Or the Language of Love in Flowers & Plants
From ancient times, flowers have been symbolic. The Romans honoured their heroes with laurel wreaths and Greek mythology tells how many of the flowers were created.
Shakespeare was familiar with the meanings associated with plants and used it often, eg. in Hamlet, Ophelia recites the meanings of the flowers and herbs she carried in her arms.
Poets have always extolled the virtues of flowers and since Elizabethan times have written of their meanings.
The Victorians turned flower-giving into an art. They were inspired by a book entitled Le Language des Fleurs by a Frenchman, writing under the pseudonym of Mme.de la Tour. They developed this idea into a language which was used as an extension of, or in some cases instead of, the spoken word.
The choice of flower was all important, but so was their presentation. If the flowers were upside down the opposite meaning was intended - so tulips presented with their stems uppermost was meant as a rejection. If the ribbon was tied to the left, the meaning referred to the giver, and vice versa. If the flower was worn on the heart, it meant love, but worn in the hair implied caution.
All through the year messages such as these could be given without uttering a sound. Ivy was sent to convey fidelity and combined with a few jonquils would be a request for a return to faithfullness. Carnations would be sent by a heartbroken suitor, but watch out, if he sends you Narcissi, he will be more interested in himself. Ardent suitors must also beware when sending roses - the Cabbage Rose implies ambassador of love, whereas a yellow rose implies that love is waning.
By all means, " Say it with Flowers", but be careful - even the angle of the stamp on the envelope or parcel can make a difference to the meaning.
THE ROSE - The symbol of Love.
White Rose - Purity and Spiritual Love.
Yellow Rose - Decrease of Love and Infidelity.
Cabbage Rose - Ambassador of Love
Musk Rose - Capricious Beauty.
Single Rose - Simplicity.
The Rose is the flower of Love. It was created by Chloris, the Greek goddess of flowers, out of the lifeless body of a nymph, which she found in a clearing in the woods. She asked the help of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who gave her beauty. Dionysius, the god of wine, added nectar to give her a sweet scent, and the three Graces gave her charm, brightness and joy. Then Zephyr, the West Wind, blew away the clouds so that Apollo, the sun god, could shine and make the flower bloom. When she bloomed, she was immediately crowned Queen of the Flowers.
There are many legends describing how red roses got their colour. The Romans believed that Venus blushed when Jupiter caught her bathing and the white rose turned red in her reflection. The Greek legend tells how Aphrodite and Persephone were both in love with Adonis and used to share his favours. However when Aphrodite decided to prevent Adonis from returning to her rival in the underworld, Persephone asked Ares, the god of war,to help her. When Adonis was hunting in the woods one day, he was fatally attacked by a wild boar. Aphrodite flew to his side, scratching herself on a white rose bush. Red roses sprang up where Adonis' blood had spilled and the white roses of the bush turned red in sympathy.
White roses have always been associated with purity and innocence. The Virgin Mary was said to put her veil to dry on a red rose bush, after which the bush produced pure white flowers.
Red and white roses together mean unity in the Language of Flowers. The red rose of the House of Lancaster and the white rose of the House of York were united by marriage and joined to form the symbolic Tudor Rose. A red and white damask rose has been bred and named the York and Lancaster Rose. Red and white flowers together are unwelcome in hospital settings where they are referred to as "Blood and Bandages" for obvious reasons.
The meaning of the Yellow rose in the Language of Flowers is Decrease of Love and Infidelity. This can be traced back to a story about a husband who suspected his wife of infidelity. He asked the gods for advice. When he returned home, his wife greeted him with red roses. On the advice of the gods he ordered her to drop them in the river, knowing that if they changed colour his suspicions would be confirmed. The roses turned yellow.
The Rose has been the national emblem of England since Queen Elizabeth I took the Tudor Rose as her emblem.
The rose is one of the oldest flowers known to man, and still one of the most popular.
Nebuchadnezzar used them to adorn his palace and in Persia, where they were grown for their perfume oil, the petals were used to fill the Sultan's mattresss.
In Kashmir, the Moghul emperors cultivated beautiful rose gardens and roses were strewn in the river to welcome them on their return home.
Roses later became synonymous with the worst excesses of the Roman Empire - the peasants were forced to grow roses, instead of food crops, so that the emperors could fill their swimming baths and fountains with rose water and sat on carpets of rose petals for their feasts and orgies.
More recent folklore associates the rose with love and love divination. In Somerset, a girl would enter a churchyard by moonlight on Midsummer Eve and scatter rose petals. At the first stroke of midnight she must recite:
"Rose leaves, rose leaves,
Rose leaves I strew,
He that will love me,
Come after me now."
An apparition of her lover would appear behind her. In Devon and Cornwall a girl would pick roses on Midsummer Day while the clock chimed twelve. These would be folded up in a sheet of white paper and kept until the following Christmas Day. If they were still fresh they were placed in her bosom and the man she would marry would appear to snatch them away. If they rotted the omens were bad.
FORGET-ME-NOT. The Symbol of True Love, and loving remembrance. This association comes from a story about a knight in armour walking along the bank of a river with his lady. As he stretched out to pick her some flowers he slipped and fell into the river. Wearing his heavy armour, he was unable to swim and was carried away down stream but not before he had thrown the flowers onto the bank for her. Forget-me-not! he cried as he drifted away. The maiden never forgot him and called the flowers Forget-me-Not in his memory.
Red tulip - Declaration of Love.
Variegated tulip - Beautiful Eyes.
Yellow tulip - Hopeless Love.
The tulip has been in and out of vogue for many years. They were cultivated and prized like jewels by the Turks and highly regarded by the Persians. The name comes from the Persian word "tulipant" meaning turban which was used to describe the shape of the flower. They were introduced into European gardens in the Sixteenth Century and Holland took them to their hearts. Cultivation and the buying and selling of tulip bulbs reached such a frenzy that the economy of the country was in jeopardy. Decades later, tulipomania hit England and the government was forced to pass a law limiting the price of a single bulb to four hundred old English pounds. Tulips were not used by herbalists, though they were eaten by the hungry peoples of occupied Europe during the war.
MYRTLE - Love.
It's an Arabian tradition that when Adam was driven from Paradise, he carried in his hand a sprig of myrtle from the bower in which he first declared his love to Eve. Myrtle became a symbolic expression of married bliss and was always included in bridal bouquets, a custom still continued today. The sprig used must be planted in the brides's garden after the wedding, always by the bridesmaid and never the bride. The sprig of myrtle planted from Queen Victoria's bouquet has been the source of myrtle used by the Royal Family since. In Somerset, it was regarded as one of the luckiest plants to have in a windowbox, although it will only grow if planted by a good woman. In Wales a bush was planted on either side of the door to keep peace and love in the house and to dig it up was to risk their loss.
PANSY - Tender and pleasant thoughts.
Also known as Heartsease, Love-in-idleness, kiss-her-in-the-pantry, kiss-me-at-the-garden-gate, call-me-to-you, jump-up-and-kiss-me, tickle-my-fancy. The pansy was sent to loved ones to remember them by. It was first bred in Victorian times from the wild pansy. Shakespeare described it as Love-in-idleness and caused it to be the agent by which Titania fell in love with an ass in A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was known as Heartsease because it was said that if you carried the flower about with you, you would ensure the love of your sweetheart.
IVY - Fidelity.
The Ivy is a clinger which once established clings tenaciously, hence its meaning. Ivy was thought to have magical powers by the Druids. Because of its clinging habit, it also became a symbol of femininity. Its use could bring fertility to the whole household. Girls living in Oxfordshire learned to put an ivy leaf in their pockets before strolling out. This would ensure that the first man they encountered would be their bridegroom-to-be. Because of its unchanging leaves, the Greeks used it as a symbol of wedded love.
BROOM - Ardour.
The broom was chosen as the emblem of ardour from the fact that its intensely bright yellow flowers remind us of the warmth of feeling or the ardour of love.
HONEYSUCKLE - Fidelity, because of its tenacious clinging habit.
LAVENDER - Acknowledgement of love.
Lavender was an Elizabethan lover's flower and often used in verses.
"Lavender is for lover's true,
Which evermore be fain,
Desiring always for to have,
Some pleasure for their pain."
MARIGOLD- Constancy in Love.
Because it followed the sun, it was known as summer's bride or husbandman's dial. It was used in wedding bouquets and love potions and was an important part of love divination.
VALERIAN was said to provoke love and was used as an aphrodisiac. In the west of England, wearing a sprig would ensure she would never lack lovers.
VIOLET - modesty.
There are many stories about the origin of the Violet's name. Originating in Greece it was considered the flower of Zeus, the king of gods.Legend has it that Zeus was in love with a beautiful maiden called Io and in order to protect her from Hera, his jealous wife, he changed her into a beautiful calf. Then, in order to feed her delicacies he commanded the earth to bring forth a beautiful flower in her honour, which he named Ion, the Greek word for Viola.
CORNFLOWER - Delicacy.
In olden days, if a girl wore a cornflower it meant she was available for marriage. If a young man put a cornflower in his pocket, he was in love. If the flower lived it was a sign he should marry; if it died he must find another sweetheart. If a girl hid a flower under her apron, she would have the batchelor of her choice. Hence the name Batchelor's Buttons. The origin of the symbolism, delicacy, comes from the story of a young boy who worshipped Flora,the goddess of flowers. He was especially fond of the blue flowers which grew in the cornfields near his house. When he was found dead in the cornfield she turned him into a cornflower in honour of his love for the flower and of his sensitivity towards her. So cornflower became associated with delicacy.
PHLOX - Agreement.
Ardent suitors were said to be intoxicated by the flower's heady perfume, inspiring them to a proposal of love for their Valantine.
© Naila Green 2010