We’ve all heard of a florist – an individual who cuts and arranges flowers – and some of us are familiar with Ikebana – the disciplined Japanese art of flower arrangement practiced by ancient samurai and modern Japanese artists alike – but have you heard of floriography? How about nosegays? Tussie-mussies?
Floriography is the practice of communicating messages via bouquets and floral arrangements. Roughly translated from the Latin (flora and graphein) as “flower writing,” floriography flourished during the Victorian era as a way of quietly sending coded messages of passion at a time when public displays of affection were frowned upon. Using this secret language, lovers could communicate via a Tussie-Mussie or nosegay – a small and round bouquet given as a gift and often worn by the recipient but also carrying a secret message.
The origins of floriography aren’t clear, partly because flowers have held various symbolic meanings throughout history. Much of the Victorian meanings behind flowers and their arrangements – which carried over into modern Floriography – dates back to 17th century Turkey under the Ottoman empire.
Like a poet, painter or artisan, the floriagrapher spoke through his or her art, imbuing each bouquet, corsage and floral arrangement with brimming passion, messages of hope and strength, hidden melancholy or any number of symbols. The savvy recipient would immediately be able to read or decode the intended message and perhaps reply with their own.
Some symbolic meanings behind our modern bouquets are pretty apparent. Everyone knows that long stemmed red roses are a sign of passion, for instance. But most folks may not know that pink roses would commonly symbolizes a thank you or show appreciation.
Curious as to how you can send your own secret missives out into the world? Have someone that you’d like to express your own personal passion for? Looking for a new language to explore – one full of color, scent and natural harmony? Consult this list of popular flower meanings according to the old art of floriography and potential situations in which this gift might excite your imagination and self expression.
The sunflower is an excellent piece of flora to start with, as its meanings are multitudinous, which, like any language, means that it has various levels of interpretation based on how it is complemented and surrounded by other flowers. While many sources maintain that sunflowers are symbols of loyalty and dedication, it can also be a symbol of haughtiness. With these two somewhat contradictory natures, you can begin to see why a single flower in a bouquet plays a role not unlike a single word in a sentence. Without context, you wouldn’t know what the sender or floriagrapher intends.
Why send a sunflower?
Sunflowers have a long history in art as aesthetic objects, and it’s not hard to see how these tall and bright plants have the connotation of haughtiness. Looking to make a statement about your own good looks or heightened personality? A sunflower might help you out there. Or perhaps you just want to brighten up someone’s day with a message of sunny loyalty and dedication – because that works too! Just make sure you surround the sunflower with a complementing bouquet.
These pure and beautiful white or pink-tinged gardenia flowers symbolize a budding ecstasy, usually the result of secret and newly blooming love. Sent solo or in a bouquet, they’re meant to tell the recipient “I think I’m in love with you.”
Why send a gardenia?
Do you have a crush? Want to let that special and secret someone know how your really feel? Frankly, send them a gardenia and chances are they won’t be able to run to their floriagraphers dictionary and look up your hidden meanings, but getting a bouquet of beautiful gardenias alone is sure to send the right message.
The iris can mean different things depending on its color. Purple irises, among the most popular, are symbolic of wisdom and eloquence. Blue irises represent the hope and faith of good news, while yellow are more passionate and sunny. Traditional white irises often stand for purity, as is often the case with white varieties of flowers.
Why send an iris?
As you can see, irises have a multitude of connotations depending on the color. What this means is that floriagraphers aren’t just arranging for simply meaning or color complementing but both at once! Think of various irises as punctuation or endnotes that can add inflection to a sentence. Only, in this case, it’s a bouquet!
There’s been very little disagreement over the years, inside or outside floriography circles, about the meaning of the orchid. One look at these elegant flowers should answer why. Symbolic of a refined and exquisite beauty, the orchid is the floral embodiment of a mature, proud and even sexual femininity.
Why send an orchid?
Looking to express your love to the longtime partner in your life? Especially if she’s a woman, the orchid‘s symbolic elegance and respected beauty makes it a none-too-subtly testament to adoration, desire and loving respect.
Based on the above examples – full of coy hints at romance or outright avowals of devotion – you’d think all of floriography was loving, hopeful, cheery or – at the very worst – boastful and proud. Not so, unfortunately. For the melancholic and broken hearted, the anemone’s complicated violet and murky blue petals offer a maze-like symbol of forsakenness and the end of hope. This is further complicated by an ancillary meaning of unfading love.
Why send an anemone?
If you’re feeling the heavy weight of a broken heart, sending flowers to the object of your unrequited love probably won’t help much – especially since the coded message may be lost on them. On the other hand, if you happen to be pursuing a floriagrapher or Anglophile with a penchant for Victorian mores and culture, it could be a winning move!