The Language of Flowers

Red Roses - Sent to Illustrate Passion

Many people might see Valentine’s Day as nothing more than a carefully orchestrated commercial event that just ploughs more money into the hands of businesses who have managed to convince us over the years that if we love someone then we have to demonstrate to them every February 14th. 

Now I’m no cynic when it comes to romance but I can see the sceptic’s argument that true love is a 365 day a year thing and Valentine’s Day is more about marketing and playing heavily on the majority factor. As any budding Romeo will tell you, flowers and Valentine’s Day pretty much go hand in hand.

But as Poppy Watt discovered when she investigated the history to flowers and their traditional links to romance, what you give says a whole lot more than many of us might realise.

However, whilst big business might have taken this celebration to its bosom the true history of Valentine’s Day stretches back centuries and there are many age-old traditions linked to it.

In most English-speaking countries it is when lovers express their feelings for one another by sending love notes in the form of cards, confectionary or flowers.

And it is with flowers that I am most concerned because when preparing what was originally set to be a piece of Valentine’s Day, I discovered there was a much deeper and historical connection to flowers and romance than even I had realised – and that was despite the fact that during my college years I worked for a while in a florist’s!

I love flowers. In fact, I don’t know what gives me the biggest thrill: sending them or receiving them!

Giving flower bouquets is an expression of taste as well as feelings. There is nothing more uplifting then walking into a home and seeing a vase filled with bright red roses.

The language of flowers is as old as civilisation itself and is sometimes called floriography (which means communication). Flowers have been used as an expression of emotion for centuries and this language was most commonly communicated through “tussie-mussies” (a posy of flowers and herbs). As any born romantic will tell you, it is a tradition that has followed through the ages to the present day.

Giving flowers as a gift has been part of all the major early cultures, with the Romans honouring their heroes with laurel wreaths and the Ancient Greeks adorning their palaces with beautiful floral arrangements.

In the Middle East, where secrecy between lovers was often essential, each flower given was said to have a special meaning and secret messages could be exchanged via this medium.

For example, I was surprised to discover that the presentation of a primrose means, “I can’t live without you”, whilst a purple hyacinth says “Please forgive me”. I was also enlightened by the knowledge that a pink carnation is said to convey the message “I will never forget you” and the giving of a gladiolus says the far less flattering “Give me a break”.

When the Victorians discovered this language they took it to their hearts and produced several dictionaries on the Language of Flowers. 

The colours of flowers also have their own symbology – red means love and passion, yellow roses in particular used to symbolise jealousy (although today they are more associated with friendship, joy and caring) and white is usually a colour for weddings or religious events and represents humility, purity and innocence. Orange stands for enthusiasm and desire (although it is also can represent pride and flirting), blue means loyalty and green stands for hope.

When choosing a flower as a gift, consider how special the flower is to your lover and what message it communicates. As we have already discovered, flowers have an etiquette all of their own and this means certain rules need to be taken into consideration. The rules may vary from country to country and often reflect the traditions and history of a specific nation.

Pink roses in buds should be offered to young girls whilst carnations are more suitable for older people. Roses, chrysanthemums, or carnations on longs stems should be given to a man and large, impressive bouquets of roses, lilacs, gladioluses or exquisite orchids blend well with the atmosphere of receptions and anniversaries. If you are visiting a friend in a hospital, make sure the flowers’ fragrance is not too strong. Funeral flower bouquets are usually made of dark flowers – gladioluses, roses, and dahlias.

Below is a selection of flowers with special meanings of love, so take note and be sure your message is crystal clear.

ACACIA: Concealed love, chaste love.

AMBROSIA: Love is reciprocated.

ASTILBE: I'll still be waiting.

AZALEA: Love, romance, first love, fragile passion, temperance. It is also the Chinese symbol of womanhood.

BIRD OF PARADISE: Joyfulness and paradise

CAMELLIA: Gratitude, loveliness.

CARNATION: Fascination, distinction, divine love.


CHRYSANTHEMUM, WHITE: Truth, loyal love.

DAFFODIL: Regard, rebirth, new beginnings, unrequited love, you're the only one.

DAISY: Innocence, loyal love, I'll never tell, purity, love that conquers all.

DANDELION: Faithfulness, happiness, love's oracle.

FORGET-ME-NOT: True love, hope, remembrance, memories.

GLOXINA: Love at first sight.

HONEYSUCKLE: Bonds of love, generous, devoted affection.

IRIS, YELLOW: Passion.

IXIA: Happiness.


LEMON BLOSSOMS: Faithful love.

LILY, WHITE: Purity, modesty, virginity, majesty, it's heavenly to be with you.

ORCHID: Rare beauty, love, refinement, beautiful lady.

PHLOX: Unanimity, united hearts, united souls.

PRIMROSE: Happiness, satisfaction, I can't live without you.

ROSE: Love, passion, perfection. The rose was named for the Latin word rosa which means red. It has been a symbol of love since ancient times.

ROSE, RED: Love, passion, respect, courage, I love you, beauty, pure and lovely, prosperity.

ROSE, WHITE: Innocence, purity, secrecy, I am worthy of you, silence, friendship, truth, virtue, girlhood, humility spiritual love, but of the soul, reverence, charm, happy love.

ROSE, YELLOW: Joy, friendship, true love, decrease of love, jealousy, try to care, freedom, slighted love, shows "I care", gladness.

TULIP, RED: Believe me, declaration of love, fame.

With this in mind there should be no excuses this year - ladies and gents - to tell that special person exactly how and why you love them!

Poppy Watt