Part I


A blog series on the Victorian’s use of the secret language of Floriography

Floriography- or the language of flowers, is a means of cryptological communication through the use or arrangement of flowers. Meaning has been attributed to flowers for thousands of years, and some form of floriography has been practiced in traditional cultures throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. Plants and flowers are used as symbols in the Hebrew Bible, particularly of love and lovers in the Song of Songs, as an emblem for the Israelite people and for the coming Messiah. In western culture, Shakespeare ascribed emblematic meaning to flowers, especially in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Similarly, in a scene in his Henry VI, Part 1, English nobleman pick either red or white roses to symbolize their allegiance to the Houses of Lancaster or York.

Interest in floriography soared in Victorian England and in the United States during the 19th century. Coded messages were sent using plants, blooms and specific floral arrangements, thus allowing the sender to express feeling to the recipient which could not be spoken aloud in Victorian society.(1) Many Victorians carried small floral dictionaries and often exchanged small talking bouquets, called nosegays or tussie-mussies, which were commonly worn or carried as a fashion accessory.

Juliet. O! Be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose 
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d…
- (Romeo and Juliet 2.2.46-49)

Seeing as June is The Month of the Rose, we will begin our journey into floriography here. There are many types of roses, as you may well know – and within each varietal different colors and shades and so on and so on… For this reason, we will touch on some of the common ideas of the Victorian Floriography of the rose – just remember, this is going to be an ongoing blog series, so we will come to roses time and time again!

Roses of all the flowers, are particularity complex. You had to take into account many factors; including the color of the rose, also the shade of that color, the use of different colors in one bouquet and even the type of rose or roses in your arrangement. Then you have to take into account the positioning of the roses, which could change the meaning all together. And for times sake, we won’t even dabble in mixed arrangements in this post, as each flower and color has its own meaning.

I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: no good in bed, but fine up against a wall.

Eleanor Roosevelt
red and white flowers in white ceramic vase
Photo by Julian Paolo Dayag on

The rose generally indicative of love – but there are still a multitude of questions to ask as you put your arrangement together.

What kind of love where you trying to convey? It is believed that a deep red rose portrays deep emotions… but what kind of emotion? Admiration? Respect? Devotion?

And then you have the question of how many roses to send? Twelve red roses meant “Be mine. I love you.” Nine roses represented “We’ll be together forever.” While twenty-one roses said “I’m dedicated to you.”

A white rose could say “I am worthy of you”, while white rosebuds honored girlhood. Red rosebuds were considered lovely and pure, and yellow roses tended to convey jealousy. Orange roses could mean desire and pink roses usually were meant to show gratitude.

The variety of the rose itself also carried its own meaning. For example, a damask rose admired a beautiful complexion, while a cabbage rose was an ambassador of love. And lets not forget that it was the Lancaster and York rose that declared war.

woman in white dress lying on red flower garden
Photo by Marián Šicko on

Even though we no longer have need for the Victorian way of communicating our feelings, many still use roses to convey there emotions. Here are some of the most popular symbols in modern society:

  • Red | love, romance, respect, courage, beauty and perfection
  • Burgundy | unconscious beauty
  • Deep pink | gratitude and appreciation
  • Light pink | admiration, gentleness, sympathy and grace
  • Peach | appreciation, sincerity, and gratitude
  • Pale peach | modesty
  • Salmon | enthusiasm, desire and excitement
  • Orange| fascination, energy and passion
  • Purple/ Lavender | enchantment, wonder and love at first sight
  • White | innocence, purity, humility, reverence, charm, worthiness and young love. On the other hand however, they can also signify death, a heart unacquainted with love, and also virginity
  • Ivory/ Cream | charm, thoughtfulness and gracefulness
  • Yellow | joy, gladness and friendship. They can however also imply infidelity
  • Yellow with red tips | friendship or falling in love
  • Green | cheerfulness, abundant growth and a constant rejuvenation of spirit
  • A combination of red and yellow roses | gaiety and happiness
  • A mix of white and red roses | unity
  • A thorn less rose could mean love at first sight, while a single rose in full bloom carries the sentiment of “I Love You” or “I still love you”.

Take from this post, what the Victorians took from there arrangements – and translate to your own hearts content.

And so it is remains in modern times, as it was in the Victorian day – a rose will speak its own truth.

pink roses
Photo by Isabelle Taylor on

If you enjoyed this post, please be sure and subscribe! This is the first post in a blog series of what is sure to be a very interesting look into The Secret Language of Flowers – Floriography!

Topher Mulholland

Co-Founder and Managing Creative Director for The Bazaar, LLC –, and Content Creator for this blog

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Posted by:Topher Mulholland

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