But he is a liar, of course he got hung up
On an androgynous small buttercup
Of staminate and pistillate flowers, did he
Which happens, by the way, when you get involved emotionally, so –
There are a few words worth exploring here, the first of which is “androgynous.” It’s a pretty familiar word now, less so perhaps in 1965; but independent of the word, androgyny itself is as old as humanity, having been more or less fashionable and/or acceptable at different places in different times.
At the dawn of the 1960s America was, I’m led to believe, pretty uptight about such things. Long hair on a man, for instance, was frowned upon. As the decade wore on, this was among the many values that began to be called into question.
Lou Reed was never much of a longhair, and outwardly never much of an androgyne. He wore make-up and whatnot, but wasn’t pretty like David Bowie, who would almost single-handedly make androgyny mainstream in the 1970s.
OK, so what about the word “buttercup” itself? When referring to a woman, it is generally a term of affection; when aimed at a man, it is generally an insult. It is thus a pretty gendered word, which makes it perfectly ironic in this context. (Side note, the Foundations’ delightful “Build Me Up Buttercup” would not be recorded until 1968.)
The Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that “a flower that lacks stamens is pistillate, or female, while one that lacks pistils is said to be staminate, or male.” This is probably a random fact that college boy Lewis Reed picked up at Syracuse, so why not put it in a song?
Now, if I understand correctly, by definition a flower cannot be both staminate and pistillate; when both stamens and pistils are found on the same flower it is called monoecious. But poetic license and all that. The point gets across, which is that our protagonist — despite his professions of detachment — has gotten hung up on an androgynous buttercup; we’ll pick up the story there next time.