THE spires scoop blog

What did those Valentine's flowers mean?

February 21, 2018

One of the most common ways of displaying affection around Valentine’s day is by exchanging bouquets of flowers: so much so that in the past different flowers carried specific connotations. Young couples could exchange romantic messages through flower selection, or even use their bouquet design to insult the receiver.


Some of the less pleasant flowers included Aconites and Peonies, which were used to signify hatred and anger, whilst flowers such as the Tansy literally meant “I declare war on you”. Despite red, pink or white roses symbolising love, passion or romance, the yellow rose was a confession of infidelity. Other flowers, such as rhododendrons or butterfly weed, warned potential suitors to stay away, as peculiar as it seems to send a bouquet to convey such a hostile message.


Flower symbolism was popularised in the Victorian era but can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire (particularly Constantinople), and an obsession with flowers such as tulips. When these ideas travelled to Europe, they were met with widespread success. Books such as Routledge's the language of flowers are still popular over 130 years later, whilst most books of this nature would be considered archaic and obsolete in our society, with so much of the popular Victorian symbolism lost.

Although most flowers can be easily interpreted through general attitudes in the modern day, and generally have something to do with love, the haze of multiple meanings for one flower can lead to common misconceptions. For example, geraniums can signify both stupidity and ingenuity and the aforementioned red rose could be a message of passionate love, but also carries many religious connotations, being “stained with the blood of Christ”, and having five petals that are considered to represent the five wounds of the crucifixion of Jesus, though if received from a partner it is safe to assume that this is not the intended meaning.


Overall,  when sending flowers to a loved one, it is unnecessary to overthink the connotations of your bouquet. Most people won't overthink the gift, but if you want to err on the side of caution or just send a sweet and romantic message, specify the symbolism of your present. Flower meanings can be an interesting and useful factor to consider when giving a gift to a sweetheart.

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