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 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 obvious choices of color and variety, language of flowers also includes way flowers are worn or presented. Presenting flowers upright conveys a positive meaning, but if they are presented upside down meaning is opposite. If a ribbon is included with flowers and is tied to left then meaning of flowers refers to giver, but if ribbon is tied to right then meaning refers to recipient. Also, flowers can be used to answer questions. When they are presented with right hand answer is “yes,” but when presented with left hand answer is “no.”
The Turks in 17th century seemed to develop flower meanings. In 1718 wife of British ambassador to Constantinople, Lady Mary Wortley, wrote a letter expounding on “Secret Language of Flowers” that she had discovered during her visits to Turkey. Europe quickly picked up on concept.
In 1819 Louise Cortambert, under pen name, Madame Charlotte de la Tour, wrote and published what seems to have been first dictionary of flower language entitled, Le Language des Fleurs. It was a small book, but it became a popular reference on subject.
During Victorian era, reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901, meaning and language of flowers became increasingly popular. Victorian women especially picked up silent language that allowed them to communicate feelings and meanings that strict propriety of 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 times.
In 1884 a whole book on 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 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 Valley -- Purity, 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 continuation of life Willow, weeping -- Mourning Wallflower -- Fidelity Yew -- Sorrow