The Language of Flowers

Nancy Helms, UM Extension Master Gardener in Anoka County, February, 2014.

It's been a long cold winter. By February we are all looking for some relief, some sign that spring will arrive as promised. Sometimes it's a simple bouquet of fresh flowers that can change the entire day. But after learning about the language of flowers, you may see them differently.

Yellow flowers are tokens of  friendship, appreciation, and respect.

Yellow flowers are tokens of  friendship, appreciation, and respect.

The language of flowers is sometimes called floriography. It sprung from the Victorian period when it was still forbidden to verbally express ones romantic feelings to another. Flowers were a means of sending messages in code. Lovers made use of flowers, their colors and their numbers to articulate their passions and certain feelings. The language of flowers was as important to people as being well dressed. This was said to be the start of attaching meanings, particularly feeling and emotions, to flowers.

Messages were often sent in floral arrangements, usually small bunches of flowers called tussie-mussies. These were small bouquets of flowers wrapped in a lace doily and tied with satin. Tussie-mussies were generally very well liked gifts. The intrigue of secret messages sent this way became a popular pastime.

Flowers adorned almost everything including hair, clothing, jewelry, gowns, men’s lapels, china, and stationery. A young man could either please or displease a lady by his gift of flowers. Flowers could convey messages of love or dislike depending upon which ones were given, their sizes, how they were held, or even how they were grouped together. They had a silent meaning of their very own and could "say" what was not dared to be spoken. Even the manner in which flowers were sent had a special meaning. Handing over flowers with the right hand meant "yes", while with the left meant "no." For example, if a beau gave red roses to a young lady, she might reciprocate by plucking one and handing it back with her right hand to reciprocate and say yes, or send him away with a bud from her left hand. Flowers were also inverted in arrangements, which represented the opposite of the flower's usual meaning.

Floriography was a complex language of love. Thankfully we're no longer in the Victorian era and we can pretty much say whatever we want, whenever we want. But to this day, flowers and plants continue to be symbolic of other messages. You may want to give your sweetheart a bouquet of heliotrope conveying devoted affection. Deep red roses still denote utmost love, white flowers imply purity and innocence, while yellow flowers remain to be used for tokens of friendship, appreciation and respect. Arrange a bouquet of acacia for a secret love or peonies to say I'm shy, but I like you a lot. Hydrangeas personify passion, while ranunculus declare the receiver to be radiant with charm. Welcome house guests with a bouquet of starwort or present tulips as a house warming or hostess gift.  Research your favorite flower to find its meaning. Random acts of kindness can be expressed through flowers.  What they symbolize can go beyond what words might convey.