The language and meaning of flowers

Only sweet flowers can say what passion fears to reveal.

thomas hood Poem, The language of flowers

Flowers and bouquets have their own meaning. Most of us know that a dozen red roses mean “Be mine.” But did you know, for example, that a primrose means “I can’t live without you” or a purple hyacinth means “Please forgive me” or a pink carnation means “I’ll never forget you” or a gladiolus means “Give me a breath?”

Flower meanings have been used to convey ideas, feelings, and messages for centuries. The word, floriography, has been coined for assigning meaning to flowers. There is a meaning for the colors of the flowers, for the number of flowers and for the groups of flowers. It is a silent language that has been largely lost through lack of use.

In addition to the obvious choices of color and variety, the language of flowers also includes the way they are dressed or presented. Presenting the flowers in a vertical position conveys a positive meaning, but if they are presented upside down, the meaning is the opposite. If a ribbon is included with the flowers and tied on the left, then the meaning of the flowers refers to the giver, but if the ribbon is tied on the right, the meaning refers to the recipient. Also, flowers can be used to answer questions. When presented with the right hand, the answer is “yes”, but when presented with the left hand, the answer is “no”.


The Turks in the 17th century seemed to develop floral meanings. In 1718, the wife of the British ambassador in Constantinople, Lady Mary Wortley, wrote a letter in which she expounded on the “Secret Language of Flowers” that she had discovered during her visits to Turkey. Europe quickly caught on to the concept.

In 1819 Louise Cortambert, under the pseudonym Madame Charlotte de la Tour, wrote and published what appears to have been the first dictionary of floral language entitled, The language of flowers. It was a small book, but it became a popular reference on the subject.

During the Victorian era, the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901, the meaning and language of flowers became increasingly popular. Victorian women especially picked up the silent language that allowed them to communicate feelings and meanings that the strict decorum of the time did not allow. Tussie-mussies, a bouquet of flowers wrapped in a lace doily and tied with a satin ribbon, became a popular and valuable gift of the time.

In 1884 a complete book on the subject and entitled, The language of flowers, by Jean Marsh and illustrated by Kate Greenaway, was published in London. It became popular and respected and has been the standard source of Victorian flower meaning ever since.

Selected Flower Meanings

Here are some selected flowers and their meanings, a short dictionary.

Almond Blossoms — Hope

Anemone — Abandoned

Aster — Symbol of love

Balsam — Sympathy

Basil — Best wishes

Bay leaf — “Change but in death”

Bell flower, white — Gratitude

Bergamot — Irresistible

Bluebell – Constancy

Borage — Courage

Broom – Humility

Campanula – Gratitude

Carnation, rose, I will never forget you

Carnation, red – My poor heart aches for you

Striped carnation — Rejection

China rose–forever new beauty

Chrysanthemum — Love

Clover, four to the left — “Be mine”

Coreopsis — Love at first sight

Cuckoo Pint — Ardor

Daffodil — Gaze

Daisy — Innocence, newborn, “I share your sentiment”

Fennel — Flattery

Fern – Sincerity

Forget Me Not – True Love

Furze or Gorse – Lasting Affection

French Marigold — Jealousy

Gardenia — Ecstasy


Geranium — “You are childish”

Hare Bell – Complaint

Heartsease — “I’m always thinking of you”

Honeysuckle — Bonds of Love

Heather – Admiration

hyacinth – i’m sorry, please forgive me

Ice Plant — “Your appearance freezes me”

Ivy: fidelity, friendship, marriage.

Jasmine – Grace

Jonquil — “I hope they love me back”

Lavender — Luck, devotion

Lemon Balm – Sympathy

Lilac — first love

Lily — Purity, modesty

Lily of the valley — Purity, the return of happiness

Lily, Calla – Beauty

Calendula — Health, grievance or despair

Marjoram — Kindness, courtesy

Myrtle — Loyalty

Oregano – Joy

Orchid — Love, beauty, refinement

Pansy – Loving Thoughts

Periwinkle — Happy Memory

Phlox — Agreement

Poppy, red — Consuelo

Primrose – I can’t live without you

Rose, cabbage — Ambassador of love

Pink, Red–Love

Pink, pink — Grace, beauty

Pink, yellow — Friendship

Romero — Remembrance, constancy

Street — Contrition

Sage — Gratitude, domestic virtue

Snowdrop – Hope

Star of Bethlehem — Purity

Sweet Pea – Departure, fond memory

Sweet William – Gallantry

Tuberose – Voluptuousness

Tulip, red — My perfect lover, Claim of love

Purple: Loyalty, modesty, humility.

Violet, blue — Fidelity

Wormwood – Complaint

Wheat — Riches of the continuation of life

Willow, crying — Mourning

Wallflower – Fidelity

Yew – Sadness

The Rose

The Rose is the flower whose meaning we understand the most, but here are some details of the meaning of the Rose that may be of more interest.

Rose, Black – You are my obsession

Rosa, Champagne – You are tender and loving

Rose, Leonidas – Sweet Love

Rose, Nicole – You are graceful and elegant, aristocratic.

Pink, Orange – You are my secret love

Pink, Pink – bright complexion; the brightness of your smile; perfect happiness

Pink, Red – passionate love; love you

Rose, Single Stems – Simplicity

Rosa, Blanca – I am worthy of you; Spiritual love; Innocence and Purity; secrecy and silence

Pink, White and Red – We are inseparable

Pink, White and Mixed Red – Unit; flower emblem of england

Pink, White, Dry – Death is preferable to the loss of virtue

Pink, Yellow – Friendship; Jealousy; I am not worthy

Rose, Bridal – Happy Love

rose, dark crimson – mourning

Rose, Hibiscus – Delicate beauty

Rose, Tea – I will always remember

Rose, Thornless – Love at first sight

Roses, bouquet of ripe flowers – Gratitude

multiple roses

Single flower red rose – Love at first sight or I still love you

Single Rose, any color – Gratitude or simplicity

2 Roses – Mutual Feelings

3 roses – i love you

7 roses – i’m in love with you

9 roses – We will be together forever

10 roses – You are perfect

11 roses – You are my precious

12 roses – be mine

13 Roses – Friends forever

15 roses – I’m so sorry

20 roses – I am really sincere with you

21 Roses – I am dedicated to you

24 Roses – Always yours

25 Roses – Congratulations

50 Roses – Unconditional love

99 roses – I will love you every day of my life

108 roses – will you marry me?

999 Roses – I love you until the end of time

To do

With the above lists, you should be able to put together a meaningful gift of flowers or a bouquet that conveys a complex thought. Wrap the flowers appropriately and present them meaningfully. Then, to make sure your efforts aren’t misunderstood, include a card that fully explains the meaning of your flowers.

After a few flower introductions, you should be able to put down the explanatory notes and begin to enjoy and share the silent language of flowers.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *