On the fifth day of Valentines Week, my true love gave to me…
Like many other fads and traditions, the Victorians perfected the art of floral arrangement. At the hight of this morally conservative period, men and women were able to send the prefect message to a loved one through the innocuous gift of flowers. Each flower had a meaning, and ladies were schooled in the language of flowers as part of their social education. Known as floriography, symbolic meanings were attached to particular flowers based on botanical characteristics, scriptural and literary references, Greek and Roman mythology, and geographical and historical associations. Because of these many references, flowers often had multiple and changing meanings. Color and maturity of the bloom could change the meaning of the flower, presenting an downward facing bloom would reverse it’s meaning, and combinations of flowers could produce an entire conversation in a bouquet.
The sentiments behind flowers still linger over a hundred years later, but although we know that red roses symbolize love, the language of flowers has been all but lost to modern patrons of FTD and KaBloom. So, from Victorian historical sources, here is a list of a few flowers with their meanings, dating to the 1880s. Maybe this Valentine’s Day, you can use flowers to say more than just “I love you.”
Rose Acacia: Elegance
Fleur-de-lis: I burn. Flame/fire
Peruvian Heliotrope: Devotion, faithfulness
Holly Herb: Enchantment
Purple Lilac: First emotions of love
Lily of the Valley: Return of happiness
Syrian Mallow (Rose of Sharon): Consumed by love
Night-blooming Cereus: Transient beauty
Pansy: Think of me. Thoughts
White Periwinkle: Pleasant recollections
Ranunculus: You are radiant with charms.
Maiden Blush Rose: If you love me, you will discover it.
White Rose: I am worthy of you.
Dwarf Sunflower: Adoration
Red Tulip: Declaration of love
(Variegated Tulips: Beautiful eyes)
Venice Sumach: Intellectual excellence, splendor
Zinnia: Thoughts of absent friends
For my sources of information see The Historical Society of Ocean Grove and The Language of Flowers. Also, for a complete period source and comprehensive index of flowers and their meaning (which I used primarily to compose the guide above), check out the digital book, The Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway.