The color green is a serious multitasker. It speaks for St. Patrick's Day and blooming spring, tranquility and jealousy, healthy food and greed all at once.
Long-ago brides preferred it for their gowns, but some women's magazines hated it for their covers. George Washington loved it and champions of Earth claimed it as their own.
It's Shakespeare's salad days and Kermit the frog. It's the room for guests of Leno and Letterman. In 2007, it was the real color of the red carpet at the Grammy Awards.
Is there any other color with such reach?
"The thing with green is we, as humans, when we look at colors, we can see the widest variety of green," says Kate Smith, a color consultant for big business, fashion and design. "It's because there's so much green in our natural environment, so we're actually more comfortable looking at it."
Green, she says, is second only to blue as a favorite color, buoyed by eco-fervor and more than 400 shades among the 1,925 colors counted by Pantone, a company that supplies and tracks color for fashion, home decor and other industries.
Pantone's official color of 2010 is turquoise, chosen hands down.
"It's escapist. It's the tropics, the ocean, the place to go for a vacation," says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.
Does green ever go out of style? Tommy Hilfiger, who's known for his keen color sense, doesn't think so.
"Green is quintessential preppy with a pop," he says. "It's a familiar favorite that everyone loves to wear. And right now with the military trend, green is popping up more than ever."
As winter wanes, let's consider green:
St. Patrick's Day
Originally a Roman Catholic holy day, the death date of the saint (March 17) turned slowly into parades, early morning bar hops and general drunken revelry on the Emerald Isle of Ireland, the only country with a national (and green-frocked) fairy.
Blue, in fact, has deeper official roots in Ireland as the color of soccer uniforms for Dublin County and on the old Irish crest. St. Patrick even has his own shade of blue. The wearing of the green can be traced to three-leaf clovers Patrick used to explain the Holy Trinity to initiates, encouraging them to wear their shamrocks.
"I can't help but wonder if green beer comes from a pub owner trying to make blue beer," Smith says. "Blue food coloring with yellow beer and you've got it."
The green ones
Is there any other candy with quite the sexy past of green M&M's? In the '70s, urban legend holds, the green ones were a rumored aphrodisiac among ecstatic young people. Come 1997, Mars Inc. decided to go with it, rolling out the sassy Ms. Green character with bedroom eyes. In 2008, the company started producing bags with just green M&Ms for Valentine's Day, declaring it the new color of love.
"We had heard the different stories and legends for years," says a Mars spokesman, Ryan Bowling. "There were rock bands that started requesting all green M&Ms in their contracts. We thought, let's be bold."
The green room
"Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" has one that's actually green. Over at CBS, "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" has a green green room, too. The Academy Awards have a really nice green room for 2010, but only a wall is painted green camouflage.
The green rooms for TV guests and other reception areas are without the color at times, but the name persists and seems traceable to London theater and the notion that green calms nerves. The exact origin is a bit of a mystery, writes Michael Quinton, editor of Worldwidewords.org.
The term originally referred to a room just offstage for actors to await their cues. The first use, Quinton writes, came in a Thomas Shadwell play, "The True Widow." First performed in 1678, there was a line referring to "a green room, behind the scenes."
In Newton, N.C., The Green Room plans soon to have one of its own. The community theater group has raised $2 million to claim an old post office on the town's courthouse square and is confident it can raise another necessary $1.6 million. So which green will it be for The Green Room's green room?
"I like more of a yellow green, a chartreuse, but I'm not sure everybody else shares my like for that particular shade of green," said the creative director, David Brown. "It'll definitely be green."
In the world of women's magazines, another urban myth seems to have subsided that green covers kill newsstand sales.
Oprah wears a top in the shade of key limes and holds a lemongrass slingback pump on her March cover. On the front of this month's Vanity Fair are nine pale-skinned starlets surrounded by lush green grass. In 2006, Julianne Moore appeared in emerald amid various shades of green print on the cover of Harper's Bazaar.
"Fashion is about taking risks, and we believe the same is true for fashion magazines," says Bazaar's editor-in-chief, Glenda Bailey. "Today, the attitudes about green have changed. Now it is a symbol of the environmental movement, and this season, we've been seeing green all over the runways. Clearly, green is good."
Slate's Julia Turner tried to get to the bottom of the unlucky green superstition in 2006. One theory floated by a Newsweek editor: green, like brown, was tricky to control during printing and could head into baby poop territory. Not so for the green Bazaar, which was the January issue that year. It outsold the January '05 issue and collected an award from the American Society of Magazine Editors.
Green, along with color in general, is creeping back into style for brides. There was no white for weddings in medieval times, when darker hues like earthy green were the norm. Queen Victoria popularized white when she wore a special gown to her wedding in 1840, says Millie Martini Bratten, editor-in-chief of Brides magazine. Before that, brides dressed in their Sunday best, usually darker tones that could be worn several times before cleaning.
"Any dark color would do, but the idea of wearing green for a wedding may have come from a famous Jan Van Eyck painting, 'The Arnolfini Portrait,'" Bratten says. The painting is believed by some historians to feature a prominent Italian merchant and his bride in an opulent green dress.
Vera Wang's 2010 spring collection featured wedding gowns of color, including one in green.
"White dresses may be the norm today, but color is still an option for many brides," says Bratten.
Green is abundant in many religions. In the Muslim world, many flags use green, including those of Saudi Arabia and Libya. The cover of the Quran is green. Green has been used in the decoration of mosques, but it's not entirely clear why the color is so closely associated with Islam.
It might have something to do with a mention in the Quran that upon the inhabitants of paradise "will be green garments of fine silk." The color may have become a favorite as a symbol of clarity and purity.
AP Bureau Chief Donna Abu-Nasr in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, contributed to this report.