If you received a bouquet of flowers from a colleague, friend or co-worker your first move may be to thank them and find a pretty vase to display them in. However, if you were living in the 19th century you may have just received a hidden message.
History is riddled with stories of women in society (Click here to see the flowers of Downton Abbey) utilizing flowers to pass messages to lovers, friends and enemies. It’s been documented that harem women utilized “Floriography” in order to communicate without their guards knowledge. By 1810 French publishers began putting out flower dictionaries that detailed many different floral codes collected over the years.
So where do these meanings come from?
Some of the hidden meanings come directly from the root name which was sometimes based from mythology, i.e. “narcissus” would correspond to egotism. Other meanings came from the flowers directly. The colors, medical properties and even “magical” superstition surrounding these flowers helped create this hidden “language”. Below are some of the more obvious connections from the Victorian Era.
- Cabbage – looks like cash, meaning wealth, profit or money
- Walnuts – symbolized intellect as they look like a brain
- Pennyroyal, rue and Tansy – often used in teas as abortifacients. The flowers in a bouquet often symbolized “you must leave”, disdain or “war”
However, not all the meanings were as easy to derive. Some of the following make a less sense:
- Hydrangea – heartless
- Delphinium – Haughty
- Azelea – Take Care of Yourself
- Buttercup – Childishness
- Basil – I hate you
- Dill – lust
- Stripped Carnation – no, refusal
- Oleander – Beware
- Birdsfoot Trefoil – my revenge (Thee flower to give passive aggressively)
- Green Carnations – homosexuality
Authors also used floral decoding in literary novels like Jane Eyre. In chapter nine, Bronte references that Jane looks at “snowdrops, crocuses, purple auriculas and gold eyed pansies”, which corresponds to her feeling “hopeful, cheerful, modest and preoccupied.
To learn more about Floriography and the Language of Flowers visit: