Flower language - meanings of flowers - secret messages - history and folklore of flowers
'My love is like a red, red rose, that's newly sprung in June...'
Sweet flowers alone can say what passion fears revealing' Thomas Hood
The study of the meaning of flowers is an actual science known as floriography,
and it reveals an extra underlying meaning to sending or receiving flowers
- subtle and secret messages can be passed through the different blooms.
Anemone - dying love - derived from the Greek for 'windflower', mythology relates the anemone sprung from the tears of Aphrodite as she mourned the death of her love, Adonis. In folklore the anemone is believed to bring luck and protection against evil. The flower was said to foretell rain by closing its petals, and fairies were believed to sleep beneath the petals of the wood anemone during the night after they closed at sunset.
|Bluebell - constancy
and everlasting love - believed to call the fairies when rung, and
thought to be unlucky to walk through a mass of bluebells, because it
was full of spells. It is also considered an unlucky
flower to pick or bring into the house. The Latin name for this flower
is Endymion who was the lover of the moon Goddess, Selene. The goddess
put Endymion into an eternal sleep, so she alone could enjoy his beauty.
Bluebells were said by herbalists to help prevent nightmares, and used
as a remedy against leprosy, spider-bites and tuberculosis, but the bluebell
'light beating up from so many glassy heads'
Gerard Manley Hopkins 1873
|Buttercup - childishness -
we've all tried the test of whether you like butter by holding a golden
buttercup under your chin.
It used to be believed that the yellow colour of butter came from the cows eating buttercups! This was a myth as cows avoid the acrid tasting flower.
|Carnation - betrothal, love and
fertility - this flower was believed to be an aphrodisiac, hence
its popular use at weddings and because of the association with love
it was widely used in wreaths. Gentlemen began to wear carnations as
a button hole, Oscar Wilde developed the fashion with a dyed green carnation.
The various carnation colours can mean different things:
white - love; yellow - rejection; pink - I'll never forget you; red - aching heart;
|Daisy - innocence and
modesty - chanting 'he loves me, he loves me not' as they plucked
the petals from a daisy was how Victorian girls discovered whether their
suitors were true or not. Northern girls once believed that if they closed
their eyes and picked a handful of daisies, the number they held would
foretell how many years it would be before they married.
Be careful which daisy you send, as the Michaelmas Daisy means farewell.
|Forget-me-nots - true love and remembrance - mythology describes this as the flower chosen by a brave knight as a posy for his sweetheart before going to battle, as he knelt to gather the tiny blue flowers he fell into a river and was swept away, calling to his love to 'forget me not'.|
|Foxglove - insincerity -
the name derives from the shape of the flowers resembling the fingers of
a glove - 'folk’s glove' meaning belonging to the fairy folk. Folklore
tells that bad fairies gave the flowers to the fox to put on his feet to
soften his steps whilst hunting. The whole foxglove plant is extremely
poisonous, but provides a source of digitalis used by doctors in heart
medicine. The foxglove
was believed to keep evil at bay if grown in the garden, but it was considered unlucky to bring the blooms inside. The commonest colour for the foxglove is pink, but you often see white blooms in the hedgerows.
|Heather - good luck - has been used in past times as bedding, thatching for roofs, fuel and medicine. White heather is believed to have protective powers.|
Hollyhock - fertility and fruitfulness - tall, bloom-laden hollyhocks produce hundreds of seeds which they cast out prolifically.
|Honeysuckle - devoted love -
said to protect your garden from evil. It is known as the 'love bind' -
symbolizing a lover's embrace in its clinging growing habits. The heady
fragrance of the flowers was believed to induce dreams of love and passion.
If the bloom is brought into the house a wedding is said to follow within
the year. The honeysuckle's berries are poisonous.
'...how sweetly smells the honeysuckle
in the hush'd night...' Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1859
|Hyacinth - constancy - mythology tells how a handsome youth, Hyacinthus, was loved by the god of the sun, Apollo, but Zephyrus, god of the west wind became jealous and blew the discus that Hyacinthus was playing with and killed him. Flowers sprang from drops of his blood and so became known as hyacinths.|
Hydrangea - vanity - a marsh plant that derives its name from the Greek name for 'water-vessel'
|Iris - symbolises good
news or a message - like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Derives from the Greek goddess of the rainbow, Iris - the messenger of
the gods who would ride on the rainbow to and from earth, in her beautiful
Orris root is made from the iris and is used as a herbal medicine, a magickal potion and in perfumery - Frangipani. The flowers and leaves used to be strewn in front of the bride and groom at weddings, and it was believed that if you were foolish enough to bite the iris root you would stammer for the rest of your days.
Ivy - constancy - the Latin name, hedera, derives from the Celtic word for 'cord' and Druids revere the plant and often use it in their rites.
|Lily - innocence and purity
- used in churches as a symbol of the Virgin Mary's purity. Dedicated
to the Greek goddess Hera, the wife of Zeus, the beautiful lily was supposedly
formed from drops of Hera's spilt breast milk. During Greek marriage
ceremonies the priest used to place a crown of lilies mixed with ears
of wheat on the bride's head, as a symbol of innocence and fertility.
Shakespeare also used this beautiful flower to represent purity:
'Now by my maiden honour, yet as pure as the unsullied lily...'
Love's Labours Lost
Lily of the Valley - return to happiness - a beautifully scented, but highly poisonous flower. It is believed that Lily of the valley protects your gardens from evil spirits. These fragrant blooms supposedly sprang from Eve's tears when she was cast out of the garden of Eden.
Moss - symbolic of maternal love - soft and comforting used widely by birds in nesting.
Narcissus - self-love and vanity - the flower name derives from Greek mythology and the tale of the beautiful Narcissus. He ignored the lovely nymph, Echo, and so was punished by falling in love with his own reflection in a pool. The gods believed Narcissus would die of starvation, so they transformed him into the delicate form of scented narcissi, so he could stay there forever.
Olive - peace - used
as a remedy for tiredness. In Greek mythology the olive tree was considered
a sacred tree blessed by Athena, the ancient goddess of wisdom. To
the Greeks it represented peace and power, and wreathes of olive leaves
were placed on the heads of brave warriors and olympic athletes.
Pansy - loving thoughts
and attraction - known also as 'heartsease', this pretty flower
was believed to heal love problems. Anyone wanting to ensure they were
loved by their sweethearts would carry a pansy.
Passion flower - spirituality - missionaries in South America in the 16th century named it the passion flower because they believed it symbolized the death of Christ - the sepals and petals represented the disciples; the double row stood for the crown of thorns, and the stamens stood for the wounds.
|Peony - shyness and
beauty - the Chinese name for peony is 'sho yu' - meaning most beautiful.
In folklore the peony was linked to the moon, it was believed to have
been created by the moon goddess to reflect the moon's beams during the
night. During the Middle Ages 'lunatics' were covered with peony leaves
and petals in order to cure them. It is considered unlucky to uproot
the plant, and the seeds and dried root used to be worn as a protective
amulet against evil spirits. The peony, named after the Greek god of
healing, was also used extensively in medicine. Pliny wrote:
About an infants neck hang peonie,
It cures Alcydes cruell maladie.
This plant also prevents the mocking delusions the fauns bring on us in our sleep
It was believed that by keeping peony seeds under your pillow you could avoid nightmares.
|Poppy - remembrance, sleep,
oblivion - red poppies thrive in disturbed earth throughout Western
Europe, and after the Napoleonic wars the land was covered in red poppies,
as were the fields of Northern France and Flanders after the First World
War. The flower became the symbol of all the soldiers who had fallen
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below ... 'In Flander's Fields' John McCrae 1915
Opium poppies made the flower symbolic of oblivion and sleep. The beautiful and delicate poppy flower only lasts a few days.
|Primrose - first love - from the Latin 'primus' - meaning first, due to their early Spring flowering. The primrose is the sacred flower of Freya, the Norse goddess of love and was used in rituals giving honor to her.|
|Snowdrop - hope, purity - from the Latin 'nivalis' - meaning 'snowy', an apt name for one of the earliest spring flowers that arrives during cold conditions. It is known as the 'flower of hope' - a sign of life returning to the earth after the long winter months. the Victorians also linked the snowdrop to the dead because it grew close to the ground and therefore closer to those buried. It is another bloom that is considered unlucky to pick and bring into the house. The whole plant is poisonous.|
|Stock - lasting beauty - heady scented blooms.|
|Sweet pea - farewell - the
beautiful scented sweet pea is the source of an essential oil used in perfumery.
The name is believed to have first been used by the poet Keats:
'Here are Sweet Peas on tiptoe for a flight,
With wings of gentle flush o'er delicate white,
And taper fingers catching at all things
To bind them all about with tiny rings'. c.1817
|Tulip - fame - originally a wild flower, growing in Central Asia, named after the Turkish word for turban. The tulip was a popular trading product, leading to 'tulipmania' in the 17th century. As with roses different colours bring their own meanings: red - a declaration of love, yellow - hopeless love, striped - beautiful eyes|
|Violet - faithfulness and modesty - during mediaeval times violets were believed to provide protection from evil spirits, and the leaves were used on wounds as healing plasters. When Napolean Bonaparte married Josephine she was said to have worn violets, and he sent her a bouquet every anniversary. He apparently wore a locket containing violets he had gathered from Josephine's grave. In medieval times the violet flower was strewn on the floor as an air freshener due to it's sweet perfume, and a substance called ionine which dulls the sense of smell. This fragrant flower was used as a remedy for insomnia, as an antiseptic and in poultices.|
Long recognised for their medicinal benefits and culinary enhancement, these potent plants also hold hidden meanings:
Angelica - inspiration -a tall
and elegant herb praised in folklore as a wonderful medicinal cure-all
remedy. Believed to bloom on the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel,
around May 8th.
Thyme - courage, vigour and strength
- from the Greek word 'thymon' - courage, soldiers bathed
in thyme to prepare for battle. Used in magickal potions to enable
you to see the Faeries.