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Plant and Flower Meanings

Updated on November 2, 2014

“In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends.”
Kakuzō Okakura, The Book Of Tea

Why We Send Flowers

Flowers, herbs and other plants have been grown in gardens worldwide for centuries not only for the practical purpose of providing nourishment but also for their ornamental value as a source of beauty and calming influence. In the inherent beauty of plants is found the ability to:

  • cheer the sick or depressed,
  • show love and affection to others,
  • provide a peace offering after an argument,
  • create moods through their fragrance,
  • create lovely perfumes through their oils,
  • create medicines and food.

Flowering plants are so effective in creating a mood or message from the sender to the receiver that mankind has attached significant meaning to giving them as gifts. In fact, a whole language of flowers was developed called "floriography. This language was utilized particularly during the Victorian Era; however, flowering plants have had specific religious and symbolic meaning attached to them for centuries.

Forsythia is pure joy. There is not an ounce, not a glimmer of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia. Pure, undiluted, untouched joy.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Forsythia showing its dazzling yellow blooms in anticipation of warmer weather to come!
Forsythia showing its dazzling yellow blooms in anticipation of warmer weather to come! | Source

What Is Floriography?

Floriography is the language of flowers. This language was most prevalent in the Victorian Era during the reign of Queen Victoria of England (1837-1901) during which proper etiquette was in fashion among the upper class. These rules and customs of etiquette demanded specific behaviors. Among those behaviors prohibited were:

  • blatant flirtations
  • gossip
  • speaking or acting in anger
  • preferring your own comfort over others

Therefore, in order to communicate messages which were unacceptable to share verbally, floriography became the accepted form of communication. The language of flowers extended beyond the simple meaning of the flower itself. It included the combined meaning of often several plants, the presentation and often the manner in which the flowers were received.

During this era, flowers were used to decorate everything including:

  • hair and clothing
  • jewelry and gowns
  • men's lapels
  • wallpaper
  • tapestries and rugs
  • china and stationary

It was traditional for a courting young man to bring his lady flowers. His arrangement could either please or displease his intended by the arrangement, color and types of flowers and greenery. Each flower had a special meaning implying love or dislike depending upon

  • kind,
  • size
  • how they were held
  • and how the flowers and greenery were grouped.

How the flowers were sent also conveyed a particular meaning subtle or direct.

  • Flowers presented in an upright position conveyed positive thoughts.
  • Those presented in a downward position had a negative connotation.
  • A proposal or question could be answered positively by offering a flower with the right hand.
  • Offering a flower with the left hand signified a negative answer.

Red roses with white baby's breath.
Red roses with white baby's breath. | Source

The Special Significance Of Roses

Not only did a particular flower have meaning but its color also added to its significance. Roses have had significant meanings for a very long time and even today, the following meanings still hold true in many areas of the world.

Rose Red - I love you / Passion

Rose White - Eternal love / Purity

Rose Yellow - Joy / Friendship

Rose Pink - Perfect happiness/ Warm Affection

The Language Of Flowers

Books on floriography were written offering meanings of large numbers of flowering plants including herbs. In 1819, the earliest flower dictionary was published in Paris, Le Language de Fleursand. The standard guide, used widely throughout England and the United States was written by Miss Corruthers of Inverness in 1879. Meanings were given based on a number of factors:

  • mythology
  • tradition
  • medicinal uses
  • and sometimes, the meanings were based on the imagination of the writer

In the present day, the meanings of most flowers have all but been forgotten. However, a few flower meanings have remained firmly entrenched in our traditions. A single, long-stemmed red rose is still almost universally recognized as a symbol of true love. The forget-me-not is still sent when someone is missed or is leaving for a long time.

Often wrapped with lace doilies, tussie mussies were small, hand-held bouquets and were a favorite gift the sender infused with meaning by including well chosen, fragrant herbs and flowers. Always, great care was given to the choice of the flowers and herbs to ensure the intended meaning was accurately expressed. Also known as nosegays, these bouquets were often held at nose level to block out unpleasant odors common during the Victorian era. Suitors watched carefully how their ladies carried a presented tussie mussie. If she held the bouquet a heart level, it was a good sign that she was happy and in acceptance of his advances. A bouquet held downwards indicated rejection.

Modern nosegay of white roses.
Modern nosegay of white roses. | Source

Meanings Of Flowers And Herbs

Almond Flower
Pride / Beauty
Baby's Breath
Innocense, Pure of heart
Best Wishes
Bell flower - white
Birds of Paradise/Strelitzia
Carnation Pink
I’ll never forget you
Carnation Red
Carnation White
Innocence / Pure love
Carnation Yellow
You have disappointed me
Cheerfulness / You’re a wonderful friend
Clover - four leaved
"Be mine"
Delicacy / refinement
Good taste
Remember me forever
You’re lovely / Secret love
Wisdom / Eloquence
Fidelity, friendship, marriage
Grace/ Elegance
Luck, devotion
First love
Love / Beauty
Desire / Happiness in marriage
Sweet Pea
Good-by, Departure, Blissful Pleasure, Thank You for a Lovely Time

What a desolate place would be a world without a flower! It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome. Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heaven.
A.J. Balfour

Use Floriography When Sending Flowers

Resurrect the forgotten art of floriography. Especially if you have a hard time telling someone how you feel, say it with flowers. Put together a specially arranged 'mussie tussie'. Carefully choose your flowers and greenery to infuse it with feelings of love or friendship. If a good friend is leaving let them know you'll miss them with a nosegay including forget-me-nots. Add the finesse of the language of flowers to your modern day romance or special relationships. Don't forget to add a card that explains the hidden meaning to your message of flowers!

Resources Used

Eras of Elegance. Eras of Hobbies and Crafts: The Victorian Art and Language of Flower Arranging.2007

Taylor, Wendy. Floriography: The Language of Flowers in the Victorian Era. August 9, 2011.

Victorian Bazaar. Language of Flowers. 2000


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    • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

      Teresa Coppens 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Gypsy Rose Lee I am so glad you enjoyed this hub. I had a great time writing it and intend to use it when putting together special arrangements for friends and family in the future.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      6 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Fascinating read. Enjoyed learning about flower meanings. My mom used to love flowers so much I would buy her some very often. Passing this on.

    • Teresa Coppens profile imageAUTHOR

      Teresa Coppens 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I agree Rosemay. I think I'll put more thought into the next flower gift I send!

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 

      6 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      Awesome article, very interesting. It is such a shame that art of flower language is dying. I guss there was no need once it became OK to say what one felt, but it would be lovely to revive this tradition.


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