, gray-green leaves on forget-me-nots are lance-shaped, growing as much as 8" long at the plant's base, decreasing to about 2" further up the plant's stems. Leaves growing on stems, our heroes at Missouri Botanical Garden tell us, are called sessile leaves.
Forget-me-nots are sweetly fragrant in the morning, evening, and night, but they're odorless during the day.
By the way, if your area's limited to plants resistant to moose, caribou, elk, deer, and rabbits, all three forget-me-not species hold up well against these garden terrorists.
Alpine Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis alpestris)M. alpestris is the most frequently grown species in North American gardens. They're generally considered to be "the" forget-me-not, with blue, white, carmine, pink and sometimes yellow varieties. Their centers are bright yellow, ringed with a tiny margin of snow white.
Alpine forget-me-not, also called "true blue," is native to Europe and Asia, particularly Turkey and the Himalayas between around 3000 feet in elevation.
If you can't decide which color to pick, order a packet of our Forget-Me-Not mixture!
Cape Forget-Me-Not (Anchusa capensis)
This species, which has a slightly more robust structure, has white-centered, deep blue flowers. There are all-white varieties available, but they're nowhere near as showy as the blue type.
Their leaves are more grayish than their cousins', spreading along the ground while the spikes reach high above the foliage.
They're a bit more narrow than the other species, but they're also more heat- and sun-tolerant. They'll handle a wide variety of soil types and a forgiving pH range.
Anchusa capensis has no recorded medicinal uses, but the leaves are edible and are eaten like spinach by the Sesotho (ed.: those who speak sesotho, i.e. the Basotho) people. The flowers are also edible, and can be added to salads or desserts.
— South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)
Some species in the Anchusa genus, including A. tinctoria, were once used to create cosmetic dyes. It's also known as "summer forget me not," likely due to its fortitude in the warmest climates in the forget-me-not range.
Chinese Forget-Me-Not (Cynoglossum amabile)
Native to southern Asia, C. amabile means "Lovely dog tongue." Regardless of how you feel about dogs and what they insist on doing with their tongues when houseguests are watching, you'll be proud to show off your Chinese forget-me-nots.
Deep indigo to light blue C. amabile flowers have dark blue centers and short, rounded petals as compared to M. alpestris' more slender, elongated petals and small, yellow centers. This species can grow a bit taller than the others, with flowering spikes up to two feet tall.
Potential Issues with Forget-Me-Nots
These are hardy plants. Their silvery hairs fend off many of the pests that might chomp on the stems and leaves, and as long as the foliage isn't allowed to fester due to overwatering and lack of air circulation, they should be in good shape all season long.
Nevertheless, keep an eye out for:
- Slugs and snails (young plants, basal leaves)
- Powdery mildew
- Flea beetles
- Crown rot
Due to the dense, ground-hugging habit of forget-me-not's basal rosette, we recommend watering them on warm mornings so they can dry out during the day, or adding them to your drip-irrigated garden zones.
Forget-me-nots aren't considered toxic to kids, pets, or grown-ups.
Fun Stuff to Do With Forget-Me-Nots
We've told you how easy they are to grow, and how they're tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions, diseases, and pests. Now it's time to tell you where to grow them.
Forget-me-nots make excellent edging and border plants. If you use them as bedding plants (and you should), note that most of their height is from their stems; don't let them get lost amid other plants in the 16" to 20" height range.
They're a popular choice for a groundcover when they're planted en masse.
You'll definitely want to grow them as potted plants on your deck or patio because they're great in containers. If you live in the coldest regions and want to treat them as perennials, bring the containers into a sheltered area that doesn't drop below 30°F.
Forget-me-nots can be your "something blue" in your bridal bouquet, given their traditional symbolism, and they're very popular among commercial florists as a cut flower. But not just for wedding flowers; they're also a big hit for funerary floral designs.
Growing Forget-Me-Not From Seed
All forget-me-not species have very similar germination requirements, but as always, check the back of your seed packet for the specifics.
Seed Treatment: None required, though cold stratification is recommended for spring-sown seeds.
When to Plant Outdoors: Scatter seeds outdoors shortly before the last spring frost, or direct sow them after the last spring frost.
When to Plant Indoors: 6 to 8 weeks prior to last spring frost. Use overhead fluorescent lights or a sunny window for indoor germination.
Seed Depth: Surface-sow (no deeper than 1/4") over finely-raked weed-free, damp soil.
Seed Spacing: Thin or transplant 12" apart.
Days to Germination: 7 to 14 days at 65°F to 70°F.
Transplanting Tips: Forget-me-nots develop deep roots, so we recommend biodegradable nursery pots.
As always when growing forget-me-not from seed, be sure to keep your seeds moist while they're germinating, and until your seedlings are established.
Don't Forget Seed Needs When You're Planning Your Garden
We source the freshest, highest-quality seeds for your best shot at creating a gorgeous garden. We've been expanding our catalog of ornamentals, herbs, and non-GMO vegetable species since 2006 when we launched our family business here in Michigan.
Loyalty is important to us. We strive to stay true to our new and returning customers, and we're proud and humbled that so many of you have returned the favor.
Not only are we committed to customer service, but we're determined to help you dial in your gardening skills with the most accurate cultivation information available through our blog and our individual catalog descriptions. We source our seeds from growers with practices in line with ours, and we source (and cross-reference) our information from the most reputable botanical gardens in North America and abroad.If you catch an error in our content, or if you'd like advice on a particular plant species, we hope you'll reach out to us. And if you ever have a problem with your seeds, let us know and we'll set things right!