The Language of Flowers
by Stephanie Whetstone
There is a language, little known,
Lovers claim it as their own.
Its symbols smile upon the land,
Wrought by nature’s wondrous hand;
And in their silent beauty speak,
Of life and joy, to those who seek
For Love Divine and sunny hours
In the language of the flowers.
–The Language of Flowers, London, 1875
As the weather in Princeton finally warms, the campus has come alive with flowers, leafy trees, and lush green plants of many kinds. Some of us have taken to our home gardens, too, hoping for peonies, daylilies, sunflowers, and roses. While we enjoy our flowers for their beauty and lovely scents, few of us still use them as a form of clandestine communication.
We send private messages to our friends and lovers today via text, but the Victorians sent nosegays to convey secret thoughts and desires. Floriography, or the language of flowers, required floral dictionaries but allowed couples to say what society deemed inappropriate to express in words.
While floriography was all the rage in Victorian times, it goes back to earlier eras and can be found in the literature and daily life of many cultures. Through Ophelia in Hamlet, Shakespeare explores the meaning of many flowers. Ophelia says:
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.
Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies,
that’s for thoughts . . .
There’s fennel for you, and columbines.
There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me; we
may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays. You must wear your
rue with a difference. There’s a daisy. I would
give you some violets, but they withered all
when my father died.
In Shakespeare’s time, fennel was a symbol of strength, columbine stood for folly, daisies meant innocence, and violets recognized faithfulness and modesty.
In Japanese culture, Hanakotoba is the language of flowers with its own lexicon. For example, a gift of Havenaria radiata, an orchid native to the region, means “My thoughts will follow you into your dreams.”
Today, we still say “I love you” with roses, “I’m sorry” with a colorful bouquet, or “my condolences” with gladiolas. If you’d like to try to say something more precisely with your blooms this summer, check out the floral glossary below. If I could, I would send each of you basil.
|Symbolic Meanings of Herbs, Flowers and Trees|
|Aloe||Healing, protection, affection|
|Bachelor’s button||Single blessedness|
|– Red carnation||My Heart Aches, admiration|
|– White carnation||Innocence, pure love, women’s good luck gift|
|– Pink carnation||I’ll never forget you|
|– Yellow carnation||Disappointment, rejection|
|Clover, white||Think of me|
|Crocus, spring||Youthful gladness|
|Cyclamen||Resignation and good-bye|
|Dill||Powerful against evil|
|Forget-me-not||True love memories|
|Geranium, oak-leaved||True friendship|
|Honeysuckle||Bonds of love|
|Hyacinth||Games and sport, playfulness, rashness|
|Hyacinth, blue||Constancy of love|
|Hyacinth, purple||Sorrow, forgiveness, regret|
|Hyacinth, white||Loveliness, prayers for someone|
|Jasmine, white||Sweet love|
|Lilac||Joy of youth|
|Lily, day||Chinese emblem for mother|
|Lotus Flower||Purity, enlightenment, self-regeneration, and rebirth|
|Magnolia||Love of nature|
|Marjoram||Joy and happiness|
|Myrtle||Good luck and love in a marriage|
|Peony||Happy life, happy marriage|
|Rose, red||Love, I love you, desire|
|Rose, white||Purity, heavenly, I’m worthy of you|
|Rose, yellow||Jealousy, decrease of love|
|Rue||Grace, clear vision|
|Salvia, blue||I think of you|
|Salvia, red||Forever mine|
|Tulip, red||Declaration of love|
|Tulip, yellow||Sunshine in your smile|
|Violet||Loyalty, devotion, faithfulness, modesty|
|Wallflower||Faithfulness in adversity|
|Zinnia||Thoughts of absent friends|