Floriography, or the language of flowers, stems from the coded messages of the Victorian era that facilitated the exchange of feelings among the simply unpoetic or those who were forbidden to verbally communicate their passions.

Traditionally, different flowers have represented particular sentiments. These are some of a wide variety of interpretations.

  • Floriography has roots in Persia and Turkey. In the 1600s, Turks used a simple "language" in which flowers replaced words. Floral arrangements were used to convey a variety of messages.

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    Lilies have been a significant floral symbol for centuries, appearing as a spiritual and philosophical metaphor in mythology and folklore from Egypt to Greece. 

  • Roses are probably the flower most imbued with meaning--and that meaning is, of course, love. Cleopatra's first romantic encounter with Antony took place atop a one-inch carpet of roses. In ancient Greece, altars were adorned with roses and offered to the gods. In the name of a good party, the Romans sprinkled dinner guests with rose water, rubbed their bodies with rose oil, and covered floors with rose petals.

  • The Greeks were among the first to use flowers in weddings, representing a gift from nature to the bride, groom, and their families. Bridesmaids were in charge of the flower bouquets and garlands and often made poesies (small nosegays) for each guest as a symbol of thanks.

  • While living in Paris in 1818, Charlotte de la Tour wrote the first flower dictionary, Le Language des Fleurs. Inspired by this popular tome, Miss Corruthers of Inverness later wrote the book The Language of Flowers, and the subject blossomed. Many other reference books were written, which sometimes caused more confusion than guidance. Depending on the writers' interpretations, the meanings behind certain flowers could vary considerably. The hydrangea, for example, could refer to either the recipient's insensitivity or an appreciation for their forgiveness, so it was important that everyone was on the same page!

    What do these flowers mean?
    Jonquil = Your affections are returned.
    Carnation = You're fascinating. I love you.
    Peony = I'm shy, but I like you a lot.
    Ivy = Marriage and fidelity are recognized.
    Sweet pea = You give me lasting pleasure.
    Red rose = I love you.
    Iris = Thank you,or Sending sympathy.
    Lily = You're a good friend.
    Sunflower = Congratulations, or Thank you for everything.
    Gerbera daisy = Cheer up, or Thank you.
    Tulip = Happy housewarming, or You're a great host.

  • Mistletoe plays a prominent role in Norse mythology. One legend involves the death of Baldur, son of Odin and Frigga, at the hands of the wicked Loki, who used a bow made of mistletoe. When Baldur is restored to life, Frigga is so grateful that she reconsiders the offending plant, making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passed under it.

  • The marigold is featured in German legend inherited from Greece. It tells of a maiden, Caltha (from the Greek kalathos, or "cup"), who became obsessed with the sun god. She dedicated her life to seeing him, staying awake all night in order to be the first to glimpse his morning rays. In her devotion, she starved herself, and her spirit dissolved in the sun's light. The first marigold grew where she had stood for so long, representing a cup filled with the sun's rays.

  • Poppies have long symbolized a sense of calm restfulness. In Roman mythology, the flower is associted with Somnus, the god of sleep. To the Greeks, the beautiful red poppy represented Hymnus, the god of rest and oblivion.
This article was adapted from "The Book of Incredible Information," published by West Side Publishing, a division of Publications International, Ltd.