MIGNONETTE, or MIGNONNETTE (i.e. "little darling"), the name given to a popular garden flower, the Reseda odorata of botanists, a " fragrant weed," as Cowper calls it, highly esteemed for its delicate but delicious perfume. The mignonette is generally regarded as being of annual duration, and is a plant of diffuse decumbent twiggy habit, scarcely reaching a foot in height, clothed with bluntish lanceolate entire or three-lobed leaves, and bearing longish spikes technically racemes of rather insignificant flowers at the ends of the numerous branches and branchlets. The plant thus naturally assumes the form of a low dense mass of soft green foliage studded over freely with the racemes of flowers, the latter unobtrusive and likely to be overlooked until their diffused fragrance compels attention. It is probably a native of North Africa and was sent to England from Paris in 1742; and ten years later it appears to have been sent from Leiden to Philip Miller at Chelsea. Though originally a slender and rather straggling plant, there are now some improved garden varieties in which the growth is more compact and vigorous, and the inflorescence bolder, though the odour is perhaps less penetrating. The small six-petalled flowers are somewhat curious in structure: the two upper petals are larger, concave, and furnished at the back with a tuft of club-shaped filaments, which gives them the appearance of being deeply incised, while the two lowest petals are much smaller and undivided; the most conspicuous part consists of the anthers, which are numerous and of a brownish red, giving the tone of colour to the inflorescence. In the varieties named Golden Queen and Golden Machet the anthers have a decided tint of orangeyellow, which imparts a brighter golden hue to the plants when in blossom. A handsome proliferous or double-flowered variety has also been obtained, which is a very useful decorative plant, though only to be propagated by cuttings; the double white flowers grow in large massive panicles (proliferous racemes), and are equally fragrant with those of the ordinary forms.
What is called tree mignonette in gardens is due to the skill of the cultivator. Though practically a British annual, as already noted, since it flowers abundantly the first season, and is utterly destroyed by the autumnal frosts, and though recorded as being annual in its native habitat by Desfontaines in the Flora Atlantica, the mignonette, like many other plants treated in England as annuals, will continue to grow on if kept in a suitable temperature. Moreover, the life of certain plants of this semi-annual character may be prolonged into a second season if their flowering and seeding are persistently prevented. In applying these facts to the production of tree mignonette, the gardener grows on the young plants under glass, and prevents their flowering by nipping off the blooming tips of the shoots, so that they continue their vegetative growth into the second season. The young plants are at first supported in an erect position, the laterals being removed so as to secure clean upright stems, and then at the height of one or two feet or more, as may be desired, a head of branches is encouraged to develop itself. In this way very large plants can be produced.
For ordinary purposes, however, other plans are adopted. In the open borders of the flower garden mignonette is usually sown in spring, and in great part takes care of itself; but being a favourite either for window or balcony culture, and on account of its fragrance a welcome inmate of town conservatories, it is also very extensively grown as a pot plant, and for market purposes with this object it is sown in pots in the autumn, and thinned out to give the plants requisite space, since it does not transplant well, and it is thereafter specially grown in pits protected from frosts, and marketed when just arriving at the blooming stage. In this way hundreds of thousands of pots of blooming mignonette are raised and disposed of year by year.
In classifying the odours given off by plants Rimmel ranks the mignonette in the class of which he makes the violet the type ; and Fee adopts the same view, referring it to his class of " iosmoids " along with the violet and wallflower.
The genus Reseda contains about fifty species, natives of Europe and West Asia. R. luteola, commonly called dyer's-weed and weld, yields a valuable yellow dye. R. alba is a fine biennial about 2 ft. high, with erect spikes of whitish flowers.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)