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Did you know that flowers are a language?

Everyone knows that you’re supposed to give red roses to the woman you love on Valentine’s Day. Red roses mean love, right? Symbolic meanings have been attached to flowers for centuries. The ancient Greeks associated the narcissus, the daffodil, with egotism. For the Greeks, the hyacinth was a symbol of sorrow. White lilies are frequently associated with the Virgin Mary as symbols of purity. For Christians, white lilies also mean mourning and are seen everywhere at Easter.

The custom of sending beautiful flowers as romantic tokens actually dates to the early 1700s in Turkey.

Long before there were emoji, those Japanese smiley faces we use when texting to express feelings, the Victorians in England had invented floriography, a type of cryptography where specific flowers are given precise meanings. Victorian society was very formal, closed, and codified so devising a system of expressing feelings that could not be spoken in polite society made sense.

Like a “wink” or a “flirt” on today’s dating websites, sending flowers could express admiration, friendship, disappointment, or unhappiness. A bouquet ribbon tied to the right meant that the meaning applied to the recipient; a ribbon tied to the left mean the message applied to the sender. A stem placed upside down implied the opposite, just like an upside down card in a tarot reading. Removing the leaves from a flower meant “everything to fear”; removing the thorns meant “everything to hope for.”

By the 19th century, floriography had become a complex language indeed and included grasses, herbs, trees, and fruit. Every flower had a specific meaning, based on its colour and position (if it was sent as part of a bouquet).

A number of books were published to help those wanting to send coded messages, including (Reverend) Robert Tyas’ “The Sentiment of Flowers,” (1842); Anna Christian Burke’s “Illustrated Language of Flowers,” (1856); and Kate Greenway’s “Language of Flowers,” (1884).

  • Want to tell a suitor that he’s full of foppery and affectation? Send amaranth.

  • Want a suitor to know that he’s a heartless boaster? Send hydrangea.

  • Want a woman to know that you’re jealous of her paying attention to someone else? Send marigolds.

  • Want a woman to know you’re thinking of dangerous pleasures? Send the tuberose.

  • Want a woman to know you esteem, but not love her? Send spiderwort.

  • Want to say that the relationship is over? Send a cyclamen.

And so it goes. Here’s a modern version of the hidden language of flowers. So, go ahead; send a coded message with flowers.

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