Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Language of Flowers

Mother's Day 2013
Flowers--in all their array of beauty and color--send various kinds of messages, don't they? They welcome spring, celebrate birthdays and special occasions, send get-well wishes, offer condolences. In the case above they simply say, love--as in a gift from hubby for Mother's Day. Aren't they gorgeous?

But, though flowers "send messages," did you know that they have their own language? I always sort of knew this, but explored it a bit more fully after coming across a sweet little book titled, I'll Ask My Grandmother, She's Very Wise, by Kristen Johnson Ingram. "Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had a symbolic vocabulary for expressing their love," Ingram writes. "A vocabulary of flowers that we have lost today. Flowers, a beautiful part of creation, expressed love; they were tributes of affection, honor, valor, and fame."

So if there's a flower vocabulary, what language are they speaking? Why, floriography! And it turns out that 'floriography' once played an interesting part in the communication among people.

Wikipedia: "The language of flowers, sometimes called 'floriography,' was a Victorian-era means of communication in which various flowers and floral arrangements were used to send coded messages, allowing individuals to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. This language was most commonly communicated through tussie-mussies, small flower bouquets."

Wendy Taylor at Proflowers: "The Victorian era ushered in a time of proper etiquette among the upper class in England during Queen Victoria's reign (1837-1901). Among the many rules and customs, there were expected behaviors that prohibited outright flirtations, questions, or conversations between others. Even though the use of flowers to convey messages had been used in Persia and the Middle East, it was during the Victorian Era that the tradition spread in England with the publication of flower dictionaries explaining the meaning of plants, flowers, and herbs. It soon became popular to use flowers to send secretive messages."

A code? Secret messages? Delivered in tussie-mussies? Oooh, sounds like the stuff of novelists, don't you think?

Whoops, turns out authors have already beat us to it. "William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and many others, all used the language of flowers in their writings." (Santa Monica Flowers)

Anyway, in case you might be interested in dipping into the vocabulary, too, here's a sample of meanings, though in no way exhaustive. And bear in mind that meanings vary depending on what list you consult.

Baby's Breath--innocence
Carnation--admiration (red), faithfulness (white), a mother's love (pink)
Hyacinth--'I am sorry, please forgive me'
Iris--good news
Lilac--memories; first love
Marigold--pain and grief, sorrow
Morning glory--affection
Orchid--refined beauty
Petunia--'your presence soothes me'
Rose--love (red), passion (coral), happiness and excitement (red and yellow together)
Sweet William--gallantry
Tulip--declaration of love
Violet--faithfulness (blue), modesty (white)
Zinnia--absent friends

Happy Mother's Day! If you were to put together a tussie-mussie to send a message to someone, what flowers would go in your bouquet?


  1. Wow, I had no idea! This is amazing and I bet super interesting for those writing historical novels! ;)

  2. A lot of this surprised me, too, Kimberly :-) It was fun to research, and tempting to find some way to use it in a writing project!

  3. I did know about the language of flowers, though I'd never paid a lot of attention to the details. I think it must have been useful to novelists in the past - i.e., "He offered her a single rose. She caught her breath. Coral." :)

    Perhaps authors do the same with metaphors, giving meaning in clouds and sunlight and the way the wind moves through the trees. It's an interesting concept.

    Kenda, I would have to send you a bouquet of zinnias. I've missed seeing you!

  4. Thanks, Peggy, for the cyber-bouquet of zinnias! And I agree, it's been a long time. We'll have to find another conference here one of these days where we can meet up together again. Maybe by then we'll be able to exchange bouquets of irises--signifying each others' good news of publication?!!

  5. Have you read *The Language of Flowers* by Vanessa Diffenbaugh? In the book, the main character speaks this language better than any other. It's fiction, but carries out the theme beautifully.

  6. Hey there, Lanita! Thanks for stopping in :-) And no, I've not read this book, but want to now. Appreciate that you shared this with me...

  7. Each year it seems that I have more of an appreciation for flowers. Having them in the garden outside my window gives me such joy in the spring, something that I never really understood before. A simple yet profound sentiment has really blossomed in me, pun intended! Our neighbor Judy cut off a beautiful pink peony for us last night from her bush that's now on the kitchen table--and it does look a little bit bashful, somehow. Hmmm...thank you for the rose plant for Mother's day. I didn't even realize it was from you until a few days ago, since it had been out on the patio! And Rufino let Angelica pick out flowers for me for Mother's Day. She picked marigolds. They are not my favorite, so I convinced her that they must go to the vegetable garden (because we saw them planted last year by others, and apparantly they are good for keeping certain bugs away from the vegetables). One reason I may be turned off? They are the official flower for the Dia de los muertos, or Day of the Dead in Mexico. They are only used to leave by gravesides. Interesting, eh?
    Happy Mother's Day, to my writer mom!

  8. So happy to know of your love for flowers--and thank you, for your note! Glad you finally noticed the rose :-) and marigolds? I do think they are beneficial to gardens but your dad would know that better than me. I sure wouldn't include them in a "tussie-mussie" to you, that's for sure. But pink carnations? Yes!!

  9. Hi, Kendra, so glad you stopped by my 4th Wish Blog; I've been out of the loop for awhile as far as posting goes, since I was working on a revision. This post of yours is superb, it plugs right into my interest in the Victorian Era. I love the idea of a language of flowers and a "secret code" by which one could send messages through a bouquet. But, I can't help wondering. If everyone knew what a flower meant, was it still a secret message? I'd really like to know whatever you find out along that line. My MG mystery series is set in 1890. Any information will be valuable. Meanwhile, on my own, I just love flowers for their beauty. Nature is such a wonderful artist!

    1. Good question, Elizabeth--'if everyone knew...was it still a secret?' Looks like more research is needed. If I find out any interesting tidbits, I'll be glad to pass them on. In the meantime, sending you a cyber-bouquet of daisies!