The Blossom of Your Love
We’re entering the flower giving (and receiving) season of Valentine’s Day. Have you ever wondered about the symbolic meanings of flowers and their colors? Most people know red roses are associated with love, but what of other blooms and other colors?
Throughout time and especially during the Victorian Era, flowers and flower color were given symbolic meanings. Instead of texting JKL, Victorians often used flowers and small bouquets called tussie-mussies to let family, friends and lovers know their feelings. Called floriography, the language of flowers is all about choosing the right blossom and color of blossom to send a message.
Many flowers and their colors are associated with different aspects of love. Purple lilacs denote the first emotions of love, red tulips are a declaration of love, and magenta zinnias signify lasting affection. The powerhouse of love messages is the rose and its many colors: red for true love, blue for love at first sight and for attaining the impossible, yellow for friendship or for a broken heart, light pink for passion, coral or orange for fascination and excitement. Combinations of rose colors have meanings too. Red and white roses denote unity; red and yellow signify joy, happiness and excitement.
Another heavy hitter in the flower language of love is the tulip. Red declares undying love. Purple whispers forever love. Blue assures faithfulness. White acknowledges one-sided love and yellow hopeless love.
But what of other emotions or thoughts you’d like to wordlessly convey? Yellow tulips say “There’s sunshine in your smile.” Snapdragons are associated with strength and graciousness. Snowdrops send consolation or hope. Sweet peas announce “You have my thanks.” Cinquefoil says beloved child and ox-eye daisies convey patience.
The Victorians didn’t just tussie-mussie with the showy blooms from their cottage gardens. They concocted meanings for many plants. Want to tell someone you’re disgusted? Send a mushroom wrapped in lace and tied with a ribbon. Want to wish someone wealth and prosperity? A not-so-delicate wheat bouquet will do. Think your beau’s been stepping out? Mint portrays suspicion. Need to tell someone you’re sad? Include dead leaves in the floral arrangement. Are you too shy to admit your desire for someone? Send them dill (lust) along with red carnations (my heart aches for you) and Johnny jump- ups (you occupy my thoughts).
Through history flowers have also been associated with certain people. Josephine Bonaparte, wife and love of Napoleon Bonaparte, wore violet scented perfume and surrounded herself with violets. When Napoleon was exiled, his supporters wore violets in their button-holes as a declaration for him. When Josephine died in 1814, her grave was planted with violets. At the time of her death, Napoleon was in exile on Elba. When he could, he visited her grave, gathered violets which he put in a locket and wore until his death.
Violets are a fascinating flower. The scent contains ionone, a chemical that “short circuits” our sense of smell. At first sniff, you get a blast of violet scent, and then you get nothing as the chemical temporarily shuts down your olfactory ability. A few minutes later, when you sniff the violet again, you’ll get another blast of scent, and then nothing. The on-again, off-again nature of violet fragrance definitely can be analogous to certain tumultuous love affairs!
Different cultures have their own flower language. For example, the cherry blossom can mean the transience of life in Japan and feminine beauty in China. The language of flowers, like all languages, changes through time and use. While it’s fun to contemplate sending a secret message with flowers, for anyone receiving a bouquet or a single bloom today the thought conveyed will surely be, “Someone cares!”