Blooming into Spring: The Language of Flowers


“Langage des Fleurs” by Alphonse Mucha (1900). Taken from Wikipedia.

Ever thought of sending your enemy flowers to “beware”, or declaring your love with a chrysanthemum? Maybe assembling a bouquet of sweet-scented foliage for your friend as a gift for their friendship? Or buy some parsley for much-needed festivities?

Photo from here.

The Victorians were very fond of assembling flower bouquets and sending each other messages with them, often anything from love and friendship to hatred and death-threats (they were a very dark, Gothic sort). The art of floriography, the official name for the fad of ‘hidden messages’ in flora, became popular with the Victorians as a way to express emotions and feelings that could not be expressed (they could’ve just given each other chocolates or something, but where’s the fun in that?). Previously, floriography was practiced in hundreds of cultures ranging over Asia and Europe, most famously seen in Shakespeare, ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese and Egyptian mythology, before the Victorians developed a mania for it. Throughout the years, the meanings of various flowers has interchanged, depending upon its colors, season, or the scenario.

With the arrival of spring several weeks ago, I’ve taken it upon myself to give you a quick intro to the language of flowers in terms of the most recent florescence: the spring-bloomers.

First on the list are pansies, one of the most well-known flowers. A very circular-looking flower, pansies give the appearance as if they’d just been drenched in different colors by kindergartners. Spring pansies are often purple, yellow, orange, gold, red, blue, and practically any other shade on the color spectrum. According to the Victorians, pansies symbolized thoughts. I guess you could say there wasn’t too much thought put it into it (I’ll stop).

On to the next blossom: daffodils! Known for their bright yellow hues (and sometimes white and pink), daffodils were said to symbolize regard and “unequaled” love. Daffodils have cute little thimble faces in the center of its petals that look like they could be a dress or skirt for an even cuter little fairy or whatever Thumbelina was.

Photo from here.

Hyacinth’s were popular with the Ancient Greeks, mostly because of the myth of Apollo, Zephyros, and Hyacinthus. Apollo, the God of Archery, Music, and like a million other things, and Zephyros, God of the West Wind, had both fallen in love with the young mortal Hyacinthus. You can probably tell where this is going. Zephyros became jealous when Hyacinthus chose Apollo and when the two lovers were playing discus (aka, danger frisbee), Zephyros sent a strong wind that threw Apollo’s aim off and sent the discus straight into poor Hyacinthus. Shockingly, he died. Apollo turned him into a hyacinth, which have ever since represented the following: sport, game, play, sorrow, jealously, rashness, and sincerity.

Not all flowers have such tragic backstories like hyacinths. Some actually have quite terrifying symbolism, such as the rhododendron (try saying that five times fast), which conveys the feeling of “danger” and, even more off-putting, “beware”.

Because spring is known as the time of rebirth and new beginnings, many spring flowers do represent, well, rebirth and new beginnings. Winter aconite symbolizes hope, rebirth, and new beginnings, the crocus divulges feelings of rebirth, joy, and romantic devotion, the pasque flower implies rebirth, dignity, nobility, and grace, while the delicate lily of the valley epitomizes sentiments of rebirth, humility, chastity, purity, sweetness, motherhood, luck, and return of happiness.

This is why every Victorian family had a flower dictionary at home. How else were you going to decode whether the yellow flower on the windowsill sent anonymously was a declaration of love or a “beware”?

Because there are like, a million more spring flowers and a million more definitions, here are several rather lovely ones that caught my eye:

Primrose: youth and everlasting existence

Forsythia: spring sun and anticipation

Tulip: passion, declaration of love (red), “sunshine in your smile”(yellow)

Viola: innocence, modesty, decent

Lilac: joy of youth

Snowdrop: innocence, purity, hope

Scilla: loyalty, fidelity, constancy

The art of floriography is quite an alluring passion to enjoy and relish in and should definitely be brought back as a fad (although not as erratically as the Victorians did). Doesn’t sending your friend a rhododendron as a joke to freak them out sound like fun? Don’t forget Knights, to strive for the impossible, and appreciate the eloquent passion of the flower language.