Snap the Magic Dragon

By Julie Barnes

The Romans and the Greeks believed the jaw-snapping blooms offered protection from evil and witchcraft. A large planting guarded European castle gates in medieval times. Women fashioned the flowers into necklaces to appear more alluring, while its blossoms were boiled to make restorative youthful concoctions. To ward off evil spirits, bouquets of them were even hung above babies' cribs. What flower was considered to be this magical? Allow me to introduce the snapdragon, sometimes called dragon flower with individual flower heads that open and close like a snapping dragon's mouth when squeezed. Antirrhinum majus, snapdragon, means "nose-like" or "like a snout" due to its interesting flower shapes. According to the language of flowers, historical snapdragons manifested various meanings when bestowed on someone:

Grace – Standing upright and tall, a snapdragon represented grace and virtue to impart a message of respect and admiration❖ Strength – A snapdragons ability to grow in tough rocky areas reflected a person's ability to overcome life's problems❖ Deception – In ancient times, snapdragon flowers were sent between lovers or from married people to mistresses to convey love or lust.
In Victorian Times they were used to express remorse or to beg for forgiveness. Snapdragons are actually tender perennials, hardy to USDA zones 7 to 11. They are grown here as hardy annuals or else, cool season flowering annuals. Intense colored flowers bloom profusely in 70⁰F daytime temperatures with low 40⁰F nighttime temperatures, making them true standouts to either the spring or fall garden. Alternate, lanceolate leaves spiral around the stem with spectacular small flowers of various shapes and colors. Snapdragons have been bred extensively. There are cultivars with traditional "snap" flowers, open face flowers, or double flowers in all colors except blue. Since the flower forms open and close like jaws in a snapping motion, they must be opened by pollinators to reach the pollen. Snapdragons rely largely on bumblebees for pollination, since smaller honeybees are unable to open the flowers "jaws." Erect spikes covered with buds gradually open from the bottom of the stalk to the top flourishing with color. As the heat of summer finally sets in, snapdragons tend to slow down and may stop blooming. If watered and maintained properly, these plants should perk up and happily bloom again in the fall. Snapdragons have infinite garden uses due to height variations ranging from small to large spires that fall into three categories; dwarf, medium or tall. Compact dwarf plants grow to a bushy 6 to 15 inches tall with numerous flower spikes making them perfect choices for rock gardens, low garden borders, flower boxes, fillers in containers or trailers in hanging baskets. Mid-sized varieties grow 15-30 inches tall and are often used alone, or else, with other annuals in borders, or cut flower displays. Tall varieties grow 30-48 inches in height making them a great selection for the back of a garden border, or as spectacular cut flowers for large vases. Snapdragons can be grown from seed started indoors weeks before a final frost. But, because the seedlings are rather slow growing, plants are easily purchased from a garden center. They grow best in a sunny or partial shade location in well- draining soil. Pinching off stem tips will make young plants bushier and deadheading spent flowers should extend the bloom season. Once established in a garden they should be able to withstand some freezing temperatures. If you are lucky, they may have seed pods that may even self- sow in your garden. And now that I have shared a little snapdragon magic, abracadabra, it's time for me to disappear.