A single flower or a huge bouquet may express love, remembrance, apology, support or simply be a thoughtful gesture. Throughout human history, flowers have played a significant role as gestures and gifts. Though specific meanings and traditions may change, flowers remain a part of human connection.
Floriography, or the language of flowers, extends back hundreds of years in history as a way for people to communicate. Ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Chinese all refer to the use of flowers in their stories and myths. The Greeks considered flowers to be of particularly high importance and associated them with the gods.
Language of Flowers
Evidence exists that giving flowers has been a significant part of culture since the Middle Ages. In the mid-1700s, the significance increased when the French and English, while visiting Turkey, discovered an entire language of flowers which gave meaning to different flower types. From this, the Victorian culture created a meaning for every characteristic of a flower.
Victorians, living in an era when people did not believe in expressing emotion, found the language of flowers to be an acceptable form of expression. In typical fashion of the Victorian era, great effort and detail went into giving meaning to everything about the flower. Its color, size, condition, any accompanying flower and even flowers' position in relation to other flowers all conveyed meaning without saying a word. For example, a flower presented to someone upside down meant the opposite of its supposed original meaning. The way in which the flowers were presented or received--and which hand was used--also held meaning.
Books and guides created during the Victorian period served as a decoder for those receiving and giving flowers. What you might today say in a text message or email could be sent without a single word, provided you knew the meaning of the flowers and their characteristics. The flower language books, however, were not all written by the same author or in the same time period, so it could have been that the giver and receiver each had a different interpretation of the gesture.
The history of flower giving continues to be written. In the United States it might have once seemed inappropriate for a woman to give flowers to a man. Today it no longer registers as out of the ordinary. Virtual flowers and Internet florists provide new ways to deliver virtual or real flowers anywhere in the world. Technological and scientific advances allow for year-round blooms of every type of flower. Though most people no longer know the old-fashioned meaning of many flowers, they still use flowers to convey sentiments to others.
Elizabeth Stover, an 18 year veteran teacher and author, has a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Maryland with a minor in sociology/writing. Stover earned a masters degree in education curriculum and instruction from the University of Texas, Arlington and continues to work on a masters in Educational Leadership from University of North Texas. Stover was published by Creative Teaching Press with the books "Science Tub Topics" and "Math Tub Topics."