The Language of Flowers


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.

Language of flowers

(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:

Azalea: Fragile

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

Daisy: Innocence

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.)

Heather: Protection

Honeysuckle: Devotion

Hyacinth, blue: Constancy

Hyacinth, purple: Please forgive me

Hyacinth, white: Beauty

Hydrangea: Dispassion

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.)

Ivy: Fidelity

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.)

Magnolia: Dignity

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

Wisteria: Welcome

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!

Happy Writing!

(Top) Photo Cred: Nathan Rocky of my wedding bouquet. Purple roses = enchantment.




About Grace Hitchcock

Grace Hitchcock's first novella, The Widow of St. Charles Avenue, released in Barbour Publishing’s The Second Chance Brides Collection August 2017. Her second novella will release in Barbour Publishing’s The Southern Belle Brides Collection in 2018. She has a Masters in Creative Writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in History. Grace is a Louisiana Southerner living in Colorado with her husband, Dakota, and newborn son.

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