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  • Writer's pictureLucy Bentley

The Language of Flowers: The Hidden Meanings of Your Favourite Florals

For centuries we've used flowers as a romantic gesture, but did you know that these beautiful blooms have a secret voice of their own?

Floriography Fine Art Pint - a modern alternative to a traditional bouquet.

For thousands of years Floriography has been practiced all over the world throughout many cultures, becoming popular in Victorian Britain as many began to learn the hidden meanings behind their favourite flowers to send secret messages to their loves. The Victorians were bound to strict social conventions and etiquette, so would often use the language of flowers to communicate surreptitiously with their beloved. Each bloom symbolised a different meaning, so bouquets could be carefully crafted to convey a myriad of thoughts and emotions. For example, Lilac would symbolise First Love, Lily 'Purity' and the classic Red Rose 'True Love.'

A posy of forget-me-nots would often be given to a loved one who was leaving, symbolising 'I will miss you,' whereas a bunch of Periwinkle and Acacia would be used to represent a blossoming friendship. Daffodils would symbolise regard, and would often be given as a token of appreciation. These small bouquets were called 'tussie-mussies,' and, the receiver could choose to hold them in specific ways to show acknowledgement, acceptance and approval.

'Floral Emblems or a Guide to the Language of Flowers' by Henry Phillips. (Royal Collection Trust, 2023.)

In 1825, renowned British botanist Henry Phillips published one of the earliest recorded books on Floriography titled 'Floral Emblems, or a Guide to the Language of Flowers.' Phillips drew inspiration from floral symbolism in Shakespeare, classical literature and traditional French floriography to construct his own index of floral symbolism. Sometimes, the nature of the flower itself would be reflected in it's meaning; Daisies for Innocence, Honeysuckle for Sweetness, and perhaps most interestingly Mimosa for chastity - inspired by how the leaves of this plant will curl up when touched.

More writers followed suit, bringing a whole host of meanings to different flowers, taking into consideration not only the flowers themselves but also their colour. As a consequence, the meanings may vary depending on what text is referenced, and the same flower in different colours will hold different meanings. Colour in general can be used to express certain feelings, with red flowers traditionally being symbolic of passion and love, yellow denoting happiness and friendship and white showing purity and innocence.

'The Day Dream' - Dante Gabriel Rossetti. (Victoria and Albert Museum London, 2023.)

This floral symbolism was also commonplace in art, with many painters choosing to use flowers to denote the emotions of their subject, or to reflect the meaning of the piece. Many Pre-Raphaelite works in particular utilised this symbolism - from the floating deathly florals in Millais' Ophelia to Waterhouse's The Soul of the Rose. The Pre-Raphaelites often depicted scenes from literature, combine this with the importance of staying true to nature in their practice, it's perhaps no surprise that they would use such symbolism.

In Rossetti's 'The Day Dream,' Jane Morris is depicted against a back drop of sycamore with a single honeysuckle bloom in her hand. At the time of painting, Rossetti and Jane Morris were involved in a love affair - could this honeysuckle represent the sweetness of their love for one another?

Our Floriography Fine Art Print features enchanting blooms of Jasmine for sweet love, and Heliotrope for Devotion, whilst Fern denotes Magic and Fascination with Salvia symbolising Forever. The compostition is complete with a single rose - perhaps the most iconic symbol of True Love.

A Glossary of Flowers and Their Meanings:

Aster: Daintiness

Begonia: Beware

Belladonna: Silence

Bittersweet: Truth

Bluebell: Humility

Calla Lily: Female Beauty

Camellia: Longing for You

Carnation: Fascination

Clover: Think of Me

Columbine: Folly

Crocus: Cheerfulness

Gardenia: Secret Love

Hollyhock: Ambition

Iris: Faith and Trust

Ivy: Fidelity

Larkspur: Open Heart

Lily-Of-The-Valley: Sweetness

Magnolia: Nobility

Marigold: Grief, Jealousy

Mint: Virtue

Pansy: You Occupy my Thoughts

Peony: Bashfulness

Rose: I Love You

Sunflower: Adoration

Sweet William: Gallantry

Violet: Modesty

Visual Sources:

Royal Collection Trust, 2023. [Online] Floral Emblems or a Guide to the Language of Flowers by Henry Phillips. Available at:,Floral%20emblems%2C%20or%2C%20A%20Guide%20to%20the%20language%20of,flowers%20%2F%20by%20Henry%20Phillips%201831&text=This%20book%20by%20the%20gardening,English%20for%20the%20first%20time. [Accessed 01/02/23]

Victoria and Albert Museum London, 2023. [Online] 'The Day Dream' - Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Available at: [Accessed 01/02/23]

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