Flower Meanings and Symbolism

The question that interests me is not only the meaning of flowers and where they originate from, but also do individuals buy flowers for this hidden symbolism or is it down to other reasons, i.e. colour perception?

We certainly know that especially at Valentine’s Day, that red roses act as a symbol of love. Over the years, this tradition has been exploited by retail and advertising companies to the extent that have we lost the true meaning of why red roses are given to our partners and wives in the first place?

Using flowers symbolically dates back to the before the nineteenth century, but it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that floriography was formalised. In 1809, Joseph Hammer-Purgstall published ‘Dictionnaire du language des fleurs,’ the first published list on the Language of Flowers.

Though floriography was popularised in Europe, it was inspired by the women of the Ottoman Empire who used flowers to convey messages that could not be said through words. In fact, the Greek Armenian women helped Hammer-Purgstall to understand the language of flowers and translate the traditional Turkish sayings in French.

From there, flower symbolism blossomed in 1819 when Louise Cortambert, writing under the pen name ‘Madame Charlotte de la Tour’ wrote the ‘Le Langage des Fleurs’ a dictionary on the Language of Flowers. The rise of Flower Symbolism at this time can be understood, it was the height of the Romantic Era where nature was seen as beauty and individuals were heavily influenced by their emotions.

One of the most familiar of the language of flower books is Routledge’s edition illustrated by Kate GreenawayThe Language of Flowers. First published in 1884, it continues to be reprinted to this day.

The significance assigned to the specific flowers in Western cultures vary, nearly every flower has multiple associations and are listed in hundreds of floral dictionaries, but saying this a consensus for meaning of common blooms has emerged. For example, the rose. Deep red roses and its thorns have been used to symbolise both the blood of Christ and the intensity of romantic love. Pink roses are seen to imply a lesser affection, white virtue and chastity, and yellow signifies friendship and devotion.

Let’s be honest, I would like to assume that my partner buys me flowers with symbolism involved every time but it can’t always be achieved. If you are buying a present with thought and you have time to consider how you would like to express your emotions and feelings, the language of flowers is a great way to do so. But, passing by a shop and picking up some flowers to decorate your home and make someone smile after a dreary day may have no link to flower symbolism and just down to the preferred colour, shape and scent.

Do you know any other flower meanings, other than roses? Take a look below to see an overview of other flower meanings.


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