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Language of Wedding Flowers

Updated on September 9, 2011

Say It With Flowers

The flowers are one of the most important decorative elements in a wedding. They add color, scent, and convey a specific tone, depending on the type of flower chosen. But did you know that flowers can say much more than that? Dating back to Victorian times, and even to antiquity, flowers have been used to convey messages, and to express feelings without saying a word. Based on the type of flower, the color, and even the number of blooms in an arrangement, it is possible to "say it with flowers" for your wedding. Here is everything that you need to know to decode the secret language of flowers.

People have always cherished flowers for their immeasurable beauty, pleasing scents, and the messages inherent in particular blooms. You may think that you know nothing of the hidden language of flowers, but in fact, some associations are so widespread that they are a part of the fabric of our culture. Everyone knows that tulips are a sign of spring, holly and poinsettias symbolize the Christmas season, and that red roses are for lovers. Beyond those well known associations, there are many more subtle meanings attached to each flower, and well chosen blossoms can be a lovely way to add another layer of meaning to your wedding or other special occasion.

Flowers have long been popular for gifts, especially gifts of a romantic nature. It is certainly not accidental that it is traditional in our society for the groom to pay for the bride's bouquet, even if her father pays for the rest of the wedding flowers. This is because the bouquet is intended to be a gift and a declaration of love from the groom to his bride. Of course, the original reason that brides carried bouquets of fresh flowers was as much to mask any unpleasant aromas (back when bathing was infrequent at best) as it was to add beauty to the bridal ensemble. That practical reason is luckily no longer a factor, and today brides view their wedding bouquets as simply another accessory, much like their sets of bridal jewelry or their veils.

Victorian Valentine
Victorian Valentine
"Annunciation" by Fra Carnevale; white lilies symbolize the Virgin Mary)
"Annunciation" by Fra Carnevale; white lilies symbolize the Virgin Mary)

Flowers Religious Significance

The Victorians are best known for taking the meaning of flowers and elevating it to an art form, but "floriography", as it was known in the Victorian era, actually dates back much further than the 19th Century. As far back as Greek and Roman times, particular flowers had symbolic relevance. The red rose, still a favorite expression of love and passion, was the blossom associated with the goddesses of love, Aphrodite and Venus. It is no wonder that red roses are the favorite flower of St. Valentine's Day, the holiday for lovers.

            Flowers have also long held specific meanings in Christianity. The Medieval and Renaissance  artists were versed in this code, and incorporated it into their paintings. The flowers shown were designed to convey meaning to the viewers, most of whom were not able to read books, but who would have understood the language of flowers. Colors were as important as the variety of flowers depicted. White, for instance, always represented innocence, purity, and chastity. White lilies, in particular, were the symbol of the Virgin Mary. Even today, white remains a color that stands for purity and innocence, which has helped to make it an enduring favorite for weddings.

Meaning of Flowers Cross Cultures

Non-Western cultures also find symbolic meaning in flowers. The art of floriography has a counterpart in Japan called "Hanakotoba". Interestingly enough, many of the flowers are assigned meanings in Hanakotoba that are similar to those used by the Victorians. The forget-me-not, for example, stands for "true love" in both systems of floral symbolism. The cherry blossom, which is a national symbol of Japan, represents kindness and gentleness. And the four leaf clover is as lucky to the Japanese as it is to the Irish.

Colors And The Number Of Flowers Have Meaning

There are some variations on the meanings implied by specific flowers, but many are commonly agreed upon. For many flowers, each color will have its own variation on the meaning. Some have symbolism that is romantic or auspicious for a wedding, whereas others have meanings that might want to make a bride think twice before incorporating them into her marriage celebration. Carnations, for instance, stand for disappointment (yellow) and disdain (white); not exactly the best message to send at the start of a marriage!

In general, the colors of the flowers at a wedding will allude to a certain mood. Red is the color of passionate romantic love. Pink represents youth and happiness. Blue in a wedding is the color of fidelity, thus the custom of including "something blue" for the bride to wear or carry. To send a message of friendship or devotion, choose yellow blossoms. Orange stands for confidence and enthusiasm. The color green symbolizes nature and good fortune. Dark purple is the color of royalty and pride, whereas gentle lavender represents a softer feminine beauty and grace. And then there is the most popular color of all for wedding flowers, which is white. The purity of all white flowers is ideal for a traditional wedding ceremony.

Believe it or not, even the number of flowers in a bouquet can have symbolism. It goes as follows: 1- love at first sight, 2- waiting (not a great choice for a wedding!), 3 – I love you, 9- long lasting love, 10- perfect lover, 11- I am your admirer, 12- heart to heart, 20- I love you forever, 21- I love you the most, 22- love each other, 36- belongs to you, and 100- devoted to you. To ask for his girlfriend's hand in marriage, a man can give her a bouquet of 101 flowers, which means, "Will you marry me?". If the engagement ring is as impressive as a bouquet of 101 flowers, the answer is sure to be an enthusiastic "yes!".

Forget Me Not
Forget Me Not
Red Rose
Red Rose

The most interesting part of the meaning of flowers for most brides is the messages sent by each type of flower. Many are wonderful choices for a wedding, though there are some flowers which are currently in style for bouquets and centerpieces that do not send the most positive message. To help you with your floral selections, here is what you need to know:

Carnations: white= disdain, yellow= disappointment, and pink= love. Over all, not the best symbolism for a wedding, although the pink is acceptable.

Daffodil: respect or unrequited love. Not one of the most commonly seen flowers for weddings, but their yellow color does make them cheerful for a springtime celebration.

Dahlia: elegance and dignity.

Daisy: innocence and purity. Ever hear of the expression, "fresh as a daisy"? It is right in line with the secret meaning behind this charming and simple flower.

Forget-me-not: true love. What could be sweeter?

Hydrangea: frigidness and heartlessness. Ouch! This is a very popular wedding flower, but the symbolism is dreadful.

Ivy: fidelity. A lovely addition to the flowers in a bouquet.

Lavender: devotion.

Lilac: purple= first emotion of love, white= youthful innocence.

Lily: white= purity, and it is also the floral emblem for the Virgin Mary. White lilies have a strong association with the Easter season as well. In Japanese Hanakotoba, the tiger lily= wealth, but the orange lily= hatred. Select your lilies carefully!

Lily-of-the-Valley: sweet. A perennial favorite among brides, it is also the flower for May, whether that is the time of the wedding, or the birth month of the bride. They can be difficult and pricey to obtain out of season, however.

Oak leaf: strength. This would be a wonderful symbol to add as an accent in a bridal bouquet.

Orange Blossoms: fertility. These sweet little white blossoms were a prominent feature of almost every wedding that took place between the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert all the way through the 1950s. A wreath of orange blossoms was a favorite accessory for the well dressed bride. When fresh blooms were not available, delicate replicas were created in wax. These little gems can still be found intact, and are perfect to add authenticity to a vintage bridal gown.

Orchid: luxury. Pink orchids also represent pure affection, and cattelya orchids mean mature charm. This is a very hot flower for weddings due to the wide range of blossoms and the association with style and luxury.

Peony: romance, prosperity, omen of good fortune, and happy marriage. Who wouldn't want all of that? No wonder the peony is cherished by spring brides.

Poppy: red= pleasure or true love, white= dreams, yellow= success, pink= grace. This is not one of the more commonly used flowers for weddings, but it certainly does send some upbeat messages.

Rose: red= passionate romantic love, pink= youth, desire, admiration, or grace, yellow= friendship or devotion, white= virtue or chastity, and coral= passion and desire. The rose is definitely the most popular wedding flower, and it also has some of the best known symbolism of any flower. Surely it is not a coincidence that June, which is the month most associated with weddings, is also the month for which the rose is the birth flower. A June bride with a June birthday would certainly want to include some roses in her floral arrangements. Combining the different colors of roses adds an additional layer of meaning to the bouquet; red and white stands for unity, while red and yellow together mean joy and excitement.

Rosemary: remembrance. This fragrant herb was a traditional favorite in Victorian times to add with flowers. It is also frequently featured in the herb bouquets prized by Swedish brides.

Tulip: red= declaration of love, yellow= hopeless love. There is an interesting myth behind the meaning of the red tulip, which can be traced back to an old Turkish legend. It is said that there once lived a Turkish prince named Farhad who was deeply in love with a woman named Shirin. When his true love was killed, the prince then killed himself in despair by riding his horse off a cliff. Legend holds that for every drop of his blood that was spilled, a red tulip grew, thus their meaning of perfect love. It is a bit Gothic, perhaps, but it certainly adds a bit of drama to this classic red flower.

Wheat: wealth. Another good one. As with many flowers or natural elements, the meaning of wheat comes from specific origins. In this case, it is the association with an abundant fall harvest that gives wheat its auspicious message and makes it a natural to include in an autumn wedding.

Nosegays, Posies and Tussie Mussies

The Victorians had a passion for flower arranging, and would create small bouquets known as tussie mussies which combined various blooms for their symbolic meaning. The bouquets were often given as romantic gifts to express feelings that the giver dared not speak aloud. This was how the Victorians could "say it with flowers". Tussie mussies were not always romantic in nature. They could send messages of friendship, sympathy, or good tidings. Almost anything that one could write in a greeting card could be wordlessly implied with a bouquet of carefully selected blooms.

            The classic shape of a tussie mussie was a small round posy or nosegay. As an aside, the origin of the word "nosegay" harkens back to the unwashed times of yore; the sweet scent of the flowers was designed to literally make the nose "gay" or happy by covering up unpleasant body odors. The phrase tussie mussie comes from the Old English "tuzzy muzzy", which meant "knot of flowers". The "muzzy" was the damp moss wrapped around the stems of the flowers to keep them fresh (remember, this was before water picks and refrigeration!). The Victorians took the tussie mussie to the next level, and designed beautiful silver vessels called posies to hold the stems of the bouquets. Brides who would like the authentic decorative holder for their bouquets will find that modern version of the tussie mussie  silver posy are still being produced.

Once you have an understanding of the meaning of the varieties of flowers, the colors, and perhaps even the numerical values, you can begin planning wedding bouquets and centerpieces that send the perfect message for your wedding. For example, a very conservative bride could carry a bouquet of thirty-six white roses with a sprig of ivy. The lovely white roses represent a pure love, the ivy fidelity, and the number thirty-six means "belong to you". An older couple who have loved one another for many years before marriage might opt for a bridal bouquet of nine yellow cattelya orchids. The nine flowers stand for everlasting love, the cattelya orchids are the flower of mature charm, and the color yellow represents the friendship and devotion of a long term relationship. As you may recall, the brides' bouquet is intended to be a gift from her groom; wouldn't the above messages be lovely declarations?

Brides often design their bouquets and reception centerpieces to have a higher meaning beyond simply their visual appeal. A bouquet can replicate the wedding flowers carried by the bride's grandmother as a special tribute to a cherished relative. Sometimes the wedding flowers are chosen based on the bride's culture (such as cherry blossoms for an American bride of Japanese heritage) or the place she was raised (what girl from Mississippi wouldn't love to have some magnolias in her wedding?) or even where the couple met (there are plenty of Tennessee Volunteers carrying flowers in the bright orange color of their alma mater). By selecting wedding flowers that send a particular message, the bride can enhance her bouquet. Learning the secret language of flowers gives a bride one more tool to make her wedding even more personal and special.


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    • The Blagsmith profile image

      The Blagsmith 

      7 years ago from Britain

      What a beautiful hub. I have included a link to it on one of my articles on my website: Thank you

    • profile image

      Jan Walker Pinnington 

      8 years ago

      What a great site. It's nice to find the meaning of different types of flowers in one convenient place. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

    • tim-tim profile image

      Priscilla Chan 

      8 years ago from Normal, Illinois

      Love flowers! My favorite would be Poppy! Thanks for the great hub!

    • Seabastian profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Raleigh

      Thanks Brian-You always make good observations.

      I love flowers too. For the last ten years(or longer) before my Mom died; every time I would visit her she and I would walk around her yard and she would talk about the flowers (when she planted them and how they were doing). It always took over an hour even though she had a small yard.

    • BrianS profile image

      Brian Stephens 

      9 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

      Flowers really are beautiful and you actually begin to appreciate them more as you get older and now I know why you can say it with flowers.


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