Skip to content

Flower Power for International Women’s Day

March 7, 2023

By Barbara McKean, Head of Education, Royal Botanical Gardens.

Since 1975 the United Nations has recognized March 8 as International Women’s Day, a day for all people to celebrate the successes of the global movement for equity in social and political rights for women, to raise awareness about discrimination, and to take action on these issues.

Like many other social justice campaigns, International Women’s Day has a logo, but in some parts of the world, it also has a floral symbol — the blooms of Acacia dealbata.

Known in its Australian home as Silver Wattle, it grows as a small tree or shrub used medicinally and as food for people and wildlife. It has been introduced and naturalized in many other regions of the world, especially in those that share South Australia’s mediterranean climate. Called Mimosa outside of Australia, it is invasive almost everywhere it grows. Despite this unwelcome status, its fragrant clusters of puffy yellow flowers have also caught the eye of plant breeders who have selected and introduced specimens of ornamental interest. So how did an attractive, tough, invasive shrubby tree from down under become associated with women’s equity?

Acacia dealbata - Mimosa
acacia blooms with fluffy clusters of golden yellow balls

The connection originated in March of 1946 in Italy. Women had been fighting for the right to vote, struggling to regain rights lost under Mussolini’s Fascist regime, and trying to maintain the status and roles they had during WW2. Three members of the Unione Donne Italiane (the UDI, a women’s rights organization) nominated the Mimosa flower as a symbol of Italy’s Women’s Day. While this day had been first celebrated in 1922, 1946 was especially significant as the right to vote had been recently approved. Mimosa was chosen as it bloomed in Italy in March, was easy to find, and despite having delicate flowers, it thrives even in harsh conditions.

The Italian custom since Women’s Day 1946 is to celebrate the women in your life on March 8 with a sprig of Mimosa, whether they are friends, family, or colleagues. Some local florists carry it at this time of year so why not start your own tradition? Any special day that involves flowers gets our vote!

More from the RBG Blog

Check out RBG’s blog for announcements, articles, and more from Canada’s largest botanical garden.

Want to be sure you hear first? Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to hear about upcoming events, weekend activities, articles, and more!