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Flowers have conveyed feelings for much of history. Learn more about the history of flower meanings, and know what you’re saying when you give blooms.  
Throughout much of the world’s history, flowers have been thought to connote various meanings. Many cultures have assigned meanings, and today some blooms express multiple sentiments as a result. Nonetheless, there are several common threads that can be traced through the history of flower meanings.

Flowers Tend to Express Positive, Sensitive Feelings

Appropriate for their beautiful and delicate appearance, the sentiments assigned to flowers tend to be positive and, often, sensitive. This holds true across eras and cultures. For instance:

  • Bluebells showed kindness in Victorian England
  • Chrysanthemums showed nobility in Chinese Culture
  • Lilies showed love in Ancient Rome
  • Lotuses showed creation and rebirth in Ancient Egypt
  • Roses showed love in Ancient Greece and the Early Church

The biggest exception to this trend is the orchid in Ancient Greece, which was thought to indicate male fertility for obvious reasons.

Moreover, the positive and sensitive trend of flower meanings was no accident. Other plants that were less delicate often received less gentle meanings. For example, the pomegranate indicated conceit in Ancient Greece, and aloe vera showed bitterness on account of its taste.

Floriography Rose to Prominence in Victorian England

While several ancient cultures were devoted to the art of flowers and their meanings, the field of study piqued during Victorian England. During this time, the study of flower meanings became floriography.

The field reached its pinnacle during Victorian England not because the practitioners were more skilled, but rather because they had so many resources to draw on. Practitioners culled meanings from Christian texts, literary references, folklore, and scientific publications, and the meanings assigned to flowers reflect the plethora of resources drawn upon.

The following are just a few of the many examples where there was overlap:

  • Lupins, white heather, ragged robin and hollyhocks all indicated good luck
  • Hyacinths could indicate play, forgiveness or games
  • Roses indicated love while tulips showed passion
  • Carnations indicated remembrance, heartache, capriciousness or rejection

Additionally, floriography wasn’t limited to only a select few, nor was it limited to species only. Many families had floriography guidebooks, and the manner flowers were given in could affect the intended meaning. Giving with the right hand could be a “yes” to a question, while giving with the left would be “no.” Handing flowers to someone upside down inverted their intended meaning to its direct opposite.

Flowers Continue to Convey Feelings Today

General knowledge of flower meanings has waned since the 1800s, but the practice of giving specific flowers in order to convey feelings had hardly disappeared. Many people continue to consult a florist when selecting individual flowers and arrangements, choosing the particular blooms based on what they wish to say. From the romance of a red rose to the friendship of a geranium, flowers continue to be a moving way to share deep and sensitive sentiments.

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