Our theme for the month of February is “plants.”
Although present throughout history, ascribing meanings to specific flowers reached a peak in the Victorian era, when people would send messages through floral arrangements or bouquets commonly called posies, nosegays, or tussie-mussies (yes, really). Typically the messages confessed, reciprocated, or rejected love. There were dictionaries devoted to the meanings of flowers, and even the way the bouquet was presented changed the meaning—whether it was given with the right or left hand, upside-down or right-side-up, or even how the ribbon was tied. Flowers could carry a number of different meanings, but I’ve rated the flowers below by their most common meanings and how I feel about them. Enjoy, and maybe take these meanings into consideration if you’re buying a bouquet this coming Valentine’s Day.
- Red rose — love, passion. A classic, if a bit cliche. Surely you could find something more creative and personal. And lacking thorns. 4/10.
- Baby’s Breath — true love, pure heart, innocence. Weird name for a flower, in my opinion, but a sweet meaning. There’s a good reason it’s used in so many wedding bouquets. 6/10.
- Red carnation — Alas for my poor heart, my heart aches. A bit melodramatic, but what can you expect from the Victorians? 10/10.
- Apple blossom — preference. If you aren’t ready to declare your undying love or aching heart, this flower seems a safe bet to still let the person know you like them. 8/10.
- Yellow (or striped) carnation — disdain, disappointment, rejection. This is the flower you would send in response to an unwanted suit. A lot of yellow flowers were used to signal rejection. What did the Victorians have against the color yellow? 5/10.
- Daffodil — regard, rebirth, new beginnings. Daffodils seem to be one of the few exceptions to the “yellow = negative” rule. This could be a good one for a new relationship. 7/10.
- Clematis — mental beauty. For when you want to compliment your beloved’s ~inner beauty~, because you’re not like other suitors. 7.5/10. (Compare to Japanese rose — beauty is your only attraction)
- Ranunculus — attraction, charm. An unattractive name for an attractive flower with an attractive meaning. 8/10.
- Zinnia — thoughts of absent friends. Here’s a good one to send for Galentine’s/Palentine’s Day. Friends deserve flowers too. 10/10.
- Sweet pea — delicate pleasure, farewell/departure. This can be given as a thank-you for a wonderful time spent together, such as after a dinner party. My personal favorite scent. 9/10.
Extras (aka maybe don’t send these):
Belladonna — silence. Belladonna is toxic—its other name is deadly nightshade—so this meaning might have been understood as a threat rather than a message of tranquility.
Peony — bashfulness, shame. I’m assuming this meaning comes from the way the heads of the flowers droop under the weight of their petals. It definitely runs counter to the meaning of the Mary Oliver poem.
Tansy — declaration of war. (Another yellow flower with a negative meaning. What goes on?) Use this one carefully.
Lauren Cole (’20) graduated with a major in English and minors in French and psychology. She grew up in Grand Rapids and wants to live as she wants to die—surrounded by trees. She loves adding books to her TBR, but actually reading them is another matter.