Happy Valentine's Day!

Good to Know

Feb 14, 2013

The Deeper Meaning of Flowers

Sure, we all know that red roses symbolize love, daisies suggest innocence and forget-me-nots, as the name implies, is a keepsake flower - but what about lilies, peonies and sweet peas? Do they each have a hidden meaning? Indeed, they do!

Legend and religious association regarding the meaning of flowers dates back for centuries, but it was during the Victorian period when the strict protocol of expressions between men and women brought about the development of a secret code - hidden meaning in a bouquet of posies. As men and women exchanged certain flowers, they spoke with one another, sharing their feelings of delight and sorrow, love and jealousy, longing and encouragement.

With the help of books from the period, written specifically to guide the understanding of flower meanings, the Victorian "definitions" for flowers, herbs and even fruits are easily discerned. A double daisy implied, "I feel as you do." A solid carnation meant "yes," while a striped bloom meant "no." The spider flower (Cleome) offered the heady proposal, "Elope with me." Even at the height of coded bouquets, the "vocabulary lists" in circulation offered varied interpretations, so it's no surprise that meanings have changed over the years (or have simply been lost).

That said, the following is a collection of flowers and their meanings that might inspire such a romantic notion assending your beloved a floral message in a secret language. (Just don't forget that the object of your affection might need the code to decipher your love note.)

  • Allium: good fortune
  • Alstroemeria: friendship
  • Amaryllis: pride
  • Anthurium: intense attraction
  • Aster: patience
  • Buttercup: childishness
  • Chrysanthemum: fidelity
  • Crocus: youthful gladness
  • Gladiolus: natural grace
  • Hollyhock: fertility
  • Iris: hope or sorrow
  • Lavender: distrust
  • Lily: majesty
  • Narcissus: egotism
  • Orchid: ecstasy
  • Pansy: thoughts of lovers (shared before words are spoken)
  • Peony: bashfulness (in Victorian England), prosperity (in Japan)
  • Plumeria: love in long absence
  • Pomegranate: unspoken desire
  • Quince: temptation
  • Ranunculus: rich in charm and attraction
  • Rose: red %u2013 passionate love; white %u2013 purity; yellow %u2013 jealousy (in Victorian England), friendship in the US; pink %u2013 gratitude and grace
  • Rosemary: remembrance
  • Snapdragon: presumption
  • Sweet Pea: lasting pleasure
  • Tulip: a declaration of love
  • Violet: pledge of faithfulness
  • Water lily: perfect beauty

If flower species with very specific meanings seem too particular for your taste, consider color alone. For some time it's been widely accepted that different colors evoke different emotions. Conveniently enough, flowers are available in nearly every hue, allowing you to send a psychological message whether or not your sweetie knows the secret code. Consider these color associations for your next bouquet:

  • Yellow: joy, gaiety, merriment
  • Orange: creativity, energizing
  • Red: passion, strength, courage
  • Violet: decadence, luxury, mystery
  • Blue: truth, devotion, calmness, sincerity
  • Green: nature, healing, renewal, rejuvenation

Of course, romantic gestures aside, there's a place for practicality, too. Take note of your special someone's favorite flowers, home décor and personal style. Remember those holidays and special occasions. But no matter what kind of blooms you present to that important person in your life, it's that surprise bouquet - the one "just because" - that will express and evoke the most gratification!


  • In Victorian England the language of flowers was so complex, there were glossaries written to assist in deciphering the message of a bouquet. While some meanings have held fast through the years, others have been long forgotten. (But what a fun exercise to explore the meaning of your next bouquet!)
  • Myth has it that Venus' son Cupid accidentally shot arrows into a rose garden when a bee stung him, and it was the "sting" of the arrows that caused the roses to grow thorns. When Venus walked through the garden and pricked her foot on a thorn, it was the droplets of her blood that turned the roses red.


Want to read more about flower meanings? Check out Kate Greenaway's Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway (Gramercy Publishing) and The Meaning of Flowers - Myth, Language & Love by Gretchen Scoble and Ann Field (Chronicle Books).