Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The language of flowers

What do a nosegay, corsage and boutonniere all share in common? The answer, of course, is that all three are floral arrangements of some kind. Although flowers today are more ornamental than not, during the middle ages a nosegay tucked in a lapel masked the odors of people who bathed infrequently, seldom washed their clothes, had no indoor plumbing, and were surrounded by livestock. Gradually, however, flowers began to be used in other ways. Women wove the stems of flowers into garlands worn around their heads, as evidenced by Anne of Cleves, who wore a garland of rosemary when she married King Henry the VIII.

During the mid-1600s flowers were worn or carried by both men and women. Men wore boutonnieres, and both men and women carried a tight circular cluster of flowers and herbs called tussie-mussies. Whether you were rich or poor, you brought a nosegay with you when you went visiting. Flowers were a part of country fairs, weddings and religious services, much as they are today.

Most people associate the language of flowers, also called “floriography,” with the reign of Queen Victoria. Finishing schools, where gentle manners and proper decorum were taught, included courses in the art of flower appreciation. Each flower and herb came to represent something special. Mothers taught their daughters how to make hand bouquets, and tussie-mussies were considered fashionable accessories to carry or wear, and were said to have been used to send coded messages. Whether this is actually true or not is questionable, but poets and writers certainly used the language of flowers in this fashion. Dictionaries of floriography were published, with some of the common flowers being represented as follows:

  • Daffodil – regard
  • Daisies – purity and innocence
  • Dandelion – coquetry, or flirting
  • Elderflower – compassion
  • Iris – sending a message
  • Ivy – fidelity
  • Jonquil – return of affection
  • Lilac (purple) – first signs of love
  • Pansy – thought
  • Red roses – passionate, romantic love
  • Sunflowers – haughtiness, or respect
  • White clover – promise
  • White roses – virtue and chastity
  • Yellow roses – friendship or devotion
  • Yellow tulip – hopeless love
The practice of assigning meaning to flowers, however, does not belong solely to Queen Victoria. Wherever the language of flowers is used, it is based on a mixture of mythology, folklore, literature, faith and some of the flowers’ physical characteristics. During both the middle ages and the Renaissance, flowers were used to express concepts of morality. Saints, for example, were associated with specific flowers, such as the lily that symbolized purity. The Japanese also have their own flower language called “hanakotoba” whose meanings differ from their Western counterparts. The Turkish people have a language called “selam” that consists of both flowers and objects. Brent Elliott of the Royal Horticultural Society indicates that selam is not so much a language as it is a tool for helping people remember lines of poetry. The names of objects, in other words, rhyme with lines of poetry.

Whether you express yourself using the Victorian, Japanese, Turkish or any other language of flowers, one fact is certain. Flowers today embellish our garments, our d├ęcor and even our bodies, as evidenced by these items sold in BBEST members’ shops. (To look at these items, click on the photo.)

Wildflower Coasters No. 3, by Nonnie 60

Midnight Blue Flower Focal Bead, by ZudaGay

Bluebonnet Bell, by JillsTreasureChest

Pretty Purple Neck Warmer, by CBBasement

Flowers and Frida Nicho, by VanFleetStreetDesign

Orange Tulip Original Painting, by heronkate

Original Print Sepia Petunia, by BethPeardonProds

To learn more about the language of flowers, consult the following resources:

Tussie-Mussies, the Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers
, by Geraldine Adamich Laufer

Flowers, the Angels’ Alphabet: The Language and Poetry of Flowers
, by Susan Loy


makeyourpresentsfelt said...

A very informative article and such beautiful examples!

Sixsisters said...

Enjoyed this blog very much. Great work Judy !loga

Yankeegirl said...

Very interesting feature-thank you!! Gorgeous art to go along with it!

ZudaGay said...

Thank you for the lovely and informative post, Judy!! What lovely floral items can be found in BBEST shops!! Thank you for including one of my flowers!

heronkate said...

What a great post! Thanks so much for including my tulip painting. I have daffodils blooming in my garden now; I'm sending you [virtual] daffodils to express my regard.

On a Whimsey said...

Great post and great examples of wonderful items!

joonbeam said...

Judy, what a wonderful article. I always enjoy your blog surprises. Thanks for such a pretty burst of happiness today.

Jean Levert Hood said...

Wonderful Judy! Such lovely floral selections!

jstinson said...

Enjoyed your post! Now I only have one question. What is the difference between a daffadil and a jonquil?

Judy Nolan said...

Good question, Joni! Although I'm certainly no botany expert, the Online Free Dictionary describes both plants as being from the same genus, narcissus. However, technically jonquils' botanical name is narcissus jonquilla, while daffodils' botanical name is pseudonarcissus. The dictionary also says that "jonquils" is a colloquial term for daffodils. That's the long answer. The short answer is that they're very similar! :-)

Diane ~ said...

fantastic posting!! loved learning about the meaning of flowers!
thanks! :)

The Filigree Garden said...

Another well-written and informative post! I love flowers and the beauty that they bring to our daily lives. I can't wait to see the spring flowers poking up from the ground!

Myfanwy said...

wow, lots of info here. Thanks Judy

Chauncey said...

Judy, a lovely blog post with great selections from our team!

Pam said...

How interesting and lovely....the language of flowers. Thank you for sharing the history and meaning and uses of flowers (glad we all have running water!!). The pieces you chose from the Bbest shops are gorgeous! Wonderful post!

Angie said...

I have a book on the language of flowers :) It's really interesting.