Jan 8, 2008

Language of flowers-Florigraphy

My previous article on floral signs got me thinking about how often we use flowers and other plant parts to convey an emotion or feeling. An olive branch conveys peace and a rose means love/beauty. Furthermore, different colors of roses also signify different things. I decided to look into the history of flower language or florigraphy.

At present, we may occasionally know what a particular flower signifies but it was during the Victorian era that florigraphy was at its peak. Victorians used bouquets as letters. I found the book: Forget-me-not- A floral treasury- by Pamela Todd quite informative. Todd reveals that not only the chosen flowers but also their positioning and presentation in Victorian era conveyed a specific message. A rose bud without any thorns conveyed "There is everything to hope for", but one without any leaves said "There is everything to fear". The language of flowers used in this era was heavily influenced by a mixture of folklore, religion, literature, mythology and the plant characteristics. In addition to these influences, associations of flowers with various ancient symbols in different cultures such as Middle-Eastern, Japanese, Roman and Chinese, also affected the Victorian era florigraphy.

The Language of Flowers' by Kate Greenaway was first published in 1884 and is one book on this topic being published to date. It is a quaint book with lovely drawings of flowers and fruits accompanied by appropriate poetry from such great masters as Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Shelley. I encourage anyone interested in going through the entire list of flower language to follow the above link to get a free access to the digital copy.

Today, we generally go by the visual appeal of a bouquet or perhaps by the long-established norms of presenting certain flowers on specific occasions. But imagine a bouquet in Victorian times. Each flower had something to say; how it was placed in the bouquet conveyed a sentiment.
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The above bouquet is a representative of Emily Dickinson's likes, sorrow and love affair. The Magnolia flower in the center of the bouquet, represents her love of nature and her love for poetry is signified by the two sweet briars or eglantines. Her failed love affair is represented by the yellow tulips and scabious; the red carnations voice the lament "Alas for my poor heart!" She had cultivated an intellectual friendship with her heartthrob and this is represented in the bouquet by acacia leaves. The dog roses testify the pleasure and pain that this scenario must have caused her. Isn't it neat? Wouldn't it be cool if there was this universal code of flower language and one could convey those tormenting thoughts one wanted to say but wasn't sure how to? Imagine someone who wants to send a message to his/her first love? A bouquet of coreopsis, red columbine and Christmas rose conveys 'love at first sight', 'anxious and trembling' and 'relieve my anxiety', respectively. Guess what a bouquet of striped carnations conveys? "I am sorry, but no dice"!

I am so fascinated by florigraphy that I plan to put up a list of flower meanings for commonly used cut flowers in my next post.

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Floral Designs by Alka on Etsy