Sweet flowers alone can say what passion fears revealing

Thomas Hood poem, The Language of Flowers

Flowers and bouquets of flowers have a meaning of their own. Most of us know that a dozen red roses means, “Be mine.” But did you know, for example, that a primrose means, “I can’t live without you,” or that a purple hyacinth means, “Please forgive me,” or that a pink carnation means, “I’ll never forget you,” or that a gladiolus means, “Give me a break?”

Flower meanings have been used to convey ideas, feelings and messages for centuries. The word, floriography, has been coined for the assignment of meaning to flowers. There is a meaning to colors of flowers, to numbers of flowers, and to groups of flowers. It is a silent language that has been largely lost to us through lack of use.

In addition to the obvious choices of color and variety, the language of flowers also includes the way flowers are worn or presented. Presenting flowers upright conveys a positive meaning, but if they are presented upside down the meaning is the opposite. If a ribbon is included with the flowers and is tied to the left then the meaning of the flowers refers to the giver, but if the ribbon is tied to the right then the meaning refers to the recipient. Also, flowers can be used to answer questions. When they are presented with the right hand the answer is “yes,” but when presented with the left hand the answer is “no.”

History

The Turks in the 17th century seemed to develop flower meanings. In 1718 the wife of the British ambassador to Constantinople, Lady Mary Wortley, wrote a letter expounding on the “Secret Language of Flowers” that she had discovered during her visits to Turkey. Europe quickly picked up on the concept.

In 1819 Louise Cortambert, under the pen name, Madame Charlotte de la Tour, wrote and published what seems to have been the first dictionary of the flower language entitled, Le Language des Fleurs. It was a small book, but it became a popular reference on the subject.

During the Victorian era, the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901, the meaning and language of flowers became increasingly popular. Victorian women especially picked up the silent language that allowed them to communicate feelings and meanings that the strict propriety of the times would not allow. Tussie-mussies, a bouquet of flowers wrapped with a lace doily and tied with a satin ribbon became a popular and valued gift of the times.

In 1884 a whole book on the subject and entitled, The Language of Flowers, by Jean Marsh and illustrated by Kate Greenaway, was published in London. It became popular and respected and has been the standard source for Victorian flower meaning ever since.

Selected Flower Meanings

Here are some selected flowers and their meanings, a short dictionary.

Almond flowers — Hope

Anemone — Forsaken

Aster — Symbol of love

Balm — Sympathy

Basil — Best wishes

Bay leaf — “I change but in death”

Bell flower, white — Gratitude

Bergamot — Irresistible

Bluebell — Constancy

Borage — Courage

Broom — Humility

Campanula — Gratitude

Carnation, pink — I’ll never forget you

Carnation, red — My poor heart aches for you

Carnation, striped — Refusal

China rose — Beauty always new

Chrysanthemum — Love

Clover, four leaved — “Be mine”

Coreopsis — Love at first sight

Cuckoo pint — Ardor

Daffodil — Regard

Daisy — Innocence, new-born, “I share your sentiment”

Fennel — Flattery

Fern — Sincerity

Forget-Me-Not — True love

Furze or Gorse — Enduring affection

French Marigold — Jealousy

Gardenia — Ecstasy

Gentian — Loveliness

Geranium — “You are childish”

Hare bell — Grief

Heartsease — “I am always thinking of you”

Honeysuckle — Bonds of love

Heather — Admiration

Hyacinth — I am sorry, Please forgive me

Ice Plant — “Your appearance freezes me”

Ivy — Fidelity, friendship, marriage

Jasmine — Grace

Jonquil — “I hope for return of affection”

Lavender — Luck, devotion

Lemon Balm — Sympathy

Lilac — First love

Lily — Purity, modesty

Lily of the Valley — Purity, the return of happiness

Lily, Calla — Beauty

Marigold — Health, grief or despair

Marjoram — Kindness, courtesy

Myrtle — Fidelity

Oregano — Joy

Orchid — Love, beauty, refinement

Pansy — Loving thoughts

Periwinkle — Happy memory

Phlox — Agreement

Poppy, red — Consolation

Primrose — I can’t live without you

Rose, cabbage — Ambassador of love

Rose, red — Love

Rose, pink — Grace, beauty

Rose, yellow — Friendship

Rosemary — Remembrance, constancy

Rue — Contrition

Sage — Gratitude, domestic virtue

Snowdrop — Hope

Star of Bethlehem — Purity

Sweet Pea — Departure, tender memory

Sweet William — Gallantry

Tuberose — Voluptuousness

Tulip, red — My perfect lover, Reclamation of love

Violet — Loyalty, modesty, humility

Violet, blue — Faithfulness

Wormwood — Grief

Wheat — Riches of the continuation of life

Willow, weeping — Mourning

Wallflower — Fidelity

Yew — Sorrow

The Rose

The Rose is the flower whose meaning we most understand, but here are some details of the meaning of the Rose that may be of further interest.

Rose, Black – You are my obsession

Rose, Champagne – You are tender and loving

Rose, Leonidas – Sweet love

Rose, Nicole – You are graceful and elegant, aristocratic

Rose, Orange – You are my secret love

Rose, Pink – Brilliant complexion; the glow of your smile; perfect happiness

Rose, Red – Passionate love; I love you

Rose, Single Stems – Simplicity

Rose, White – I am worthy of you; spiritual love; Innocence and Purity; Secrecy and Silence

Rose, White and Red – We are inseparable

Rose, White and Red Mixed – Unity; Flower emblem of England

Rose, White, Dried – Death is preferable to loss of virtue

Rose, Yellow – Friendship; Jealousy; I am not worthy

Rose, Bridal – Happy Love

Rose, Dark Crimson – Mourning

Rose, Hibiscus – Delicate beauty

Rose, Tea – I’ll remember always

Rose, Thornless – Love at first sight

Roses, Bouquet of Mature Blooms – Gratitude

Multiple Roses

Single bloom red Rose – Love at first sight or I still love you

Single Rose, any color – Gratitude or simplicity

2 Roses – Mutual feelings

3 Roses – I love you

7 Roses – I’m infatuated with you

9 Roses – We’ll be together forever

10 Roses – You are perfect

11 Roses – You are my treasured one

12 Roses – Be mine

13 Roses – Friends forever

15 Roses – I’m truly sorry

20 Roses – I’m truly sincere towards you

21 Roses – I’m dedicated to you

24 Roses – Forever yours

25 Roses – Congratulations

50 Roses – Unconditional love

99 Roses – I will love you all the days of my life

108 Roses – Will you marry me?

999 Roses – I love you till the end of time

What To Do

With the lists above you should be able to assemble a meaningful gift of flowers or a bouquet that conveys a complex thought. Wrap the flowers appropriately and present them in a significant manner. Then, just to be certain that your efforts are not misinterpreted, include a card that fully explains the meaning of your flowers.

After a few flower presentations you should be able to drop the explanatory notes and begin enjoying and sharing the silent language of flowers.

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