The Lost Language of Flowers and Foliage

In the mid 1800s, when someone created a bouquet, they created a message too. The message wasn't written in a letter or on a card, but in the flowers and foliage that made up the bouquet.

For the educated at that time, flowers and foliage had assigned meanings. So the combinations used to make bouquets conveyed messages, to be read only by others in-the-know.

The mythical origins of the language explains that they came from Turkey where a French painter wooed a Harem girl. He took her back to France as his wife where she taught European women to speak with flowers and foliage to their lovers. The Europeans then taught everyone else.

Some plant meanings are obvious, like the Venus' Fly-Trap signifying deceit and danger. Ouch! And a Lemon Branch meaning zest or vigor. Zing!

Some meanings are obvious if you know the Latin name for the flower, like the Daffodil. In Latin it's called a Narcissus, named for the vain god. The Daffodil signifies egotism.

The more interesting are the counter-intuitive ones, like a Cactus symbolizing warmth. But if you think about it, the Cactus grows in a warm climate. The prickliness is ignored.

It's interesting to note that some meanings are different than meanings we commonly accept today, such as for the Shamrock. It does not symbolize luck, but instead means lightheartedness.

And the holiday-season favorite, Mistletoe, does not mean a kiss, but instead means "I surmount difficulties". Perhaps the difficulty surmounted is how to get a certain person to let you kiss them, or how to get a certain person to kiss you? Just a thought...

One plant meaning is still commonly known. The Olive Branch is the universal symbol of peace. And you do still hear people say someone is as solid as an Oak. The Oak symbolizes bravery.

While the language of flowers and foliage is a dead language today, the dictionaries for this language still exist and inspire the more romantic, or devious, among us. If that includes you, here are some suggestions.

  • A bride's bouquet of Blue Violets and Forget-Me-Nots surrounded by Ivy promises a faithful and true love within marriage.
  • A Cabbage Rose and Lupines sent ahead by a date means the person will arrive as an ambassador of love, voracious for your company.
  • You could head off the ambassador with a bouquet of Orange Blossoms and Acacia Leaves declaring your chastity (with them) and offering friendship instead.
  • If you receive Variegated Tulips with Peonies it could be you have an admirer of your beautiful eyes who's too bashful to tell you in person.
  • Watch out for an Oleander Branch with Lavender around a Tuberose. Someone could be trying to tell you to beware and to distrust dangerous pleasures.
  • But Hollyhock with Sweet-Peas means someone has ambitions for delicate pleasures.
  • A sweet arrangement is Buttercups with Daisies and Magnolia, communicating a childish, innocent, love of nature.
  • Even sweeter is Honeysuckle, meaning generous and devoted affection.
  • At a time of loss, Pansies with either Red Poppies, Marigolds or Pine Branches tell a person of your thoughts for them of consolation, despair and pity.
  • But if the person mourning responds with Mimosa and Elm branches, they're telling you they're still sensitive yet coping with dignity.
  • Decorating your doorway with Oak Branches would signify your hospitality to your party guests as they arrive.
  • And a gift bouquet for your party host of Sweet Basil, Parsley, Mint, and Sage will not only make the food more flavorful, but also send good wishes for the festivity, and praises the host for their virtue, especially their domestic virtues.
  • The earthy combination of Grass and Wheat stocks means there's to be a submission with an expectation of great riches.
  • But for the broken heart, try sending the heart-breaker some Lettuce Leaves with Hydrangeas and one White Rose Bud. If they understand the language of flowers and foliage, they'll know you consider them a cold-hearted, boaster who's heart is ignorant of love.

I'll leave you with an Oak leaf with an Olive Branch, or the wish that you're brave enough to seek peace where you now have strife.

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