Floriography: A Tiny Treatise Pertaining to the Secret Language of Flowers

Secret Language Of Flowers - Article - Feb 14

Floriography: A Tiny Treatise Pertaining to the Secret Language of Flowers
by Rob Sproule


In our world of chat, text, emojis, likes, and an all-around uninhibited ability to communicate, it’s hard to imagine a time when just talking to someone of the opposite sex required meeting strict etiquette criteria and swimming upstream through a cultural system that made communication very difficult.

In Victorian England, love found a way. Motivated by Queen Victoria’s public fascination for flowers, people endowed flowers with very specific meanings and used them like hieroglyphs to commutate under their chaperones’ watchful eyes. Dozens of flower dictionaries were published under Victoria’s reign, and the vocabulary burgeoned from flirtation to encompass the entire range of human emotion.

Tussie-Mussies, or nosegays, developed into the text messages of the Victorian world. In their simplest form, ‘talking bouquets’ comprised a single flower (the central meaning) surrounded by tightly arranged, fragrant herbs. Typically wrapped in a doily and bound by ribbon, women could pin them to their chests or carry them.

Every aspect of a talking-bouquet was symbolically infused. The central flower, not surprisingly, formed the central message. Herbs, foliage and flowers were only added around it if their meanings supplemented the central message. Not all messages, as you’ll see below, were flirtatious, so one had to be careful which flowers they chose. The way a woman held it denoted the degree of her acceptance of the message.


Flower Meanings

We all know that red roses decry passionate love, but what about the lesser-known meanings? Hundreds of flowers become emblematic of affection, regret, longing, planning, and sometimes even scorn. Skipping the obvious ones, here are a few of my lesser-known favourites:


Apple Blossom: good fortune is coming

Bachelor Button: celibacy

Basil: hatred

Camellia (red): You’re a flame in my heart

Carnation (striped): I’m sorry but I can’t be with you.

Chickweed: I cling to thee

Chicory: Frugality

Cyclamen: resignation and goodbye

Dianthus: make haste

Geranium: true friendship

Grass: submission

Heliotrope: I’m devoted to you

Hyacinth (purple): I’m sorry, please forgive me

Lady Slipper: I’m a capricious heart and it’s up to you to win me

Lily of the Valley: Sweet innocence

Monkshood: Beware because danger is near you

Nasturtium: Victory in battle, glory

Nuts: stupidity

Pansy: You fill my thoughts

Parsley: useful knowledge

Phlox: our souls are united

Pussy Willow: motherhood

Rhubarb: advice

Rhododendron: I am dangerous, beware

Rosebud: beautiful innocence

Rosemary: remembrance

Snapdragon: strong, gracious lady

Spider Flower: elope with me

Strawflower: I agree with you

Sunflower (tall): false riches and pride

Tansy: I declare war against you

Tulip (yellow): You have sunshine in your smile

Turnip: charity

Venus Fly trap: caught at last/ you’ve caught me

Water Lily: purity of heart

Wheat: prosperity

Yarrow: cure for heartache

Zinnia: thinking of /mourning your absence or an absent friend


Modern Day Floriography

In 2011, Kate Middelton turned to the language of flowers on her wedding day to convey a personal message to those fluent. Designed in the all white floral traditional, her bouquet (wedding bouquets being a modern evolution of Tussie-Mussies) featured floral sentiments reminiscent of Queen Victoria.

In Kate’s bouquet, Lily-of-the-Valley symbolizes innocence, Sweet William Dianthus was gallantry, Hyacinth stood for the constancy of love, and Ivy articulated marriage and fidelity. She also had a sprig of Myrtle (meaning the love of home and duty) from a plant grown from the sprig of Myrtle in Queen Victoria’s wedding nosegay.

If you’re intrigued at the idea of floriography and want to send a special floral message of your own, stop byThe Floral Studio in Salisbury at Enjoy, one of the best flower shops in St. Albert!


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