“Not gold, not blood, the altar dowers,
But votive blooms and symbol flowers.”
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
Symbolism in flowers has been around for ages dating as far back as Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology. This secret language evolved into a more formal assignment of meanings for plants and flora in the Victorian age. In 1887, John Henry Ingram was the first to document a holistic picture of these meanings in his book ‘The Language of Flowers’.
He begins by noting that the language of flowers is almost as ancient and universal a one as that of speech. The Greeks, he noted, may be accounted as the earliest floriagraphists by not only having a true love and passion for flowers, but also by integrating them into every interesting occurrence and activity whether they be public or private.
One of the best examples of symbolism in flowers can be seen in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where Ophelia’s coronal wreath foreshadows that she will fall victim to love’s cruelty. The garland is composed of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples. Quite literally, this translates to the sentiment “A fair maiden, stung too quick; her youthful bloom under the cold hand of death.”
It was the Victorians who took these meaning to the next level with the practice of giving and wearing tussie mussies – a small hand bouquet comprised of flowers and herbs with special meanings. These small bouquets were either carried by hand or attached to one’s clothing to not only express their sentiments, but to mask the not so pleasant odors that came along with infrequent bathing.
The rose has been revered as an emblem for love and beauty by poets from as far back as ancient Greece. What’s interesting about this lovely flower is that its meaning can differ drastically depending on its color or age. A white rose, is a symbol of silence and innocence, often carried by younger maids. A yellow rose, which in modern days is typical of ‘friendship’ has historically symbolized infidelity; so this should be given to a secret lover or even apologetically to one who has been betrayed. A rose bud or spray rose should be given by someone confessing their love for the first time since the romance just beginning to open. In the spirit of St. Valentine, let us celebrate the red rose, which symbolizes all that is beautiful and represents the passion and love felt by its giver.
In the pageant of flowers, jasmine would be crowned Miss Congeniality as it is emblematic of amiability and the sweets of friendship. It’s the perfect flower to tell your anyone that they are just super friendly and pleasant to be around! They’ll be even more pleasant to be around with jasmine in tow as it is one of the most luxuriously fragrant blooms in the bunch.
Geranium has one of the most diverse meanings of the bunch depending on its color. Scarlet geraniums are perfect to give to your friend whom you share the most inside-jokes with as they traditionally mean stupidity or folly. White geraniums on the other hand symbolize refinement and elegance, a sentiment more appropriate for a bouquet given to the matriarch of the family.
White in color and sweet smelling is the gardenia. This is one of the most sultry flowers in the bunch as it represents a secret love shared for the receiver. For all you secret admirers out there, the gardenia is definitely for you.
White lilies were first depicted in early Christian art as symbols to represent the virgin Mary’s purity and innocence. This meaning still holds true today and they are the perfect flower to show that underneath it all, maybe you are just a delicate and innocent flower.
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