A hundred years ago flowers had a special power. They could convey secret messages through various floral arrangements. I’m not kidding – the Victorian era was peculiar about a lot of things, and the symbolic meaning of different types of flowers was one of the most interesting developments from the period.
Haven’t you ever wondered if there is something extra special in the single red rose? Is it just romantic or is your boyfriend just too cheap to afford a full dozen? If you were alive at the turn of the century (or a little before or after), you’d already know that the red rose is a symbol of passionate love. The more passionate you are, the more roses you get.
I should add the Victorians were extremely strict about their virtue and morals. A bare ankle was hot stuff and could get a girl in serious trouble if she were reported to have raised her floor length skirts a bit too high. Imagine the trouble a girl your age would be in if some boy started buying her “passionate love” flowers. Oh my!
The most popular flower has many meanings. Like I said before, the red rose is passionate love
. The white rose on the other hand is purity, perhaps why it is used at so many weddings. A pink rose is friendship, and a yellow rose means you are zealous or excited. A rose that is both red and white is a symbol of unity – I wonder why we don’t see more of these at weddings.
Just to give you an idea of how the covert Victorian flower language worked, you and a boy you didn’t really like might be walking in a rose garden with a suitable chaperone about ten feet behind you. You can only talk about the weather and how beautiful the flowers are because you’d be in major trouble if you started talking about emotions or making plans with the guy.
So to tell you how he feels, your boy picks you a single red rose and makes a remark on its beauty. You thank him and keep walking while you think about how to respond. Then you see it – you grab him a pink rose from a nearby bush. He might be passionate about you, but you’ve told him in no uncertain terms that you’re just friends. Isn’t that so much easier than the notes and friendly phone calls we make today?
Carnations have different meanings based on different colors as well. Pink carnations show gratitude, red carnations are flashy. Striped carnations are a sign of refusal (perfect for the boy situation above), and white are remembrance. White carnations are one of the most popular funeral flowers to this day. Finally, yellow carnations are cheerful.
Another fun flower, especially this time of year, the tulip has a few sorted meanings of its own. Pink tulips are to show caring. Purple tulips are a sign of royalty. Red tulips are a declaring of love (move over roses!). White tulips are a show of forgiveness, and yellow tulips are a sign of being hopelessly in love. (Awwwww….)
Other Flower Messages
Almost every flower of the day had some message attached to it, but here are some of my other personal favorites.
• A yellow chrysanthemum means you have secret admirer.
• Black-eyed Susans are form of encouragement.
• Hibiscus and Orchids show delicate beauty.
• Holly is domestic comfort.
• Ivy is fidelity (another wedding favorite to this day.)
• Lavender is distrust.
• Lilac is first love.
• Orange blossoms are fertility (yet another wedding favorite of old.)
• Rhododendrons tell you to beware.
Flowers would be sent from one person to another sometimes with a note and sometimes without. The flowers would often tell a different story than the note or they might say everything that needs to be said clearly enough on their own. Girls of the day would also wear flowers pinned in their hair or to their dresses and these flowers as well told a tale at parties and social gatherings. I’d love to see the girl brave enough to wear a red carnation...