December 5, 2016

The Language of Flowers

A narrow clear glass vase with pink carnations in front of the wooden seat planks of a bench.

When I was a kid there was a book in the house that had a section on the language of flowers used in the Victorian period.  I thought it was really cool.  It wasn’t just things like “I love you.”  One of the meanings I remember, though I have long since forgotten the flower that went with it, was, “Your attentions are undesired.”  Who doesn’t want to be able to sass people like that?  

When I became an adult I wanted very much to find a source like that one.  Now it is really easy to find meanings to flowers on the internet, but when I first started looking most of the ones I saw were purely positive.  That isn’t a bad thing.  But I wanted the full range.  After several years I finally found a book.  

Mrs. L. Burke, editor. The language of flowers. Hugh Evelyn, 1963.

     Here are some of the entertaining examples of what The Language of Flowers has to offer.

Aconite (Wolfsbane) 

A vintage color drawing of Wolfsbane.  Green long leaves with what look like serated edges and blue flowers along the stem.
Image from Antique Images

Flower meaning: Misanthropy

What is misanthropy?
hatred, dislike, or distrust of humankind.
    Well now aren't we off to a chipper start?

Butterfly Weed

↑ Check the link for pretty pictures ↑
Flower meaning: Let Me Go

Bay Leaf

I think they mean the kind you keep in the pantry.

Flower meaning: I change but in death

    I guess if your suitor hasn't taken the hint from the Butterfly weed and insists that you might change your mind this should send the message that you are certain about your feelings.


A short prickly pear cactus with several lobes and long spins growing among grass and other beach growing plants.

Flower meaning: Warmth

    Considering the weather where these usually grow this makes sense.  And it is more pleasant than the last three.

Yellow Carnation

Flower meaning: Disdain
    You can get these at the grocery store in the floral section.  That leaves things open for some mixed messages.

Cherry Tree

I am uncertain as to whether this is meant to be the fruit bearing tree or the ornamental one.  Likely the ornamental on.

Flower meaning: Good Education 


One large three leaf clover  growing with several smaller clovers int he grass.

Flower meaning:  Dignity

Meadow Saffron

An old colored scientific sketch of Meadow Saffron or Colchicum autumnale. A tall upright growing plant with a single pink flower with several large petals.
Image Source

Flower meaning: My Best Days are Past

    If you look through the Wikipedia page for this flower you will find that it is poisonous and there is no antidote.  That gives a gloomy feel to the meaning assigned to this pink blossom.

Wild Daisy

Flower meaning: I will think of it

    You have very likely seen these little cuties growing about.  This at least seems to be a more neutral answer to floral questions.


An old colored scientific sketch of Holly. Stiff leaves with several points and bright red berries.
Image from The Graphics Fairy

Flower meaning: Foresight


A plant with dark, but muted green foliage growing in what seems all directions. White flower clusters also seem to be growing out of the plant in several places.
Image Source

Flower meaning: You will be my death

    This was the plant used to execute Socrates.  How often were people giving each other poisonous plants?


Close image of two Oleander flowers.  Each has five rounded oblong white petals and yellow centers.  Leaves are dark green and long and narrow.

Flower meaning: Beware

    This is a lovely flower that grows in my area.  People use it as tall dividing shrubs on the edge of properties.  It seems like a discreet way to tell someone to beware of something.

Wild Tansy  

An old colored scientific sketch of Wild Tansy or Tanacetum vulgare,.  A tall looking plant with fern like leaves growing out from the stem almost to the top.  The yellow flowers grow in a cluster at the top.
Image Source

Flower meaning: I declare war against you

    The last one is certainly humorous to me.  Imagine declaring war with the gift of a plant.  Though I do wonder how easy it was to get these different flowers and plants.  Wild Daisies?  Did you have to go searching for those?

    When I think about different cultures and regions it makes sense that there are different meaning assigned to the same flowers.  Here cactus means “warmth.” As cacti grow well in warm places that could have something to do with it.  If you take into account the fact that you can get water out of a cactus it would not take much imagination to see  someone assign the ideas of hope and life to them.

    Which flower meanings did you like the most?  Can you imagine giving someone a flower to send a message?  If they know you are doing it for that reason it could become a fun game.

Lilian A. brennan


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