Floriography 101: Flowers, Bouquets, and their Meanings

No history of flowers is complete without learning about the stories behind its meanings, and we’re here to give you a rundown on flower meanings and what happens when you put them in different arrangements. This crash course will help you understand the meanings behind most popular flowers and some other more obscure species, and the development of its place in ancient history.

In this article, we talk about a brief overview on the origins of flower meanings and how it shaped behavior and part of cultural beliefs throughout the span of human history. Peaking during the Victorian era, flowers continue to play a large role in human communications and their relationships with other people, whether romantic or platonic in nature. From the legends in ancient mythologies, folklore, to sonnets, plays, and artistic productions reaching the Renaissance period, flowers remain important to creative works for their symbolic meanings and value as a means to express one’s sentiment.

If you are interested in a formal course or want to get certified as an expert on everything related to the industry, we recommend looking into professional bodies and colleges in floristry such as the American Institute of Floral Designers of the AIFD (www.aifd.org), the Society of American Florists (www.safnow.org), the American Floral Endowment (www.endowment.org) and other similar organizations offering programs specializing in floristry.

Brief History on Flower Meanings

The language of flowers, from The Natural Wedding Company

Whether it’s violets and their significance to Sapphic relationships, or sunflowers and daisies and their popularity in friendly floral bouquets, or the rise of roses to their status as a favorite flower, this guide will help us understand the development of flower meanings throughout history.

Since its peak in the Victorian era, flowers have dotted the creation and retelling of numerous mythologies and legends from different cultures, to creative works like plays, sonnets, and theatre shows authored by world famous artists like William Shakespeare. From the Victorians’ initiative for full-fledged manuals to flower meanings to make sure they got their bouquets and flower arrangements right, flowers today hold the same importance in expressing one’s emotions and sentiments to their significant others and loved ones.

Everyone knows the basics of the language of flowers – that red flowers, especially roses, show your love and passion for that special someone, that yellow flowers symbolize friendship, or that white represents purity and innocence. But how complex does it go? Does the meaning change when mixed with other flowers, other colors, other arrangements? Does it matter if the assortment of flowers is a mix of different species or solely one species? Does it matter if the arrangement leans towards the left, the right, or stands still and upright?

The short answer is, yes. While there are generally widely accepted meanings for each color, there are further specificities to each color for different species.

Colors and Species

These beautiful blossoms could mean anywhere from passion and affection to negative emotions such as conceit and disdain. Where red roses are an open display of feelings for another, red tulips convey a love confession from one person to another. Where white violets meant innocence, purple one told the recipient that the sender’s thoughts were filled with love.

Where pink carnations meant “I’ll never forget you,” pink roses symbolize grace and gentleness.  While calla lilies signified magnificent beauty, peonies represented bashfulness, and tulips expressed passion. Of course, even the presentation of these flowers and specific arrangements matter in decoding the meaning behind flower gifts.

Arrangement and Presentation

Flowers gave people a very delicate means of communication, from suitors courting the object of their affections to giving your condolences to a grieving family.  After determining the various meanings that a species’ different colors may represent, we then take a closer look into the specifics of arrangement and presentation and how they may alter or amplify the message that we want to convey.

For courting rituals, for example, confessions of love using roses, carnations, and tulips could be answered with either the selection of flowers (yellow carnations to say disdain and rejection), or the handing over of the floral arrangement (giving with the right hand meant “yes”, while the left hand meant “no”).

Additionally, the presentation and condition of the bouquet added meaning to the gift; for example, presenting the arrangement upside down signified that the giver meant the opposite of what the flowers normally represented. If the ribbon tying the arrangement together was pulled to the left, the meaning represented the giver. If it was tied to the right, the symbolism applied to the recipient.

Language of Flowers, from Exquisite Banana
What does your arrangement mean? From Pinterest

List of Flowers, Bouquets, and their Meanings

While meanings have grown and developed over history, flowers and their meanings remain an important part of human relationships and how we communicate with one another. Here is a short compilation of different species and their meanings varied from the colors they come in.

            Aloe – bitterness, healing, protection

            Amaryllisworth beyond beauty

            Angelicainspiration

            Anthuriumhospitality, abundance

            Aster – love, daintiness

            Begoniabeware, warning

            Bird of Paradise magnificence, joyfulness

            Dahlia – dignity, pomp

            Daisy – innocence, hope

            Forget-me-not – memories of true love

            Gardeniasecret love, purity

            Gerberacheerfulness

            Hydrangea – heartfelt emotions, gratitude, sometimes frigidity and heartlessness

            Orchid – exotic beauty, mature charm, glorious femininity

            Peony – bashfulness, compassion, sometimes shame and indignity

            Sunflower purity, adoration, dedication

            Camellia

            Red – “You’re a flame in my heart”

            White – “You’re adorable”

            Pink – “Longing for you”

            Carnation

            Red – love, pride, “my heart aches for you”

            Pink – “I’ll never forget you”, mother’s love

            Purple – capriciousness, erratic

            Yellow – disdain, rejection

            White – innocence, agape (unconditional love), “sweet and lovely”

            Striped – refusal

            Chrysanthemum

            Red – love

            White – truth, loyalty/fidelity

            Yellow – jealousy, wounded love

            Daffodil – rebirth, chivalry, eternal life

            Single – misfortune

            Bunch – joy and happiness    

            Hyacinth

            Red or Pink – playfulness

            Blue – constancy

            White – loveliness

            Purple – sorrow

            Yellow – jealousy, infidelity

            Iris

            Purple – wisdom, compliments

            Blue – faith, hope

            Yellow – passion

            White – purity

            Lilac

            Field – charity

            White – humility, youthful innocence

            Purple – first love

            Lily

            Lily of the Valley – sweetness, purity of heart

            Easter – Virgin Mary

            White – modesty, chastity

            Yellow – gaiety

            Orange – passion 

            Rose

            White – purity, innocence, a fresh start

            Red – passion, “I love you”

            Deep crimson– mourning

            Pink – grace and gentleness

            Yellow – jealousy and infidelity

            Orange – desire, enthusiasm

            Lavender – love at first sight

            Coral pink – friendship, sympathy

            Tulip

            Red – passion, declaration of love

            Yellow – “There’s sunshine in your smile”

            Violet

            White – innocence

            Purple – love, affection

REFERENCES:

https://www.theflowerexpert.com/content/aboutflowers/flower-meanings

https://www.almanac.com/content/flower-meanings-language-flowers#

https://gardenerdy.com/list-of-flowers-their-meanings (for pictures)

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/gardening/g2503/surprising-flower-meanings/