Though especially popular in the Victorian era, the practise of ascribing meanings to flowers, or plants in general, was hardly new then. People have been doing it for a very long time, for all kinds of reasons.
The Language of the Flowers, however, as I refer to it here, is one of the most structured, and also best-recorded, forms, and it is the one that an individual in the Victorian era would have learned and drawn from to send their messages.
As a reader (and a writer) I find that the Language of the Flowers can not only be fascinating but fit surprisingly well into a number of worlds, even if you do not write historical fiction.
It lends itself well to fantasy, for one (and allow me to cough meaningfully in reference to steampunk . . . here) but can be adapted well for a wide range of settings.
I’ve even seen it used well in contemporary works, or even futuristic settings – and it really doesn’t lose much if a meaningful gift of flowers is accompanied by an explanation of its message, or a clue to look for meanings, in most cases.
These meanings can be much more complicated or layered than one might immediately expect – and there are a surprisingly wide range. You can say almost anything through the Language of the Flowers, through long lists of both strict meanings and more malleable ones, and through combining plants.
The meanings also changed over the years, even while the Language of the Flowers was more well-known, but I’ve done my best to sort through and find the most used meanings for each flower or plant I will feature.
Some examples, both well-known and oddities:
Asphodel, in a similar vein to the Ancient Greek views on it, means regrets beyond the grave, or ‘my regrets follow you to the tomb’.
Orange Lilies are a gift which stand for hatred – a rather bold and vicious flower.
Lotus, when given as a whole plant, represents mystery. (There are different meanings for just the flower – eloquence – or lotus leaves – estranged love, or recantation.)
Tansy (also known as Golden Buttons) is rather aggressive, for such a small, cheerful yellow flower – ‘I declare war against you’.
Tulips – taken without specific colour meanings – stand for fame.
White Heather symbolises protection, and particularly is given as a promise of protection. It can also mean ‘your wishes will come true’.
Wood Sorrel – which grows wild all over the place here in Oklahoma, and is quite tasty, rather reminiscent of lemon – represents joy.
I will be sharing more on the Language of the Flowers in future posts, and I hope that this beautiful, subtle way of communicating interests others the way it always has me.