The Language and Meaning of Floral Arrangement

Kelly Dunning
The Language & Meaning of Floral Arrangement

When most people think of floral arrangements they consider them simply as decoration – something beautiful to give as a gift, use as a table centrepiece or decorate a wedding. However, in time gone by flowers had a lot more meaning.

In the Victorian era, for example, each flower represented something specific and certain flowers could be combined to send messages of affection, interest and love. Sometimes the same flower could even have many different meanings, depending on how it was delivered or arranged. This created a secret code language of flowers that people could use to give messages that they wouldn’t dare speak out loud.

Let the Flowers do the Talking

Flowers have been used to convey messages for a long time before than in the Middle East and Persia, but it was during the Victorian Era when ‘flower dictionaries’ began to be published which explained the meaning behind every plant.

For example, a white chrysanthemum represents truth and a red one symbolizes love. If the two colours are mixed together in a bouquet it will symbolise a message of true love. A spider flower is a request to elope. A bluebell is a symbol of gratitude and a cattail is used to wish someone peace and prosperity. A striped carnation means “I’m sorry, I wish I could be with you but I can’t.” It is important to be aware of the subtle differences in the flowers – for example a red rose means “I love you” but if the shade of red is too dark it will imply shame.

Flowers can also have negative meanings as well, such as the orange lily which symbolises hatred. Adding nuts to a bouquet symbolises stupidity and the amaranthus flower represents desertion. If you give someone monkshood it is a warning that a deadly foe is near.

Some of the meanings are based on the physical characteristics of the plant itself. For example, mimosa plant represents chastity because its leaves close up at night or when they are touched.

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The Language & Meaning of Floral Arrangement

Why so Secretive?

Why did the Victorians need to send specially coded messages in flowers, when they could just talk to each other or write letters instead? The answer is because many topics were taboo in prim and proper Victorian society and it was considered very impolite to flirt or ask openly about relationships. The floral arrangements were a way of courting someone in a secretive and discreet way. In this time when polite etiquette restricted conversation, flowers were able to say what people could not.

Many painters would also use floral language in their paintings. Every flower added to a still life or a portrait would give the viewer a deeper insight into the meaning of the artwork.

Although we don’t use flower arrangement as a way of sending complex messages anymore, it is still a prized art in our society. Incredibly talented master florists offer courses and workshops and are dedicated to creating absolutely gorgeous bouquets – whether for entertaining, weddings, the home or any other situations.