The secret language of flowers, also known as floriography, is the meaning or symbolism given to flowers and floral arrangements that is used to convey a hidden message.
Floriography became popular during the Victorian era as a way for people to communicate in a society whose etiquette was marked by restraint and which discouraged overt displays of emotion.
Victorians of all ages embraced the floriography trend with gusto and for a while deciphering the secret messages conveyed through floral displays, bouquets, corsages and flower arrangements was a popular hobby.
The Victorians gifted them as love tokens or warnings, wore them as fashion accessories in their hair, on their clothes or as corsages on their wrists.
In fact, the symbolism attributed to flowers in floriography comes from many sources and most endure to this day. In its most basic form the shape and colour of a flower lends itself to the interpretation or symbolism hidden within it.
Take for example, the rose. This popular flower is the recognised symbol of love in many cultures, no doubt due to its lush rich colour and perfume-like scent.
For the Victorians, however, the colour of the rose was key. A white rose symbolised purity, innocent love and respect making it the perfect flower to give on occasions such as weddings and christenings.
A blush pink rose was associated with the early days of a blossoming romance and was gifted to potential paramours while a deep red rose was associated with a relationship in the full thrust of passion.
A black rose, which at first glance might suggest negative connotations like death or fear, could also be interpreted as rebirth and new beginnings. Impossible to find in nature, it was also interpreted by the Victorians as rare and sent as a message of exclusivity in a relationship.
With so many meanings attached to just one flower it's small wonder that the rose was crowned the ‘queen of flowers’.
Many of the associations celebrated by the Victorians with the different colours of this elegant flower endure to this day.
Another example of a popular flower the Victorians used in their secret floral language is the Dahlia.
This full-headed bloom attracts positive symbolism whichever colour or variety, the most popular relating to finding inner strength and maintaining grace under pressure.
No doubt this is influenced by the plant’s own endurance in different climates and the long flowering time that makes it such a popular plant in the garden and has earned it the title of ‘the queen of the autumn garden’.
The distinctive petals also lend themselves to the meaning of standing out from the crown, and it’s easy to see why with its full-bodied crown of multiple petals.
Another iconic flower is the sunflower. Epitomised in oil by the artist Vincent Van Gogh this larger than life blossom with a flower head that resembles the sun is most associated with vitality, life and happiness.
This, however, wasn’t always the case. The ancient Incas believed the sunflower symbolised the sun god Inti and they adorned their temples with sunflowers rendered in solid gold.
When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the Americas they were suitably impressed by such a show of wealth and upon seeing a field of blooming sunflowers they believed they had found a veritable field of gold.
Thus this led to the association of the sunflower with false riches. Negative associations aside, we can all agree that nothing says summer like a bunch of majestic sunflowers!
As with all fashionable trends floriography eventually fell out of favour with the Victorians however the eternal language of flowers endures.
We still use flowers to connect with an emotion. Whether it’s a tulip for unconditional love, an edelweiss for devotion, a daisy for childhood innocence, a lily for purity or a poppy for remembrance the powerful language of flowers still allows us to share our heartfelt emotions and deepest feelings in the most elegant and refined manner.
The Victorians would be proud!