The Language of Flowers


The gifting of plants and flowers to represent love, honor celebrations, and soothe those in mourning has its roots in ancient traditions. In Victorian times, when public display of affection was frowned upon, suitors would send specific messages of their “blooming” love in the form of flowers. (See for an interesting description of the meaning of the various colors, mixtures and quantities relating to the gift of roses.)  It is thought the Victorian practice of using flowers to speak that which should not be spoken, actually derived from the “language of flowers” originating in 15th century Persia. This floral language was so refined during this time that flower arrangements were routinely dispatched as secret military messages to allies and unsuspecting enemies throughout the Middle East. With regard to the practice of funeral flowers, archaeologists have uncovered flower petals and garlands in tombs of many ancient burial sites, including the tomb of the Egyptian king, Tutankhamun. It is thought by some that the ancient ritual of presenting flowers at death was in part to assist with alleviating the odor of the dead. The practice may have also been done to provide the soul of the departed an offering to take with them into the afterlife. Then, there was the thought that blooming flowers signified renewal, thus by sending flowers to the bereaved you were honoring the re-birth of their departed loved one.

Jumping to present times and continuing to speak of funeral flowers, I typically opt to send a potted plant combined with a few mixed blooms to those in mourning. In my mind, this practice ensures the family has a living memorial to their loved one once the initial flowers have faded. However, when a loved one lost is very near and dear, you may find you have intense emotions when selecting flowers for their services (indeed the “language of flowers” kicks in and runs deep in times of great love and great loss.) As in the case of a dear nephew I lost far too young a couple of years ago, I opted for a spray of “white as snow” roses. Their meaning of purity and innocence and their symbolism of heaven was the perfect final earthly gift I could present to him.

In addition to honoring our departed, we often send flowers to friends, colleagues and relatives upon happy occasions – such as to rejoice in births, birthdays, anniversaries, promotions and retirements. You can certainly research the language of flowers and find the best flower for the exact occasion, including the very flower which represents a child’s particular birth month (see On the contrary, no matter the occasion, if you know a person’s favorite color or favorite flower, the arrangement will be greatly appreciated no matter its floral meaning. This is especially true when sending a Get Well bouquet.

Of course, we are often reminded of how red roses epitomize romantic love and, as such, we honor our sweethearts by presenting them with bouquets of these beautifully hued flowers. While other colors and combinations of colors of roses represent other sentiments, don’t fret if your sweetheart mistakenly sends you friendship roses on Valentine’s Day. I would venture to say that although 90% of the male population knows it is best to stick with red roses, most do not consider 15th century or Victorian floral symbolism when they spot a “bargain” mixed bouquet!  Keep in mind, though, there are geographical exceptions to some meanings of flowers. For example, in Texas, yellow roses also signify true love (versus friendship) and in fact, are my very favorite.

So – now that you know a little more about the language of flowers, I urge you to explore and research a bit further and buy yourself a meaningful bouquet now and then.  See There simply are times in our lives we may not have a sweetheart or a reason to buy for another and these circumstances shouldn’t prevent us from partaking in this ancient tradition for ourselves. Whether purchasing from the florist or taking cuttings from your own backyard, I encourage you to become fluent in the language of flowers – all the while keeping in mind that while ancient floral symbolism is quite fascinating and can certainly add meaning to a gift, every flower – whether sent or received, picked or still on vine, is truly a miracle to behold!

Until next time,

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