Flowers, plants, and herbs have been used as symbols since antiquity. But it was the Victorians who were truly fluent in the language of flowers, following the 1819 publication in France of Charlotte de Latour’s Le Langage des Fleurs. In this popular book, hundreds of flora were paired with translations, which ranged from heartwarming to heartbreaking.
Courting couples during these times used blooms to declare their affection even when strict etiquette prohibited them from speaking openly, a method of communicating that became nearly an art. An ill-considered choice of blooms could leave a suitor’s amorous intention misunderstood, whereas the right flower needed no explanation. If a lady was given a spray of red tulips, for instance, she knew her gentleman caller was smitten. If the ardor was returned, she might send him a bouquet of lilacs. But if she chose to respond with an arrangement of ivy, he’d realize a romance probably would not blossom. Even the way in which flowers were handed to the recipient had significance. To indicate the sincerity of the message, the blooms were held upright. But if they were presented upside down, the exact opposite meaning was intended.
Over time, many floral definitions have changed according to culture and whim. Here, the most common meanings still associated with specific flowers today.
BABY’S BREATH Meaning: Everlasting love
BELLS OF IRELAND Meaning: Good luck
CALLA LILY Meaning: Magnificent Beauty
CARNATION RED Meaning: Pure love
CHAMOMILE Meaning: Energy in action
CHERRY BLOSSOM Meaning: Education
CHRYSANTHEMUM Meaning: friendship
DAHLIA Meaning: Dignity & elegance, forever
DAISY Meaning: Innocence