Today, most people use flowers as gifts for special occasions such as birthdays, graduations, weddings, baby showers, and promotions. However, flowers weren’t always used as such – back in the 19th century, Victorians used to present one another with gifts as a way to deliver secret messages.
Floriography is the term people use to describe Victorian flower language (if you need something to compare it to in the modern world, you can think of their use of flowers to be similar to the way we use emojis). Overtime floriography became so popular and widespread thanks to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the English ambassador to Turkey, and between the years 1827 and 1923, you could find at least 98 different flower dictionaries across the United States.
Flower Messages During the Victorian Era
Flowers were primarily used to deliver messages that were so secret or unconventional at the time that they couldn’t be spoken aloud. And although not all books and dictionaries agreed on the same meanings, people during this time period were generally able to understand the messages being sent based on factors such as the way flowers were presented and the condition of the flowers. Here are some examples:
- If flowers were given to a recipient upside down, it meant that they were meant to mean the opposite of what that arrangement typically symbolized.
- If flowers were given to someone using the right hand, they were used to answer “yes” to a question. On the contrary, if they were given using the left hand, they were used to answer with “no.”
- If someone received an arrangement of lupins, hollyhocks, white heather and ragged robin, they were being wished good luck.
- If someone received an arrangement of delphiniums, hydrangeas, oleander, basil and birdsfoot, it was meant to deliver a more negative message, such as you’re heartless and beware.
- If someone was given hyacinths, it could symbolize a few things, such as play, forgive me, or games.
In addition to the actual flowers, the ribbons added to the arrangement also held significance – specifically, if the ribbon was tied to the left, the flower symbolism had to do with the giver. However, if it was tied to the right, the message was about the giver.
Victorian Flower Meanings
In addition to the messages that floral arrangements shared, flowers had their own individual meanings during the Victorian Era too – some examples include:
- Daffodils: daffodils were known to represent chivalry and unrequited love.
- Daisies: daisies often symbolized innocence and purity.
- Roses: as they still do today, roses symbolized love in the Victorian Era.
- Crocuses: crocuses were said to mean youth and cheerfulness.
- Violets: violets were used to symbolize faithfulness and modesty.
Although floriography vanished around the end of World War I, and although many people today prefer digital means of communication to send messages and speak with family and friends, flowers will always have meanings of their own and symbolize certain things – take a look at some of our favorite examples here.