I’d like to think that back when there was only Earth and Sky, the Sun and the Moon would long for something new and beautiful to gaze upon.
They hoped, and they prayed until one day, strong winds blew in seeds from a faraway realm, and out sprouted the most breathtaking blooms the heavens had ever laid eyes on.
Isn’t that sort of what flowers are meant for? A break from the mundane - something so enthralling we’re taken aback and forced to appreciate the beauty in its rawest form.
We humans have long been so taken by these magical, living things that we have assigned meaning to them. We use them to communicate feelings and messages when words do not suffice. In this guide, we share the meaning of flowers, before rewinding back to where it all began to explore the history of floriography.
The Language of Flowers
Soft and sweet. Emotive and captivating.
It doesn’t matter whether they are draped around the walls of a church or sitting in a vase on a windowsill; wherever they are, flowers capture our attention. Their charm and other-worldly beauty draws us in time and time again.
Even in their final moments, as they wilt and begin to droop, there is still something beautiful and ethereal about them.
Floriography has, for centuries now, helped to satisfy our thirst for understanding these precious plants.
Floriography roughly translates to “the language of flowers” and has been used as a means of cryptological communication by simply giving meaning to the colours and varieties of flowers, and the way flowers are arranged.
To say that their unique language is fascinating and deeply romantic is an understatement. Floriography has the innate ability to embody the most captivating of human emotions and leave nothing but warmth in its wake.
The Meaning of Flowers
Certain blooms convey emotional content and a range of meanings.
Bursting with symbolism and even a little magic, the suggestive language of flowers helps you express thoughts, feelings, and emotions without a single word uttered through its variety, colour, and a plethora of other qualities.
Perhaps one of the most striking elements of a flower is its colour. Each vibrant hue can evoke a specific meaning. Mixing and layering colours only deepens their significance. Flowers may also convey meaning with the scents they carry or the medicinal properties they contain.
When arranging flowers into a bouquet, the combination of flowers and colours can bring about even deeper meanings and messages. Even the condition and the presentation of a bouquet can be as important as the flowers it contains.
Flower Colour Meanings
Purely where colours are concerned, flowers symbolise the following:
- Pink represents unconditional love, happiness, pure innocence, and femininity
- Red represents passion and desire so deep it could cut you like a rose’s thorn
- White represents purity, spirituality, perfection, and sympathy
- Blue represents peace, tranquillity, prosperity, friendship, and immortality
- Violet represents grace, refinement, elegance, royalty, and beauty
- Green represents rebirth, renewal, good fortune, good health, and the promise of new beginnings
- Yellow represents joy, happiness, energy, pride, and friendship
- Orange represents enthusiasm, excitement, exuberance and a bold passion for life.
Flower Meanings by Type
Each flower has a unique meaning. Here is a short list comprising of some of the most common flowers:
The most popular cut flowers in the world, roses have always been a top pick for flower aficionados. Throughout the ages, they have been given as gestures of love and devotion.
However, depending on the colour, we can say that different coloured roses may be applied to a number of different occasions.
For example, white roses signify purity and are often used as wedding flowers, while pink roses symbolise friendship and happiness. While the classic red rose, of course, screams: “I’m absolutely mad about you”. It's the most popular Valentine's Day flower for this very reason.
Generally speaking, giving someone a rose conveys that you admire them, are grateful for them, and thoroughly enjoy their lovely company.
These could quite possibly be the staple flower of every romantic comedy or drama.
You’d hate to admit it, but know that scene all too well: the main character has flashbacks, the memory etched in every protagonist’s mind, of running hand-in-hand through a field of daffodils with their childhood sweetheart.
Well, not only are daffodils cute and great for taking photos of, they also mean “I’ll be there for you no matter what”. They also symbolise rebirth, honesty and forgiveness, making them an ideal apology flower.
On the other side of the coin, daffodils may also express unrequited love.
The beautiful clove-pink pixies of the garden, carnations represent pure love and luck.
As with all flowers, however, the colours can make all the difference. While these flowers generally give off warm and happy sentiments, the purple variety is reserved for losing a loved one. Most famously, yellow carnations symbolised rejection and disappointment in the Victorian age.
Gardenias convey purity, sweetness, and secret love. You’ll find that this popular little bud makes quite a lot of appearances in the wedding bouquets of blushing brides. It’s only fitting that a bud as fragrant and delicate as a gardenia is chosen for such a joyous occasion!
Gardenias are also symbols of trust, clarity, peace, protection and hope.
These are flowers that evoke gratitude and heartfelt emotions. These cute rounded flowers bring forth feelings of sincerity and understanding as well.
This little shrub roughly translates to “water barrel” and they come in a number of different hues of blue, pink, and purple.
Hyacinth flowers stir light, playful feelings while imbibing in its delicate little body feelings of constancy and appreciation. Purple and blue hyacinth are also symbols regret and sincerity, making them an ideal apology or sympathy flower, while yellow hyacinths are said to represent jealousy.
These beauties symbolise royalty, intelligence, and valour. While the purple iris embodies respect and intelligence, blue irises are symbolic of hope and faith.
Lilacs are bursting at the seams with youthful innocence and confidence. While white lilacs symbolise purity and innocence, violet ones embody spirituality. Blue lilacs, on the other hand, symbolise happiness and tranquillity.
Their magenta counterpart, meanwhile, brings about feelings of love and passion. Saving the best for last, lilac, this flower's namesake and primary colour, represents the power of first loves.
On the other hand, lilies are also the flowers most often associated with funerals, as they signify that the soul of the departed has restored its innocence after death.
Primary elements integral to this flower are purity and refined beauty.
Peonies are the champion of compassion and happy marriages.
The embodiment of riches, good fortune, and honour, these flowers are celebrated for their beauty and close ties to one of our most beloved Greek gods.
Legend has it that the peony came to be when Paeon, the beloved physician of the Greek gods, and one most favoured by Apollo, the god of the sun, died after sustaining an injury whilst playing with Apollo. From the crimson blood of Paeon sprung the pinched-pink flower.
Ever the bright and sunny bearer of good news, sunflowers bring about feelings of adoration, longevity, and dedication.
The popular flower, with its golden and sun-kissed aesthetic, is a popular choice to give to loved ones you’d like to impart feelings of cheerfulness, safety, and protection. They're also the ultimate get-well-soon bloom for loved ones in hospital or at home with a bug.
Whether the bouquet is meant to be given to friends or a lover during a grey rainy day, one thing’s for certain: sunflowers have the innate ability to erase the dread and gloom inside your heart.
They have snagged the first runner-up spot in the Valentine’s Day flower game for years, and rightfully so — their classic shape, cut, and range of colours are absolutely endearing.
Ever so elegant, tulips represent perfect love, royalty, and importance. Their meaning changes depending on their colour, with white tulips representing rebirth, pink tulips representing platonic love and red tulips representing romantic love.
Lavender has a beautiful, strong scent and is fantastic at filling your mind, body, and soul with calm, silence, and peace.
These gorgeous-hued flowers also express unwavering devotion and hard work. You’ll find that it’s always a popular choice for beauty products because of the calm it brings.
It isn’t just reserved for tea! Jasmine represents beauty, sensuality, love, and purity. These dainty white flowers — despite their modest size — make for great embellishments on a grand bouquet or woven into a flower crown. When they bloom in the spring, the smell is intoxicating!
With their striking colour and delicate, crepe-paper petals, poppies are flowers that cannot be ignored. Despite their wild appearance, poppies symbolise restful sleep and peace in death.
Red poppies take on an extra special meaning, symbolising remembrance. It is tradition to wear a red poppy on Remembrance Day in November in commemoration of those who gave their lives in service of the country.
Quite often, we view them as flowers that possess a dangerous and mysterious quality to them, but it’s essential to take into account that it’s only their deep, exotic aesthetic making you feel such strong emotions.
Poppies are also the traditional birth flower for the month of August.
It’s no mystery why these blooms are a beloved gifting flower.
Their striking, rich hues including blush pink, vibrant yellow, and decadent red entice eyes and capture hearts.
Begonias symbolise gratitude, uniqueness, and caution. They are often gifted to family members or friends for anniversaries, or as a way of saying ‘thank you’.
Beloved by the fairies, these enchanting blooms signify that spring has well and truly sprung.
The incredible violet glow of the bluebell flower is truly breath-taking. These bell-shaped beauties represent kindness, humility, gratitude, and everlasting love.
If you have a special friend or loved one in your life, gift them bluebells to signify your gratitude for their love and support.
The mythology of bluebells tells us that if you turn a bluebell inside-out without ripping it, you will win the heart of the person that you love. It is also said that wearing bluebells compels you to speak the truth.
This daisy-like flower blooms in shades of lilac, mauve, pink, red, and white, and embodies charm, wisdom, faith, and love.
It is named after the Greek word for ‘star’, as its petals appear in a star-like formation. Aster flowers became representative of love in Green mythology when it was placed upon the altars for the gods.
Asters convey deep emotional love, so be sure to gift them wisely.
Part of the wonder of the cosmos flower is its orderly arrangement of petals. It’s for this reason that the cosmos flower has been chosen to signify order and harmony.
Cosmoses can also represent balance, peace, love, and tranquillity, making them the perfect gift for someone moving into a new home or phase of their life.
Cosmos appear in varying shades of purple, red, pink, and orange, beautifully brightening a space while delivering a sense of peace and calm.
The origin of the name of the freesia flower is perhaps just as beautiful as the flower itself. Botanist Christian P. Ecklon named the flower after his long-time friend, Dr Freese as a symbol of their friendship.
It is only fitting, then, for the freesia flower to represent friendship and trust. Freesias are adored for their sweet fragrance and long-lasting life. Gift a bouquet of beautiful freesias to a friend to convey your love and trust in them.
The History of Floriography
So, where did it all begin?
Let’s take a look at how and why these meanings came about.
It’s fitting that the renowned poet-adventurer, aristocrat, and feminist, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu introduced floriography to the UK in 1717.
Without her grit and passion for floriography or her influential background in high society, the art form would not exist as we know it.
Wed to the British ambassador to Turkey, Floriography flourished under both of their supervision. As the secret language flourished; flowers were used as a means to pass messages between courtesans and lovers in Europe’s noble houses.
A Game of Fleeting Moments & Treasured Blooms
Apart from the lovely Lady Montagu, the Victorians were also great patrons of the craft that knew how to appreciate flowers thoroughly.
They regarded flowers as great gifts that had the power to convey true feelings. Colours, textures and scent all played a part in this language of love. The language of flowers has more in common with verse than prose.
The meanings of your floral presents were ambiguous and evolving within the context of how they were arranged. From how they were wrapped right down to whom they are gifted to and the particular way they are arranged all made a difference.
Floriography’s Most Illustrious Era
The Victorian era, apart from being historically rich in literature, was one brimming with romance and a flare for the arts.
It was, however, also riddled with unspoken longing and repressed emotion. So much so that Victorians yearned for a medium to be able to convey exactly how they felt without having to do so explicitly.
Call it the Victorian way of courtship, if you will.
The rise in popularity of Floriography gave birth to another artistic revolution that was poised to sink its roots into the modern world: floristry was taking its first, tentative steps into the world of high society, significant business ventures, and the sincerest budding relationships.
Flowers slowly crept their way into our lives, one nosegay and peony at a time.
Immortalised Through Books
In the decades that followed floriography’s Victorian golden era, several books about the art form started sprouting.
Floriography dictionaries – beautiful books with illustrations of flowers and all of their benefits and characteristics listed neatly – proliferated.
Each flower was dutifully catalogued. Everything from which flower suited which occasion best, to what the colours meant was present in the dictionary.
Artists, poets, and writers alike added this information to their work.
Sincerity That Trumps Any Precious Stone
Our love story with Floriography is one that warrants a lifetime; our insatiable appetites for these precious blooms will continue to flourish until our bones return to the very Earth that nourishes them.
As I leave you with visions of your next floral arrangement, I hope you’ll remember the meaning of the flowers.
Keep these meanings in mind when you are searching for the perfect floral gift for a loved one. Taking a little extra care to choose blooms that convey exactly how you feel will make your gesture all the more sacred.
I hope you’ll stick around and continue to grow and fall in love with flowers.
Say It With Flowers
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