The Language and Meaning of Flowers

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.

***************

Garry Gamber is a public school teacher and entrepreneur. He writes articles about real estate, health and nutrition, and internet dating services. He is the owner of http://www.Anchorage-Homes.com and http://www.TheDatingAdvisor.com.

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