'My love is like a
red, red rose, that's newly sprung in June...'
So wrote the talented Scottish baird, Robbie Burns, and we all recognise
the red rose as the ultimate flower symbol of love.
A red rose is the traditional romantic gift given to your love on
Valentine's Day. Different rose colours can send other messages.
For hundreds of years flowers have held hidden meanings, derived
from mythology, folklore, religious and historical symbolism. The
floral bouquet you send or receive brings a special coded message,
depending on the flowers you choose.
does a rose mean?
Sweet flowers alone can say what passion fears revealing'
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.
During the 18th century sending flower messages based on a Turkish
secret language of flowers became popular. This was known as sending
a 'Persian Selam' - a coded bouquet to reveal your feelings of love
or attraction. The Victorians became very knowledgable in flower
language and chose their bouquets carefully. Flowers gave them a
secret language that enabled them to communicate feelings that the
propriety of the times would not allow, there were strict restraints
on courtship and any displays of emotion.
So next Valentine's day, birthday, anniversary, Mother's day or
any other occasion you plan to send flowers make sure you don't
send the wrong message in your flowers. Even the way you hand over
the bouquet sends a message too - flowers held in your right hand
mean 'yes', whereas flowers held in the left hand mean 'no'.
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
||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 is poisonous.
'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
||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
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
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
||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
'...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 multi-coloured robes.
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
make a solstice wreath
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.
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.
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 during battle.
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
||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
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.
Basil - love and regality - in ancient times accepting
a sprig of basil means you are engaged. Known as the king of herbs,
the name comes from the Greek word meaning king.
- courage - Latin name 'Borago' may be a corruption of 'corago',
meaning ‘I bring heart’, whilst others believe the name
derives from the French 'bourra' - meaning rough hair due to the short
hairs covering the plant's leaves.
- strength - believed to have magical powers in the Middle
Ages - borage was hung over doorways to keep witches out.
Oregano - joy - an ancient herb whose name
means 'joy of the mountains'.
lasting pleasure and energy - this
herb was dedicated by the Greeks to Persephone, goddess of the underworld,
and used to decorate tombs to please her as she guided the souls of
the dead to the underworld. It was also believed to have energy-giving
powers, so was taken by athletes to improve their performance.It is
also a remedy for bad breath.
remembrance - Latin for 'dew of the sea', as it is often grown
by the sea.Rosemary is said to grow for thirty-three years and then
it will die. A sprig of this aromatic herb is believed to ward off
bad dreams, if kept under your pillow.
'There's rosemary, that's for remembrance' - Shakespeare
Sage - longevity, wisdom
and health - from Latin 'salvere' - to save, the Greeks used
this healing herb for many ailments, including snakebites.