The Meaning of Flowers

Way back when, before texting, email, Skype, Facebook or twitter, folks would communicate with flowers.  The Victorians devised a whole language - a bit like horticultural hieroglyphics - by which friends and lovers could send messages without saying a single word.


There is a language, little known
Lovers claim it as their own,
It's symbols smile upon the land,
Wrought by nature's wonderous hand,
And in their silent beauty speak,
Of life an joy to those that seek,
For love divine and sunny hours
In the language of the flowers

The cowslip.  Once a common site in 
the countryside, but what did it mean
to our ancestors? 

Victorian values for plant species

Recently, whilst killing time between appointments, I stumbled upon a little book in a charity shop. The book is entitled "the language of flowers" and was published 45 years ago by Michael Joseph Ltd.  between its covers is a long list of mainly cultivated plants and their meanings. It's fascinating.

For example, the aster (aka Michaelmas Daisy) just starting to bloom beneath my office window signifies an afterthought. The African marigolds putting on such a colourful display outside the pub next door are symbolic of vulgar minds and the ice plant (sedum) that I value so much as a late season nectar provider, in the language of the flowers means "your looks freeze me" charming!

Sadly, fewer wild flowers than cultivars are mentioned in the book. Perhaps the Victorians were not particularly fond of native species, maybe a nose gay plucked from the hedgerow was considered less beautiful than a posy of exotic blooms.  Who knows? But here are the few wild species that are mentioned in the book and the Victorian meaning of each.


Achillea Millefolium: (yarrow to you and me): war  yarrow

Agrimony: thankfulness, gratitude

Ash tree:(how would that fit in a bouquet?): grandeur

Beech tree: prosperity

Belladonna: (deadly nightshade) silence

Birds foot trefoil: revenge

Yarrow: the Victorian meaning is "war"
perhaps because it's named after a greek warrior

harebellBlackthorn: difficulty

Bluebell: constancy

Bramble: loneliness, envy, remorse

Bugloss: falsehood

Cinquefoil: maternal affection

Red clover: industry

White clover: think of me

Coltsfoot: justice shall be done

The harebell signifies submission or grief
is that because it hangs it's head? 

ragged robinCorn cockle: duration, gentility

Cowslip: pensiveness, winning grace

Cuckoo pint: ardour

Garden daisy: I share your sentiment

Oxeye daisy: a token

Foxglove: insincerity

Ragged robin for "wit"

Grass: utility, submission

Guelder rose: winter or age

Harebell: submission, grief

Hawthorn: hope

Hemlock: you will be my death

Liverwort: confidence

Meadowsweet, delicious scent but Victorians
associated it with uselessness 

foxgloveMallow: mildness

Meadowsweet (my favourite wildflower): uselessness

Stinging nettle: you are cruel

Poppy: consolation

Primrose: early youth or sadness

Quaking grass: agitation

Ragged robin: wit

Saint john's wort: animosity

Scabious: unfortunate love

Sorrel: affection

Tansy: I declare war on you

Foxgloves, symbolic of insincerity 


Gosh, that seems to encompass the whole spectrum of human emotion. Everything anyone could possibly want to say to somebody else. But what of the wild flowers that have no mention? What do they mean? What of wild carrot? Toadflax? Cornflowers? Vetch? Campion? Fox and cubs? Dandelion?

What do wild flowers mean to you?

These little stunners deserve more recognition.  Should we invent a 21st century language of wild flowers?  What meanings would you attribute to what plants and why?