Before sending a bouquet, find out the flower meanings of each bud.
By Sharon Selz
Do you speak flower? Floral fluency comes in handy around Valentine’s Day to translate exactly what the bouquet you’re giving or receiving has to say.
Mistletoe’s easy—it practically shouts, “Kiss me!” But how about calla lilies or clematis? A suitor who sends the former could be saying, “You’re hot!” and the latter, “I love you for your mind.” Ferns declare, “Sincerely, I find you fascinating.”
The language of flowers, also known as floriography, stems from a wide variety of sources including Greek, Roman and Turkish cultures, mythology, literature and even the Bible. But it wasn’t until England’s Victorian era (1837-1901) that using sweet-smelling petaled messengers really came into vogue.
“The Victorians were very formal,” says horticulturist Geri Laufer, an Atlanta garden writer and expert on the language of flowers. Love and romance weren’t discussed freely, and many a tongue-tied beau let flowers speak for him. “To get the message across, Victorians made up small bouquets of flowers and herbs called tussie-mussies or ‘talking bouquets,’” Geri says. “Each sprig has its own meaning.”
By Any Other Name
This botanical language is so elaborate that dozens of dictionaries have been written interpreting the symbolism of garden blooms, wildflowers and sundry plants. Many flowers have multiple meanings. For instance, a rose, generally associated with love, signifies passion and desire when red, grace and beauty (pink), unity (white), friendship (yellow) and an engagement when two roses are taped together.
Conversations can get thorny if lovers are consulting different dictionaries! A bunch of yellow carnations stands for admiration in one book and flat-out rejection in another.
Nowadays, with instant communication, you’d think flowers would fall silent. But actually, the opposite is true, says Leanne Kesler, co-owner of the Floral Design Institute of Portland, Oregon. “The language of flowers was revitalized when Kate Middleton used it to put together her bouquet for the royal wedding,” including lily of the valley (happiness), white hyacinth (constancy), myrtle (love and marriage) and sweet William (gallantry—and a nod to her groom).
Leanne’s tussie-mussie design classes are filled with brides-to-be and home gardeners eager to expand their plant vocabulary. “People are making these charming little bouquets again—for everything from showers to birthdays to tea parties.”
Even with cell phones, Facebook, Twitter and Skype, there’s still something about flowers given from the heart that speaks louder than words.
How well do you know the language of flowers?
20. Zinnia T. Beautiful eyes
Now, check out the answers.
Get step-by-step directions to make your own “talking bouquet”.
For more on flower meanings, check out Geri Laufer’s book Tussie-Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers.
Photography by David Kesler, AIFD, PFCI