The Secret Language of Flowers | DIY Weddings | Flower Moxie
As an Amazon affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Written by Jessica Reeves
What’s it all mean???
I’m sure you’ve heard before that certain flowers have particular meanings, most commonly, red roses signifying love (there’s a reason why during the month of February, before V-day, red roses triple in cost).
Different flowers, herbs and plants have had various meanings across different cultures forever. Rosemary, a plant that cross-culturally, from ancient times, has represented remembrance and constancy, was used during memorial services and weddings to remember those who had passed before. In the late 19th century, various meanings were assigned to different flowers and plants. Eventually, such lists were published into books and dictionaries explaining the complex language of flowers.
“A flower is not a flower alone, a thousand thoughts invest it”
- Mandy Kirby and Vanessa Diffenbaugh, "The Language of Flowers"
Let’s Start at the Beginning
Every good idea has its roots based in something else (see what I did there…roots??) Victorians weren’t the first ones to come up with the idea of assigning flowers and greenery meaning. Floral symbolism has been happening in Western culture for centuries. Japan also has its own floral language called Hanakotoba, the language meant to convey emotion and communicate directly without needing to use words. It can be found in Greek mythology, Pagan rituals and Renaissance artwork. Another foundation can be found within Turkish Selam, the language of objects. Various objects were attributed different meanings and then sent as encoded messages to the recipient.
Selam was popularized by European tourists during the first half of the 18th century and then was brought to England by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the wife of the ambassador to the Porte of Constantinople. She was able to popularize the idea of romantic symbolic language by sharing it with friends back in England- which then became attributed to flowers. As Europeans traveled back to their homes, they brought back this idea of secret messaging and publishers quickly started selling Floral Dictionaries. Each dictionary built on its predecessor, so while they all had a vocabulary list of flowers paired with their symbolic meanings, not every dictionary attributed the same meanings to the same flowers. (I’m sure you can see how this would become a sticky situation, yikes!)
In Victorian culture, it was established that the wearing or carrying of flowers was more appropriate than the wearing of jewelry. It was a common practice, among all classes, to give and receive flowers. In a culture that frowned upon loud declarations of affection, the subtle messages to be found in a bouquet were definitely preferred. Tussie-Mussies (small hand held bouquet) or Nosegays, were severely judged at social functions: a bouquet that was poorly arranged or mistranslated reflected on the carrier’s judgment (kinda like the comments section in Instagram but instead of on a screen you were being judged to your face).
Here’s a scenario:
Todd goes to Judith’s house during calling hours and brings her a small bouquet of flowers. Todd wants to tell Judith that he’d like to court her formally without asking her parents outright (big no-no TODD!) and wants to know if she would be acceptable to this idea and if she returns his affections. He consulted his flower dictionary and the flowers he uses to express his admiration for her are: Baby’s Breath (everlasting love), a yellow carnation (admiration), feverfew (you light up my life) and fern (sincerity).
Judith consults her flower dictionary which is from a different publisher than Todd’s. Her interpretation of the bouquet is Baby’s Breath (gaiety), yellow carnation (disdain), feverfew (flirt) and fern (sincerity). Which she loosely takes into translating that Todd thinks she’s a “playing loose with her affections and he doesn’t trust her.” This doesn’t seem like a good sign.
That evening at the ball that both Judith and Todd are attending, he waits anxiously for Judith to arrive. Depending on where she wears the flowers that he gave her will determine how she returns his affections. Wearing them over her heart indicates Judith returns Todd’s affections; worn in her cleavage means that she just views Todd as a friend. Judith arrives. Alas! She’s wearing the flowers in her hair which means she doesn’t return Todd’s affections. BURN.
Countless cultures, throughout time, have attributed meaning and symbology to different flowers and plants. Here at Flower Moxie, we know the importance of flowers, especially the part they play in a couples’ special day! Even after the celebrations have ended, consider gifting a friend or loved one a bouquet to send a message that’s just for them. Whether it’s to celebrate a new job, an addition to a family, or to commiserate over tough times, let a special person in your life know that you’re there to support them. Let flowers speak for you when sometimes you don’t have the words. Below, we’ve compiled a flower dictionary of some of the flowers that we offer here at Flower Moxie! Try your hand at creating your own flower message!
Carnations: admiration, fascination, ardent and pure love, bonds of love, unfading beauty
- Pink: I will never forget you, maternal love, lively and pure affection, beauty, pride
- Red: my heart breaks, admiration, betrothal, deep pure love, passion, fascination
- Striped: I cannot be with you, refusal
- White: sweet and lonely, democracy, living for love
- Yellow: disdain, admiration, fascination, I do not believe you, rejection
- Burgundy: My poor heart!
Ranunculus: you are radiant with charms, You are rich in attractions
Roses: love, beauty, congratulations, reward of virtue, grace, joy, friendship, silence, unity
- Pink: Grace, beauty, gentleness
- White: heart unacquainted with love, unity, silence, Keep my secret, love, respect
- Bud of a white rose: heart ignorant of love, girlhood
- Red: love, passion, desire, victory, harmony, joy, charm, luck, pride
- Red rosebud: pure and lovely
- Yellow: infidelity, decrease of love, jealousy, forgive and forget, friendship, decrease of love the longer I know you
- Purple: enchantment, sorrow
- Burgundy: unconscious beauty
- Orange: fascination
- Peach: modesty, immortality
- Champagne/Beige: effervescence, vitality, devotion
- Coral: I admire your accomplishments, good fortune, longevity, beauty
- Cream: richness, perfection, best qualities
- Lavender: rarity, dignity
“Tussie-Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers” by Geraldine Adamich Laufer, 1993
“The Secret Language of Flowers: Notes on the hidden meaning of flowers in art” by Jean-Michel Othoniel, 2008
“Language of Flowers” by Kate Greenaway, 1884
“The Language and Sentiment of Flowers” by James D. McCabe, 2003
“A Victorian Flower Dictionary” by Mandy Kirby, 2011
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About the Author
Jessica has a BFA in Art Education/Printmaking and her MFA in Studio Art with a focus in Non-Toxic printmaking. She brings 10 years of floral experience to her roles at Flower Moxie, having worked in Boston, NYC, and Newport, RI. We still don't know if she's a real person or a hologram but work keeps getting done.