One of my favorite aspects of the Victorian era is their value of sweet romance. As flowers were taken very seriously, dictionaries were soon sprouting up on how to interpret the meaning behind each blossom to help young women to choose the perfect flowers for their dress to convey their feelings and for gentlemen in presenting thoughtful bouquets to young ladies. In a time where women could not directly express their feelings for fear of breaking society’s rules and when courtships were highly chaperoned, the flowers gave couples a way to voice the whispers of their hearts.
(Printed in 1884, The Language of Flowers by Jean Marsh and illustrated by Kate Greenaway was one of the first of the Victorian dictionaries and highly popular. )
However, there were so many dictionaries printed on the subject with different interpretations that it sometimes led to some serious misunderstandings. Heaven forbid a man give you yellow carnation when he thought that it meant what the white carnation meant. The poor girl would be in tears. Or maybe the girl has a fondness for hydrangeas, but she didn’t take the time to look up their meaning before slipping one to her beau on their walk in the garden…he wouldn’t be her beau for long. Even the way flowers were presented had meaning. Right hand was code for “yes” and left hand “no,” but if you wanted to make absolutely certain your refusal of a potential suitor was clear, you would give your beau a striped carnation with your left hand. Much easier than just saying no, right?
Can you imagine how long it would take to inspect an entire bouquet for hidden meanings? I suppose they had a lot of time on their hands. Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I’ll dissect the meaning of every single flower my husband has ever given me.
The meaning behind the blossom:
Baby’s Breath: Innocence, Pure of Heart. Or, it could mean everlasting love (depending on your dictionary).
Bird of paradise: Magnificence
Buttercup: Ingratitude. (This gives us insight to Wesley’s feelings in Princess Bride when she gets engaged to Prince Humperdinck so quickly. “I faced the dread Pirate Roberts for you!”)
Cactus: Ardent love (I don’t know about you, but cactus doesn’t really shout love.)
Calla lily: Modesty
Camellia: My destiny is in your hands
Carnation, pink: I will never forget you
Carnation, red: My heart breaks
Carnation, striped: I cannot be with you
Carnation, white: Sweet and lovely
Carnation, yellow: Disdain
Daffodil: New beginnings
Edelweiss: Noble courage
Fern, maidenhair: Secrecy
Forget-me-not: Forget me not (Shocker, right? Someone should fail secret code class for naming this flower.)
Gardenia: Refinement. Or, (depending on your dictionary) secret love. (BIG difference.)
Hyacinth, blue: Constancy
Hyacinth, purple: Please forgive me
Hyacinth, white: Beauty
Iris: Message. Or, promise in love. (Poor man who gave under the context of giving the girl a message when all she heard were wedding bells.)
Lady’s slipper: Capricious beauty
Lavender: Mistrust. Or, love and devotion. (Confusing times.)
Lilac: First emotions of love
Lily: Majesty. (Heaven help you if it’s not a white lily. Orange=hatred. On the other hand, it’s a passive-aggressive person’s dream.)
Marigold: Grief. Or, pretty love.
Orange blossom: Your purity equals your loveliness
Orchid – Love, beauty and refinement.
Pansy: Think of me
Peony: Anger or shame. Or, bashfulness.
Primrose: Childhood. Or, I cannot live without you.
Queen Anne’s lace: Fantasy
Rose, burgundy: Unconscious beauty
Rose, moss: Confession of love
Rose, orange: Fascination
Rose, pale peach: Modesty
Rose, pink: Grace
Rose, purple: Enchantment
Rose, red: Love
Rose, white: A heart unacquainted with love
Rose, yellow: Infidelity
Scarlet Pimpernel: Change
Tansy: I declare war against you
Tulip: Declaration of love. (Dakota’s first bouquet after two months of dating! My oh my it was a declaration of love! The dictionary works!)
Verbena: Pray for me
Violet: Modest worth
Water lily: Purity of heart
Zinnia: I mourn your absence
Want to learn more Victorian meanings behind of flowers? Check out one of the sources I used, Victoria’s Dictionary of Flowers.
While the language behind the flowers could drive a direct person insane, it is quite fun for those who enjoy reading in between the lines…even if it does get them in trouble when those dictionaries have conflicting meanings!
(Top) Photo Cred: Nathan Rocky of my wedding bouquet. Purple roses = enchantment.