Forsythia Flowers and Plants and the Life of William Forsyth

Updated on March 28, 2018
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.

Flowers and young leaves of a forsythia
Flowers and young leaves of a forsythia | Source

Beautiful Flowers of Spring

The beautiful forsythia shrubs are in bloom here on the British Columbia coast as I write this article. The bright yellow flowers appear in late winter to early spring before the leaves of the plant have fully emerged. The blossoms cover the branches, creating dramatic splashes of colour in both gardens and their surroundings. They are a wonderful sign that spring has arrived and are a promise of more floral joy to follow.

Forsythia is a genus of flowering plants that are mostly native to East Asia and belong to the olive family, or the family Oleaceae. The genus contains about eleven species. The number of species varies due to debates about how the numerous hybrids and cultivars in the genus should be classified. Forsythias are popular plants that have spread to many parts of the world. They are greatly admired for the glorious yellow flames produced by the flowers.

A forsythia shrub in bloom often looks like a yellow flame.
A forsythia shrub in bloom often looks like a yellow flame. | Source

In the UK, the name of the plant is pronounced for-sigh-thia in honour of the horticulturist William Forsyth. In North America, the name is often pronounced for-sith-ia.

The Forsythia Plant

Forsythia plants grow as shrubs, which can become very large. They may reach a height of up to ten feet and a width of up to fifteen feet, depending on the species. A shrub has multiple stems. Some forsythia stems are so thick near their base that they need to be cut with a saw if they have to be shortened or removed.

Many forsythias have stems that arch. The plants can become unruly and produce fewer flowers if they aren't pruned, as I know from viewing the escaped garden plants growing at the edge of a wooded area near my home. Pruning is beneficial because it can produce a healthy plant and a lovely yellow fountain of flowers in the spring, as shown in the photo above. Some people form a hedge from the plants. This can look beautiful when all of the shrubs are in bloom at the same time.

Parts of a Flower

The stigma, style and ovary make up the female part of a flower, or pistil. The anther and filament make up the male part, or stamen.
The stigma, style and ovary make up the female part of a flower, or pistil. The anther and filament make up the male part, or stamen. | Source

The stigma, style, and ovary form the carpel of a flower. In flowers with only one carpel, the carpel is also known as a pistil. Some flowers have several carpels joined together in their female reproductive structure. In this case, the group of carpels is known as a pistil.

Studio Time Lapse Video of Forsythia Flowers Opening

Forsythia Flowers

Forsythias have bright yellow to golden flowers. The so-called "pink forsythia" doesn't belong to the Forsythia genus. Its scientific name is Abeliophyllum distichum. Its flowers look quite like those of forsythia but are white to pink in colour, depending on the variety.

A forsythia flower has four petals that are joined at their base, where they form a tube. The petals usually hang downwards but are sometimes curved backwards, revealing the reproductive parts inside. The flowers contain two stamens (the male reproductive structures) and a pistil (the female reproductive structure). The stigma at the top of the pistil is lobed. The flowers are pollinated by insects, especially bees. There may not be many of these early pollinators around when the forsythia flowers need them.

The beautiful flowers last for only a couple of weeks. The flower buds for the next spring form after the flowers have dropped. The buds need exposure to the colder temperatures of winter order to open, but if the winter is very cold they may die.

A forsythia flower on a wet day
A forsythia flower on a wet day | Source

The oval leaves of a forsythia are toothed and have a pointed tip. They become more noticeable as the flowers fade. The shrub is deciduous and the leaves are lost at the end of the growing season. Forsythia leaves often turn a beautiful red or yellow colour in the fall before they drop.

Beautiful forsythia
Beautiful forsythia | Source

The Fruits and Their Uses

Pollinated forsythia flowers produce fruit in the fall. The fruit is an oval capsule which is at first green and then turns yellow and finally brown. When it's mature, the capsule opens to reveal two chambers filled with seeds.

Forsythia suspensa fruits are used in traditional Chinese medicine. The plant is commonly known as lian qiao, golden bells, or the weeping forsythia. It's a popular ornamental plant in North America.

F. suspensa fruits are said to be anti-inflammatory and antipyretic. An antipyretic substance is one that reduces fever. Forsythia fruits and an extract from the fruits are also claimed to be antiviral substances. They are used to treat respiratory infections and problems such as colds, flu, and bronchitis. There isn't enough evidence supporting these uses to satisfy western researchers, however. Forsythia may or may not be an effective medicine.

Forsythia isn't considered to be dangerous when used in prescribed quantities. It's generally recommended that pregnant and lactating women avoid ingesting the plant until scientists learn more about the chemicals that it contains, however. In addition, anyone taking another medicine or being treated for an illness by a doctor should ask their doctor about the advisability of taking forsythia. Natural medicines can interact with pharmaceutical ones. Another important point to consider is that forsythia may slow blood clotting. It's not a good idea to take it before surgery or if another medicine that slows blood clotting is being taken.

Forsythia flowers in the rain
Forsythia flowers in the rain | Source

Edibility of the Flowers

Forsythia is said to be nontoxic on lists of poisonous plants for pets and humans, as stated in the references below. There is a difference between being nontoxic and being edible, however.

Some people report that they eat forsythia flowers, although not in large quantities because the petals can taste bitter. The flowers are sometimes used as an attractive garnish on salads or are used to make an infusion.

It's nice to know that forsythias are safe to grow in a garden frequented by children and pets. I really think that we need to learn more about the chemicals in the plant and their effects on humans and animals before we forage for forsythias, though.

If someone decides to eat forsythia flowers, it's important to be absolutely certain about the selected plant's identity and to pick flowers from an unpolluted area. I think that it's also advisable to eat only a small quantity of forsythia until we know more about its effects.

How to Grow Forsythia From a Plant Cutting

Origin of the Name

The first forsythia discovered by a western scientist was Forsythia suspensa. Carl Peter Thunburg was a Swedish surgeon and a botanist. He noticed the plant in a Japanese garden and collected some specimens. Thunberg gave the plant the scientific name Syringa suspensa and brought it to Europe.

The genus Syringa contains the lilacs. It was soon realized that forsythias had features that were different from lilacs and should really be classified in their own genus. The genus was changed to Forsythia in honour of William Forsyth, a renowned horticulturist of the day.

The first forsythia brought to Britain was Forsythia viridissima. It was found in China by Robert Fortune, an avid plant collector. Forsythia suspensa and Forsythia viridissima have given rise to a wide variety of hybrids. A popular cross between the two species is Forsythia X intermedia.

Forsythia flowers after a spring shower
Forsythia flowers after a spring shower | Source

A Brief Biography of William Forsyth

William Forsyth was a Scottish horticulturist who lived from 1737 to 1804. Bruce Forsyth, a popular entertainer in the UK for many years, was a descendent of William Forsyth. Bruce became Sir Bruce Forsyth CBE in 2011. He died in August, 2017.

William Forsyth was born in the town of Oldmeldrum in Aberdeenshire. He received his training as a gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London. The word "physic" in the garden's name means "healing". The Chelsea Physic Garden was founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. Its goal was to teach apprentices about the medicinal capabilities of plants. The garden still exists today, although it's smaller in size than it was during Forsyth's time.

Forsyth begun his career as a gardener for the Duke of Northumberland. He returned to the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1771 to become its head gardener. In 1784 he became an employee of King George the Third as the Chief Superintendent of the Royal Gardens at Kensington and King James's Palace.

Forsyth is credited with being the first person in Britain to deliberately create a rock garden. In 1802 he published a book about fruit tree management that became a best seller. In 1804—the year of his death—he attended an organizational meeting with six other notable men. This meeting was the origin of the Royal Horticultural Society.

A forsythia with open flowers
A forsythia with open flowers | Source

William Forsyth's Plaster for Oak Trees

Unfortunately, William Forsyth was involved in an unpleasant situation shortly before his death. He created a plaster (or "plaister") to be placed over wounds on oak trees, not only allowing them to survive but also enabling them to grow new wood. This was an important endeavour because oak trees were needed to build ships for the navy. The plaster contained fresh cow dung, lime, wood ashes, and sand. Strange as it may sound, cow dung may have the ability to fight microbes.

Forsyth was thanked by the Houses of Parliament for his creation and given a monetary award. There were claims from prominent people that his plaster didn't work, however. It's hard to tell how serious these accusations were for Forsyth's reputation from the reports that are available today.

It's a shame that Forsyth didn't live longer in order to have a chance to answer his critics. It's good that we can remember him in the name of such a beautiful plant, though, even if not everyone knows the origin of the name "Forsythia".

Cat with forsythia
Cat with forsythia | Source

References

  • "Forsythia and False Forsythia: A look at the authentic forsythia and its imitator." Dave's Garden. https://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1989 (accessed March 27, 2018).
  • "Common Plants: What's Poisonous and What's Not?" University of Wisconsin. https://www.uwhealth.org/files/uwhealth/docs/pdf/poisonous_plants.pdf (accessed August 9, 2017).
  • "Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants." American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/golden-bells (accessed August 9, 2017).
  • "Forsythia." WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1103-forsythia.aspx?activeingredientid=1103&activeingredientname=forsythia (accessed August 9th, 2017).
  • Janick, Jules. "The Founding and Founders of the Royal Horticultural Society." Purdue University. https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/pdfs/ch4801p17.pdf (accessed August 9, 2017).
  • "William Forsyth." Gazetteer for Scotland. http://www.scottish-places.info/people/famousfirst1933.html (accessed August 11, 2017).

© 2015 Linda Crampton

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    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the kind comment, Alun. I appreciate the share, too. I love rock gardens. They can be very attractive and a great component of a garden, as you say.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 23 months ago from Essex, UK

      A definitive article on the Forsythia Linda, and one of the most attractive I have seen. I think here in England there is probably no other shrub that is as smothered in flowers - certainly yellow flowers - in the early-mid spring as Forsythia. I like the addition of the section on William Forsyth too - particularly that he may have been the first to build a rock garden. Rock garden features are a great addition to any garden. Thanks and shared. Alun

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the visit, Rachel. I appeciate your comment. Blessings to you, too!

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 2 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      Hi Linda. I don't know how I missed this hub. I have several forsythia bushes but never knew how or when to prune them. Thanks for the information and sharing the pictures.

      Blessings to you.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, drbj! I appreciate your visit.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 3 years ago from south Florida

      Thank you, Alicia, for this lovely hub featuring both forsythia and William Forsyth and enhancing my knowledge of both in the process.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Deb. Thank you for the comment. Forsythia has a habit of popping up unexpectedly where I live!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      When I was growing up, I never saw forsythia, only lilacs. When I returned home three decades later, it had suddenly appeared. Not sure what spurred its recent popularity. I never knew about mr. Forsyth, but it was nice to learn where the plant name came from.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Robie. I have some forsythias in my neighbourhood, and I see them beside a trail that I often walk on, too. They are a very cheerful sight!

    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 3 years ago from Ohio

      I love those flowers. they are very common in Italy, where I grew up. My whole neighborhood was beautifully spotted with yellow flowers each spring, but I never knew the name of the plant. Great hub! Thanks for sharing.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      How lovely to have a forsythia that bloomed every time your daughter had a birthday. Mary. This must have been a great way to celebrate the occasion! Thanks for the votes.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, Peg. As always, I appreciate y0ur visit and comment.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, Patricia. I appreciate the votes, the share and the pin, too. The angels are a beautiful way to start my day!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Glimmer. I love the sight of snowdrops! They are such a beautiful sign of spring. Thanks for the comment.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 3 years ago from Florida

      We grew this lovely plant when I lived in Atlanta, GA. I don't see them here in S. Florida, though; maybe it's too hot here.

      I have a beautiful Forsythia that bloomed every March. We called it our "Birthday Bush" cause I have a daughter who was born in March!

      I enjoyed reading this Hub very much, and voted it UP, etc.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Beautiful flower and interesting facts about the plant and it's namesake. I always learn a lot from your articles.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

      Good morning Alicia

      I learned so much from this article.

      I thought I knew a bit about this glorious plant but you filled in many details I did not. I knew little of the man whose name this plant got its name.

      Interesting the Physic garden is smaller today...one would think, perhaps, it would be larger.

      And how sad that the incident with the 'plaister' would be a way to tarnish his name.

      We probably will never know the truth about that situation.

      And forsythia...love them...My Momma had them all over our property and I was totally enchanted by them. I do not have one right now but once I am settled I will have several.

      Thanks for the info.

      Voted up++++ shared Pinned to Awesome HubPages

      Please know that Angels are on the way to you ps

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 3 years ago

      Forsythias just make me smile, just like this hub did. We are just getting our snowdrops here so I am eagerly waiting for the forsythias. Thanks for a little sunshine this morning!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, Vellur. I appreciate the vote as well.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 3 years ago from Dubai

      An information packed hub about the Forsythia Flowers. The flowers are beautiful, great hub, voted up.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Flourish. The beautiful yellow colour of the flowers is lovely. I always enjoy seeing it.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      The brilliant splash of yellow is always a welcome treat, and I enjoyed reading more about the forsynthia and its namesake.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Suhail. Thank you very much for the comment! I've read many reports about forsythia from people in Ontario, so the shrub seems to survive there, at least in the southern part of the province.

      I agree about the last photo. I'm a cat lover as well as a plant lover, so I just had to include that photo in this hub!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 3 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Linda,

      Beautiful hub on a beautiful shrub and a great historic piece on a great gardener!

      I wonder if forsythia can tolerate the winter climate of Ontario though.

      And that last picture with a cat against a forsythia plant - simply priceless.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the lovely comment, Vagabond Laborer. I appreciate it very much. It's very nice to meet you!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Dora. I appreciate your comment and your kindness.

    • Vagabond Laborer profile image

      Vagabond Laborer 3 years ago

      Alicia C,

      This was a wonderful article. I' have always loved forsythia; it's such a lovely harbinger of Spring. Also, congratulations on being such a prolific and successful hub writer. You use photographs and media wonderfully throughout your articles.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Alicia, your articles provide some exciting lessons in nature study. There's so much I learn from you. Thanks for this information on Forsyth and Forsythia--the beautiful yellow.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Bill. I hope your forsythia blooms are lovely when they finally emerge! Thank you for the visit.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Linda. We have a row of forsythia separating our yard from the neighbors and we always look forward to the yellow bloom in spring. This year they are still imbedded in snow and the weather has still been very cold so we are many weeks away. How interesting where the name came from, I had no idea. Thanks for the education.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you so much, Rebecca! I appreciate your kind comment.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      What a gorgeous hub, Alicia. I love Forsythia because it is the first budding bush here. You did a great job with this. Enjoyed!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, ologsinquito. Forsythias seem to be everywhere in the spring where I live, too! I see them in gardens and beside trails. A flowering forsythia is so lovely.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

      Very interesting. These bushes seem to be everywhere in the spring, but I never knew what they were called.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the visit and the comment, Maren Morgan!

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for great info!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I agree, poetryman6969. Less green waste would be wonderful. Plants have so much to offer us! Thanks for the visit.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you so much for the kind and interesting comment, Peggy. I appreciate your visit and the votes and share, as I always do!

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 3 years ago

      It's interesting that such a lovely plant has other uses as well. I would like to see us get more uses out of the natural world and to produce less green waste.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I well remember the forsythia shrubs that my parents planted on one side of our home in Wisconsin when I was growing up as a child. Sometimes there was still a bit of snow on the ground when they would begin blooming. Sometimes my mother would cut a few branches laden with yellow blossoms and put them in a vase inside the house and we would enjoy the glorious yellow blossoms for a time.

      I did not realize that it was related to the olive family. It was enjoyable learning about the horticulturist William Forsyth. Thanks for another stellar hub! Up votes and sharing and pinning to my shrubs board.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Larry. I appreciate your comment!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Beautiful pictures and a very interesting history.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the visit and comment, Bill.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, AVailuu. I enjoy reading your hubs, too!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Ann. Forsythia hedges are very attractive! The yellow colour of the flowers is certainly cheerful. I wish the colour lasted for a longer time. Thank you very much for the comment.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      That was actually fascinating. I had no idea where the name came from. As always, you gave me an education.

    • AVailuu profile image

      A. Cristen Vailuu 3 years ago from Augusta, Ga

      I always enjoy reading your hubs AliciaC!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      What a great botany lesson! I love forsythia; used to have it for a back hedge in a previous garden and its vibrant colour was so cheering.

      I didn't realise it was named after a person. I like to learn something every day!

      Thanks for an interesting, informative hub with great illustrations.

      Ann

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you so much, Audrey! I appreciate your lovely comment and all your support a great deal.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 3 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I love learning all about flowers and this hub is fantastic Linda. The photos are just lovely. You've provided such interesting information about forsythia flowers. I appreciate these beauties more now that I've read this hub. Voted up and more and sharing.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I'm sorry that your forsythia didn't bloom, RTalloni. At least you can look at the plants in your neighbourhood. I'd love to hear you say the names of the flowers in your list! Thank you for the visit and the comment.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      So interesting--thanks. I agree, it might not be the wisest move to eat the flowers. My forsythia hedge did not bloom this year. All neighbors' plants did, but mine skipped the blooms. Very curious.

      As a southerner, forsythia is a garden word I love. Saying the name allows me to let my southern accent roll out, making people smile. Magnolia, camellia, forsythia, gardenia, wisteria, mahonia, and more make the drawl lots of fun.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, Faith. I always appreciate your visits! I appreciate your votes and shares a great deal, too. Peace and blessings to you, as always.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      How ironic for I just had asked a question about what plants or flowers are the first to bloom in one's area, and forsythia bush is one of the ones that blooms first after the last winter frost. I love its brilliant color! So beautiful and adds such a pop to the last days of winter and going into spring.

      That is interesting about Forsyth's life, but sad he did not live to tell his side of the story.

      As always, a wonderful read, beautiful and insightful.

      Up ++++ tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

      Peace and blessings always

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