We buy flowers for people for so many reasons. Sometimes it’s to say “I’m sorry”, other times “Get well soon” or “I love you”. Sometimes, we send people flowers just to say “I’m thinking of you”.
Did you know, though, that each type of flower, and even the color of those flowers, holds a deeper meaning?
Some represent love, hope, healing, or good luck. Others, however, can represent loss, jealousy, indifference or disdain. Understanding what different flower types mean will change how you put together a bouquet for a special occasion, which flowers you send to a loved one or plant in your front garden. (1)
The History of Flower Meanings
Poems, plays, folktales, and myths from the ancient Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and Chinese all contain plant and flower symbolism. This can even be found in many of the works by famous English playwright William Shakespeare. Nearly every feeling, emotion, and sentiment can be expressed using flowers, so poets, profits, and writers have used this to their advantage for centuries. (1)
The Victorian Era
Learning and utilizing flower meanings was hugely popular during this time period. Nearly every household had a guidebook on hand for reference. People used the giving and receiving of specific flowers and herbs to have dialogue that they couldn’t necessarily have out loud.
For yes/no questions, flowers were given in either the right hand for “yes” and the left hand for “no”. (1)
A rose can symbolize devotion or an apple blossom for preference, however, a yellow carnation can be given in return to show disdain. (1)
If flowers were handed to someone upside down, the opposite meaning is implied. If the ribbon keeping the bouquet together is tied to the left, the meaning of the flowers applies to the giver. If tied to the right, the intent is for the receiver. (1)
Meanings of Flower Colours
As already mentioned, some flowers’ meanings change based on what color they are. Roses, poppies, lilies, and carnations can all express a variety of feelings and emotions depending on their color.
For example, carnations (Victorian era meanings) (1):
- Pink: I’ll never forget you.
- Red: My heart aches for you.
- Purple: Erratic or unpredictable.
- White: Sweet and lovely.
- Yellow: Romantic rejection.
Roses unsurprisingly also have several meanings associated with their color (1):
- White: purity, innocence, reverence, new beginnings
- Red: Love/I love you
- Deep crimson: Mourning
- Pink: Gentleness, happiness, grace
- Yellow: Jealousy, infidelity
- Orange: Desire, enthusiasm
- Lavender: Love at first sight
- Coral: Modesty, sympathy, friendship
For a comprehensive list of Victorian-era flower meanings, go here.
Culture and Change
Meanings of flowers and the traditions that surround them have certainly changed over time, and can often be quite dependent on culture. In some cultures, colors have powerful meanings, but can be quite different from place to place. For example in China, red symbolizes good fortune (2). In India, it means purity, prosperity, and fertility. (3)
So when you are giving flowers as a gift, make sure you understand what those flowers could mean to the person you are giving them to.
The bottom line? Chances are most people are no longer aware of flower meanings beyond red roses are a symbol of love, however knowing some of the meanings can help you to appear more thoughtful or romantic. For example, if your friend is sick in the hospital, you can send them a bouquet of geranium for true friendship, goldenrod for good luck, and sweet basil for good wishes. In the accompanying card, you can explain why you chose each flower. This shows you put more thought and care into the bouquet besides just purchasing pretty flowers.
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