Plant Palette

Plant Palette

Florigraphy (the meaning of flowers)

Photo of Jennifer Schultz Nelson

Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture

When sending flowers for Valentine's Day, most people automatically think of roses. In the language of florigraphy, or meanings attached to specific flowers, the rose symbolizes love and passion. Different colors and numbers of roses have slightly different meanings. But maybe you want to do something new and different this year. Or maybe an often-expensive rose arrangement just doesn't fit your budget this year. With a little research, you can put together a unique flower bouquet for your sweetheart that speaks from the heart without breaking your budget. Here are a few suggestions:

Alstroemeria: a cut flower available in a variety of colors, symbolizes strong bond with another person, as well as prosperity

Amaryllis: an indoor flowering bulb whose showy blossoms represent pride and radiant beauty

Azalea: symbolizes first love and romance

Black-Eyed Susan: encouragement

Carnations: represent pride and beauty

Chrysanthemum: symbolizes fidelity- a great choice to celebrate your wedding anniversary!

Daffodil: a sure sign of spring, but also represents chivalry

Daisy: signifies loyal love, also innocence

Delphinium: this rare blue flower symbolizes all things heavenly

Freesia: innocence

Hyacinth: sincerity

Ivy: fidelity

Peony: a flower originally from China, traditionally means "I love you"

Rose: love and passion; red= passionate love, pink= admiration and appreciation, yellow= joy and friendship, white= innocence, purity and remembrance, orange= desire and enthusiasm, lavender= enchantment and love at first sight

Statice: stands for remembrance—include them in a bouquet to tell your sweetheart you miss them

Stock: a fragrant flower meaning "you'll always be beautiful to me"

Sunflower: a statement of pure love, longevity, and adoration

Tulip: a symbol of fame, but also stands for the "perfect lover"

Violet: represents faithfulness and affection

Florigraphy reportedly has its roots in ancient Greek and Roman culture, and later Turkish traditions that became popular in England and the U.S. in the 19th century, also known as the Victorian era. In the early 1700's, Lady Mary Wortley Montague, an Englishwoman living in Constantinople, popularized the Turkish custom of using the language of flowers in love letters to her sweetheart back home. By the late 1700's, numerous "flower dictionaries" had been published across England. With the dawn of the Victorian era in the early 1800's, flowers were the acceptable way to communicate heartfelt feelings that would otherwise go unspoken.

The hidden meanings of flowers were the perfect means by which the often formal, strictly moral, very proper Victorians could declare their true feelings to their beloved without seeming immodest or improper. It was also a way for secret lovers to communicate—hoping that no one deduced their hidden affair.

The flower choice was only a portion of the message. Combinations of flowers potentially meant something entirely different than when those flowers were used alone! The choice of ribbon tied around a bouquet, the manner in which it was tied, as well as how it was presented sent varied messages.

It was common for Victorian women to attach small bouquets they received to their clothing, which of course had its own meaning. Placing the bouquet over one's heart meant the woman felt love towards the person who gave her the flowers. If the bouquet was otherwise fastened to the front of her clothing, friendship was all she felt for the giver.

Complicating matters was the fact that then and still today, flower meanings may vary, depending on the source. In general, variations in meaning have been subtle, but it undoubtedly helps to be using similar if not the same meanings when declaring your feelings with flowers! One current source suggests that you and your sweetheart cultivate your own unique meanings for specific flowers. That way you create your own special language in which to share your feelings for each other.

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