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Floriography: The Lost Language of Flowers

Floriography: The Lost Language of Flowers

Flowers can say so much. Clutched in shaking-nervous hands, presented with a shy smile, they can say ‘I like you’ or even ‘I love you.’ An old friend coming to your door, their silhouette complete with a bouquet shadowed at the window, can spell ‘sorry’ before you’ve even let them in. Entering a home and seeing that every single vase has been put to good use – to the extent that the water glasses are now housing clusters of daisies – can tell you that those who reside there have either received some wonderful news… or some tragic news.

A person knocking on a door with a large bouquet of yellow flowers

We send flowers in joy, in sorrow, in love, in hope and just on those days when we think of someone, and want them to know that we care. But it’s not just the gifting of flowers that sends a message but the choice of the flower itself. Flowers have long held symbolism: mythologies, folklore, sonnets, and plays of the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Chinese are peppered with flower and plant symbolism William Shakespeare used flowers as clever props in his plays, the ancient Greeks had a floral mythology, mediaeval healers saw magical qualities in flowers, and Henry VII’s Tudor rose emblem cleverly symbolised a united England by combining the white and red roses of the warring York and Lancaster houses.

But it was during Victorian times that this symbolism was taken to a whole new level – and an entire language was created around flowers. Known as Floriography, or the Victorian language of flowers.

What is Floriography?

Floriography was a means to get past the strict, stuffy etiquette rules of the time Victorians began to convey what they really meant through bouquets. The flowers themselves held meaning, as did how they were gifted… and any playful, debaucherous behaviour remains hidden, spoken only through blooms. Everything from the flower itself to how you gifted it meant something. Yes and no questions could be answered simply, ‘yes’ was handing over the flowers with the right hand and no was the left… Perhaps the very first known instance of swiping left and right!

How flowers were presented and in what condition was also important in floriography. For example, if the flowers were given upside down, then the idea being conveyed was the opposite of what was traditionally meant. How the ribbon was tied said something, too: tied to the left, the flowers’ symbolism applied to the giver, whereas tied to the right, the sentiment applied to the recipient. So, imagine gifting say, a white catchfly – which symbolises betrayal. A ribbon tied to the left is admitting that you know they’ve cheated or betrayed you, but to the right… you’re admitting your own guilt. And, of course, a wilted bouquet delivered an obvious message…

Today, the floriography language has mostly been lost but we love the idea of adding an extra layer to a bouquet with additional meaning. And luckily in 1884 Kate Greenaway published the Language of Flowers with a definition for each flower. You could create little posies out of your Freddie’s Flowers box, or learn to press flowers and create gift cards with sentimental, historic value. You could even use flowers to express anger at your enemy! We wouldn’t advise it… but there really is a flower for every sentiment. Read on to find out what each stem really means in floriography…

The meaning of flowers in Floriography

Achilla – Cure for a broken heart

Alstroemeria – You are beloved

Agapanthus – Love

Amaryllis – Strength and determination

Aster – Daintiness, patience & calm

Allium – Unity and good patience, humility

Birch twig – Gentleness, elegance

Brassica – Profit

Bouvardia – Enthusiasm

Bells of Ireland – Good Luck

Broom – Neatness, humility

Calla Lily – Magnificent beauty

Red Carnations – My heart breaks

Pink Carnations –I will never forget you

Striped Carnations– I cannot be with you

White Carnations –Sweet and lovely

Yellow Carnations– Disdain

Campanula – Constancy

Carthamus – Attractiveness to others

Campunula – Gratitude

White Clematis – Mental beauty

Crocosmia – Confidence

Craspedia – Good health

Celosia – Affectation, Foppery

Chrysanthemum – Truth / You’re a wonderful friend

Pink Chrysanthemum– Cheerfulness in adversity

Red Chrysanthemum – I Love

White Chrysanthemum – Truth

Yellow Chrysanthemum – Slighted Love

Daffodil – New beginnings

Dianthus Wicky Green – Make haste

Delphinium – Levity

Eucalyptus – Protection

Eremurus – Endurance

Eupatorium – Delay

Eryngium – Independence & attraction

Forsythia – Ancipatation, Good nature

Freesia – Lasting friendship, Innocence

Germini – Cheerfulness

Gerbera – Innocence

Gladioli/Glamini – You pierce my heart

Greenbell – Stability

Hypericum – Superstition

Iris – Message / wisdom

Ilex – Foresight

Kangaroo Paw – Uniqueness

Blue & White Larkspur – Lightness, Laughter

Pink Larkspur– Fickleness

Laurel – Glory & success

Liatris – I will try again

Limonium – I miss you (same as statice)

Lily – Majesty

Orange Lily – Wealth

White Lily – Purity, sweetness

Yellow Lily – Gaiety, Walking on air

Lisianthus – Appreciation

Leucadendron – Courage

Myrtle – Love

Narcissus – Self love

Pink Nerine – Silence

Ornithogalum (Star of Bethlehem) – Purity

Peony – Happy Marriage / Prosperity / Bashfulness

Prunus (cherry) – Education

Pistache – Generosity

Phlox – Our soles are united / Agreement

Pittosporum – Not in the VLF

Pussywillow – Motherhood

Physalis – Protection, Courage

Rhododendron – Beware

Rose Burgundy – Unconscious beauty

Rose Orange – Fascination

Rose Pale peach – Modesty

Pink Rose – Grace

Purple Rose – Enchantment

Yellow Rose – Infidelity

Red Rose – Love

White Rose – Heart unacquainted with love

Rosehip – Waiting for your one true love

Ruscus – Thoughtfulness, humility

Santini – Kindness

Sedum – Tranquility

Solidago – Careful encouragement / Success

Snapdragon – Presumption

Snowberry – Innocence & Purity

Sunflower – False riches / pride

Statice – I miss you / remembrance

Stocks – Lasting beauty

Sweet william – Gallantry / Grant me one smile

Tulip - Love and Passion

Red Tulip – Declaration of love

White Tulip – I am worthy of you

Variegated Tulip – Beautiful eyes

Yellow Tulip – There’s sunshine in your smile

Tanacetum – I declare war against you

Trachelium – Unnoticed or neglected beauty

Viburnum – Bound

Waxflower – Susceptibility

Wheat – Prosperity

Posted on 27th May 2024

The Flower Team

Our in-house team of flower experts can teach you all about the flowers we use and help you get the best out of your arrangements

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