can we speak in flowers? it will be easier for me to understand. -author unknown


what is your favorite flower?

do you know what it’s saying?



The symbolic language of flowers has been recognized for centuries in many countries throughout Europe and Asia. They even play a large role in William Shakespeare’s works. Mythologies, folklore, sonnets, and plays of the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Chinese are peppered with flower and plant symbolism—and for good reason. Nearly every sentiment imaginable can be expressed with flowers. The orange blossom, for instance, means chastity, purity, and loveliness, while the red chrysanthemum means “I love you.”


Learning the special symbolism of flowers became a popular pastime during the 1800s. Nearly all Victorian homes had, alongside the Bible, guidebooks for deciphering the “language,” although definitions shifted depending on the source.

In the Victorian era, flowers were primarily used to deliver messages that couldn’t be spoken aloud. In a sort of silent dialogue, flowers could be used to answer “yes” or “no” questions. A “yes” answer came in the form of flowers handed over with the right hand; if the left hand was used, the answer was “no.”

Plants could also express aversive feelings, such as the “conceit” of pomegranate or the “bitterness” of  aloe. Similarly, if given a rose declaring “devotion” or an apple blossom showing “preference,” one might return to the suitor a yellow carnation to express “disdain.”

How flowers were presented and in what condition were important. If the flowers were given upside down, then the idea being conveyed was the opposite of what was traditionally meant. How the ribbon was tied said something, too: Tied to the left, the flowers’ symbolism applied to the giver, whereas tied to the right, the sentiment was in reference to the recipient. And, of course, a wilted bouquet delivered an obvious message!

More examples of plants and their associated human qualities during the Victorian era include bluebells and kindness, peonies and bashfulness, rosemary and remembrance, and tulips and passion. The meanings and traditions associated with flowers have certainly changed over time, and different cultures assign varying ideas to the same species, but the fascination with “perfumed words” persists just the same.

There is a language, little known,
Lovers claim it as their own.
Its symbols smile upon the land,
Wrought by nature’s wondrous hand;
And in their silent beauty speak,
Of life and joy, to those who seek
For Love Divine and sunny hours
In the language of the flowers.

–The Language of Flowers, London, 1875


text credits: Old Farmer’s Almanac, Catherine Boeckmann

art credit: Illustrated postcard. Printed in England/The Regent Publishing Co Ltd.-Dumbarton Oaks Archives

77 responses »

  1. Flowers can tell us so much. We only need to look at them, how they are composed, where and how they grow, how they look like. And they can tell us quite a lot about ourselves. We only need to check what flowers are growing around us. They might have those healing forces we need.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Right now the backyard garden is full of flowers. Black-eyed Susans are bright and tall. Love how they bring brilliant yellow color to the garden. We still have a few lilies that add a little orange and hydrangeas big and puffy. Mt. wife’s favorite is peonies, but my favorite depends on the season in bloom. I just enjoy the color flowers bring to the back yard. Stay well and safe. Peace.

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  3. Thank you for this post.

    From now on when I give flowers as a gift, I am going to write a little disclaimer clause on the card. Who knows what titillating messages I might be sending.

    From now on when I receive flowers as a gift, I am going to write a little disclaimer clause on my thank you reply. Who knows what titillating messages I might be accepting.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is fascinating! There’s much I didn’t know, such as delivering with the right hand or left hand. Of course parents named their children after flowers. My grandmother (1880’s) was Rose.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. How beautiful, Beth! I hadn’t heard about flower language before! I will never look at my favorite (Hyacinthe) flower in the same way again (or any other flower for that matter)! I love this! Thank you! Cher xoxoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: can we speak in flowers? it will be easier for me to understand. -author unknown – Nelsapy

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