Stock, Matthiola

Stock flowers’ botanical name is Matthiola, believed to be named after Pierandrea Matthiola, an Italian botanist and doctor who cultivated these flowers because he thought they might have medicinal values that promoted love and lust due to their strong scent. Because of their long-lasting blooms and spicy clove-like scent, stock flower meanings include lasting beauty, happy life, and a contented existence. Stock flowers are also known as gillyflowers. The name “gillyflower” can be somewhat misleading, as it was used broadly in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries for groups of fragrant flowers like carnations, wallflowers, stocks and pinks.

When Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare referred to gillyflowers, they were likely talking about carnations or pinks rather than stock flowers. In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Perdita talks about the beauty of these flowers saying, “The fairest flowers of the season/Are our carnations and streak’d gillyvors.”

Stock flowers are members of the mustard family. There are 55 species of stock flowers, the most popular is Matthiola Incana. Soon after stock flowers were classified in the sixteenth century, they were exported to England, where they became extremely popular. They were grown in the English gardens, and the most popular Brompton variety was bred in London.