Valentine’s Day: The Language of Flowers

It’s Valentine’s Day! This weekend, many of us will say “I love you,” with flowers. For those caught in the throes of New England winter, flowers are the obvious expression of hope for the future. And what snow-bound lover does not want to hold out a little hope?

As the reproductive structure of a plant, the flower itself makes its message pretty clear: let’s do it. Floriography, or the language of flowers, assigns other more specific meanings to individual flower species in such a way that complex messages (or even something as simple as “I love you,” if that can ever be called simple) can be conveyed florally. Think of floriography as a dance of the senses; a kind of olfactory love letter. Can you imagine a better cryptography?

Most of us are familiar with the implied meaning of roses: white roses symbolize purity, yellow friendship, and red – ooh la la – passionate love. Tulips carry similar messages: pink is caring, white forgiveness, red is a declaration of love, and yellow is the color of the hopelessly in love. Here are a few other flower associations for your delectation:

Day Lilly – enthusiasm
Nasturtium – patriotism
Poppy – consolation
Snapdragon – presumptuous
Sunflower – adoration
Sweetpea – shyness

There is a language, little known,
Lovers claim it as their own.
Its symbols smile upon the land,
Wrought by nature’s wondrous hand;
And in their silent beauty speak,
of life and joy, to those who seek.
For love divine and sunny hours
In the language of the flowers.
-The Language of Flowers, London, 1875