Floriography and the Language of Flowers

the language of flowers victorian

Floriography, often called the “language” of flowers is the practice of assigning specific meanings to different blossoms. We all know lilies are for funerals, roses for love, and carnations for the compost heap (kidding, well, sort of)- but floriography goes way past that. There are meanings and symbols behind almost every imaginable type of flower, when arranged together they form complex messages and stories.

Personally I think it’s a very romantic thing. Crafting a bouquet or illustrated floral composition to express things unsaid, using silent and beautiful flowers to speak to others of profound feelings and experiences. It’s quite lovely, really.

victorian language of flowers dahlia

The fascination with floriography soared in England in the late 1700’s, dictionaries and guides to the floral meanings started appearing in the 1800’s.

I came across this particular “Language of Flowers” book on the internet archive, and it is full of incredible Victorian illustrations, as well as poetry and uses for all manner of blossom.

Some of my favorites from this book include potato flowers for “benevolence”, rhododendron for “danger”, and lythrum for “pretension”. Though I doubt my local florist has any potato flowers in stock…

victorian language of flowers forgetmenot

This book also includes some lovely verses and poems involving flowers, perfect for sending written sentiments with your complex bouquet. Such as the one below about mourning and to accompany cypress blossoms:

“They came and went like shadows,

The blessed dreams of youth,

They left behind no impress,

Or record of their truth.

Then the future was all sunshine,

In gorgeous robes arrayed;

But ever as I’ve reached it,

In sunshine and in shade.

I’ve seen the colors fading,

From all that I could prize.

Like day’s departing glories,

From out the sunset skies.

And full roughly I have ridden,

The stormy tide of life.

And long years have passed in struggling,

In bitterness and strife.”

(T.B. Thayer)


The entire scanned book can be found here.


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