The candytuft flower is one of several species in the Iberis genus – which consists of about 50 different species – and is a member of the brassicaceae family. These blossoms may be either perennial or annual, and are indigenous to regions of the Mediterranean. Candytufts range in height from 12 to 16 inches and can vary greatly in their growth habits. For example, iberis amara is an upright, erect grower, while iberis umbellata tends to spread out and form mounds. These fragrant blossoms are generally quite compact, and come in shades of deep purple and faint lilac, red and maroon, pink and white.
The candytuft flower name is derived from the Olde English name for the island of Crete – where the plant may have originated – Candie. This name stuck over the ages, as these fluffy blossoms do resemble small puffs of cotton candy. Though edible, these plants are not at all as sweet as the name would imply. They are, however, quite useful. Before and during the colonial period, every part of these plants were used to cure everything from lung problems to gastrointestinal upsets and even arthritis. More recent studies have shown that these plants truly are effective in treating stomach ailments; so much so that it is not uncommon for a patient in Germany to receive a bitter digestive tonic made of the stalks and leaves of this plant. Modern American herbalists also create teas and tinctures of the candytuft flower to help cardiac hypertrophy, gout, asthma and nervousness. It has been established that although small doses can effectively help combat nervous attacks, large quantities – especially of the seeds – may actually cause the opposite reaction – or giddiness. The whimsical appearance of the candytuft flower has brought it into the focus of many fantasy artists. One of the best known examples of this is Cicely Mary Barker’s, “Candytuft Fairy.” This short story – which describes an exciting day in the life of the fairy herself – is accompanied by an illustration of a dainty, winged creature sitting upon pink and white iberis umbellatas.
In the language of flowers, candytufts are said to represent indifference. As a gift, these plants are much too fanciful in appearance to symbolize anything but joy. They are often given on happy occasions like anniversaries, weddings and birthdays. These plants are long-lasting, and are frequently presented within arrangements or bouquets. However, the potted variety can also make for a great gift with an interesting touch – the upright plants remaining erect and regal, while the globe type will cascade along the edges of the pot.