There was a time when a flower leaning to the right instead of the left communicated whether you were about to get into a hot and heavy romance or lose your best friend.
The Victorians, with their frequently repressive rules around proper conduct, used floriography to say everything they couldn’t say out loud. What’s more, their use of flower meanings could turn even the least romantic person into a great poet.
They let flowers do the speaking for them. Bouquets that spoke for you and made you look super creative? Imagine the possibilities!
Yeah, the language of flowers was a major craze during the latter part of the 18th and most of the 19th centuries. We don’t know for certain why it fell out of favor, but with nuances like the difference between a left or right tilt, it’s easy to understand what might have happened.
Misunderstandings no doubt abounded. If a recipient didn’t know the name a flower, or if the colloquial name common to their region was different from the one the giver intended, she might read, “Touch me not” where “I have loved you and you have not known it” was intended. To a culture so used to keeping their thoughts under wrap, imagine the devastation!
Many resources (frequently out of print books) have different definitions for the same flower. The Bloom Equation’s database is the most COMPREHENSIVE language of flowers resources in existence! Unlike flower dictionaries of old, it lists every meaning indiscriminately and assigns each meaning a number.
Four years after she began gathering the meanings, there is still a lot to add. But where did these meanings come from?
Flower meanings were derived in a lot of different ways: scent, myths, legends, native habitat, their practical use, traits reminiscent of humans, medicinal purpose and writers’ use of them as metaphors in the visual and literary arts. For instance, the flora we call Broom was often used to sweep, and it’s meaning came to be “humility.” Another good example is the flower Narcissus, which means “egotism” and clearly took its meaning from the myth about the being by the same name.
As a writer, I’m especially interested in artist’s use of the language. I want to know what the Elizabethans’ knew when they saw the drowned Ophelia’s garland of daisies and nettles. Shakespeare apparently used more than 200 plants and flowers in his sonnets for their meanings according the language of flowers.
More recently, J.K. Rowling used it to express something buried deep beneath the surface when she had Snape ask, “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?” Curious?
Flowers as purveyors of hidden messages? Yes, please. The lost language of flowers is on its way back. I suddenly feel like a kid playing with decoder cards and disappearing ink again… and I'’m so game.