Many Greek myths explain natural phenomenon, including the movement of the sun and the shape of constellations. Closer to Earth, the rich variety of plants inspired stories about spurned lovers and tragic deaths, many related in Ovid’s classic poem “Metamorphoses.” While some plants arose from the tears or blood from gods and humans, others arose from the transformed bodies of people themselves.

Punishments, Tributes and Escapes

Narcissus was so self-absorbed that his spurned lovers killed themselves in despair, so the gods punished him by making him fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. He wasted away as he gazed at himself and became the eponymous flower. Other tragic stories include Crocus, accidentally killed by Hermes, and the rose, a dead nymph transformed by Flora, god of flowers, out of pity; she asked other deities to gift the flower with beauty and scent. A similar tribute honored Orchis, the son of a nymph and satyr, turned into the orchid after he died. The nymph Clytie, on the other hand, became the sun-tracking heliotrope because she loved Helios, the Greek sun-god, and watched his fiery chariot’s progress across the sky. For Paeon, becoming a flower was a rescue; Asclepius, god of healing, became jealous of his protege, and Zeus saved the young man by turning him into a peony.