The Language of Flowers

The Language of the Flowers

“The Language of the Flowers”
Source: Flutterby Patch

During the Victorian era, people often gave each other flowers and used the “language of flowers” (sometimes called floriography) to express feelings that, because of the propriety of the times, could not be spoken. The flowers said it all. Each flower, herb, and vine had a special meaning, and it was important to carefully choose those that best conveyed just the right sentiments.

tussie mussie by fullcircleflowers.comSmall bouquets of tightly gathered flowers and plants, called Tussie Mussies, were common. These “talking bouquets,” designed to carry specific personal messages, were often given by gentlemen suitors of the era to the young women they were courting.

Books on the language of flowers, listing flowers in alphabetical order alongside their illustrations and meanings, were popular and helped to identify the hidden messages to be found in floral gifts. By the end of the Victorian era, greetings cards were also widely available, depicting an appropriate flower for each occasion.

Today, though we still “say it with flowers,” we no longer personally selected flowers based on their meanings. Instead, we choose flowers by color or preference and rely on the expertise of professional florists to create a perfect bouquet or floral arrangement.


"The Language of the Flowers" illustrated by Kate Greenaway

click to enlarge

AmaryllisPride; timidity; splendid beauty
Anemone (garden) – Forsaken
Anemone (zephyr flower) – Sickness; expectation
Apple BlossomPreference; fame speaks him great and good
AsterVariety; afterthought
Baby’s BreathEverlasting love
Bachelor’s Button/CornflowerCelibacy
Bell Flower (pyramidal) – Constancy
Bell Flower (small white) – Gratitude
ButtercupIngratitude; childishness
Camellia (pink) – Longing for you
Camellia (red) – Unpretending excellence
Camellia (white) – Perfected loveliness
Carnation (deep red) – My heart aches for you; pure love
Carnation (pink) – Woman’s love
Carnation (purple) – Capricious; whimsical; changeable
Carnation (striped) – Refusal
Carnation (white) – Sweet and lovely; pure love; innocence; endearment
Carnation (yellow) – Disappointment; rejection; disdain
Cherry BlossomKind and gentle; spirituality; beauty
Chrysanthemum (red) – I love
Chrysanthemum (yellow) – Slighted love
Chrysanthemum (white) – Truth
ClematisMental beauty
CrocusAbuse not
DaffodilRespect or regard
Daisy (garden) – I share your sentiments
Daisy (Michaelmas) – Farewell
Daisy (multi-color) – Beauty
DandelionRustic oracle
FernMagic; fascination
Forget-Me-NotTrue love; forget me not
Fuschia (scarlet) – Taste
GardeniaSecret love; you are lovely
Geranium (dark) – Melancholy
Geranium (ivy) – Bridal favor
Geranium (scarlet) – Contorting; stupidity
GladioliI am sincere
GoldenrodPrecaution; encouragement
Heather(lavender) – Admiration; solitude
Heather(white) – Protection; wishes will come true
HibiscusRare beauty; delicate beauty; gentle disposition
HollyDefense; domestic happiness
HoneysuckleGenerous and devoted affection; bonds of love
HyacinthSport; game; play
Hyacinth (blue) – Constancy
Hyacinth (purple) – I am sorry; please forgive me; sorrow
Hyacinth (pink or red) – Play
Hyacinth (white) – Unobtrusive loveliness
Hyacinth (yellow) – Jealousy
HydrangeaA boaster; heartlessness
IrisMessage; good news; glad tidings
IvyFidelity; marriage
JasmineAmiability; you are cheerful and graceful
JonquilLove me; return my affection
LarkspurLightness; levity
Larkspur (pink) – Fickleness
Larkspur (purple) – Haughtiness
LavenderDevotion; distrust; faithful
Lilac (field) – Humility
Lilac (purple) – First emotions of love
Lilac (white) – Youthful innocence
Lily (calla) – Magnificent beauty
Lily (day) – Coquetry
Lily (imperial) – Majesty
Lily (white) – Purity; sweetness
Lily (yellow) – Falsehood; gaiety
Lily of the ValleyReturn to happiness
Lotus FlowerEstranged love; far from the one he loves
MagnoliaLove of nature
MarigoldPain and grief
MistletoeI surmount difficulties
Morning GloryAffectation
NarcissusSelf-esteem; egotism
Orange BlossomYour purity equals your loveliness
OrchidA belle; beauty; luxury; refinement
PansyPleasant thoughts
PeonyShame; bashfulness
Periwinkle (blue) – Early friendship
Periwinkle (white) – Pleasures of memory
PetuniaResentment; anger; your presence soothes me
PoinsettiaBe of good cheer
Poppy (red) – Consolation
Poppy (white) – Sleep; my bane; my antidote
PrimroseEarly youth
Rose (bridal) – Happy love
Rose (burgundy) – Unconscious beauty
Rose (cabbage) – Ambassador of love
Rose (Christmas) – Tranquillize my anxiety
Rose (coral or orange) – Desire; passion
Rose (deep red) – Bashful shame
Rose (lavender or violet) – Love at first sight (lavender or violet)
Rose (light pink) – Joy of life; youth; energy; desire; passion
Rose (dark pink) – Gratitude
Rose (pink) – Perfect happiness; grace; trust; confidence
Rose (red-and-white) – Unity
Rose (single) – Simplicity
Rose (thornless) – Love at first sight
Rose (white) – I am worthy of you
Rose (yellow) – Dying love; platonic love; jealousy
RosebudsBeauty and youth; pure and lovely; girlhood
SunflowerHaughtiness; pure and lofty thoughts
Sweet PeaGood-bye; departure; delicate pleasures; thank you for a lovely time
Tulip Fame
Tulip (red) – Declaration of love
Tulip (variegated) – Beautiful eyes
Tulip (violet or blue) – Faithfulness
Tulip (white) – Modesty
Tulip (yellow) – Hopeless love; one-sided love
Verbena Cooperative
Violet (blue) – Faithfulness; I’ll always be true
Violet (white) – Modesty; innocence; let’s take a chance
Violet (yellow) – Rural happiness
Zinnia (mixed bouquet) – Thinking (or in memory) of an absent friend
Excerpted from The Language of Flowers. LONDON: GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS, 1884.
Complete book is viewable online at Gutenberg Project and The New York Public Library Internet Archive.