Flora's function was to make the grain, vegetables and trees bloom so that
autumn's harvest would be good. She was invoked to avert rust, a nasty fungal
disease of plants that causes orange growths the exact color of rusting iron,
especially a problem affecting wheat.
Her name is related to Latin floris, meaning "a flower", with the
additional meaning of "[something] in its prime".
Flora was said to have provided Juno with
a magic flower that would allow Her to conceive with no help from a man; from
this virgin-birth Mars was born. A late tale calls Flora a courtesan and gives
Her a story similar to Acca Larentia: Flora was said to have made a fortune as a
courtesan, which She bequeathed to Rome upon Her death, and for which She was
honored with the festival of the Floralia.
Flora had two temples in Rome, one near the Circus Maximus, the great
"stadium" of Rome where chariot races were held, and another on the
slopes of the Quirinal Hill. Flora's temple by the Circus was dedicated on the
28th of April in 241 (or 248) BCE in response to a great drought at the command
of the Sybilline books, and this day became the starting date of Her great
festival, the Floralia.
The Floralia of April was originally a
moveable feast to coincide with the blossoming of the plants, later becoming
fixed with the dedication of Her temple on the 28th (or 27th, before the
calendar was reformed--I mention this because holidays were almost always held
on odd-numbered days as it was considered unlucky to start a festival on an
even-numbered day), though ludi or "games"--horse-races or athletic
contests--were not held every year. By the Empire the festival had grown seven
days, and included chariot-races and theatrical performances, some of which were
notoriously bawdy. It was given over to merriment and celebrations of an amorous
nature, much like that northern flower-and-sex festival Beltaine whose date
neatly coincides. Prostitutes considered it their own special time, and the
Floralia gained a reputation as being more licentious and abandoned than the
Saturnalia of December.
Flora was depicted by the Romans wearing
light spring clothing, holding small bouquets of flowers, sometimes crowned with
blossoms. Honey, made from flowers, is one of Her gifts, and Her name is said to
be one of the secret (holy) names of Rome. She is sometimes called the
handmaiden of Ceres.