The Victorian Language of Flowers: A Secret Code

A girl holds an armful of forget me not flowers on a Valentine card

The Victorian Language of Flowers: A Secret Code

Today, giving flowers is a popular Valentine’s Day gift. A little more than a century ago, however, flowers were more than simply beautiful gifts. The type of flower given, even how the flowers were arranged, sent messages in a secret code. This is known as florigraphy, the language of flowers.  (This post is a companion piece to Melina Druga’s WWI Trilogy, Angel of Mercy, Those Left Behind and Adjustment Year, available wherever eBooks are sold.)

The purpose of these secret messages was to express emotions that society dictated could not be spoken out loud. The messages were decoded with the aid of flower dictionaries. At the peak of florigraphy, there were more than 400 floral dictionaries on the market, and sometimes a flower had a different meaning depending on the dictionary consulted.

It was popular to give others small floral arrangements called tussie-mussies or nosegays to convey messages. The arrangements were worn or carried as a fashion accessory. In addition to the flowers, they contained a doily and a ribbon.

The Language of Flowers

What does this woman's bouquet mean in the language of flowers?
What does this woman’s bouquet mean in the language of flowers?

These are a few examples of flowers and their meanings:

  • Baby’s Breath: Innocence
  • Begonia: Beware
  • Stripped Carnation: No
  • Dandelion: Faithful, Happy
  • Dead leaves: Sadness
  • Fern: Magic
  • Grass: Homosexual love
  • Purple hyacinth: I’m sorry
  • Calla lily: Beauty
  • Morning glory: Affection
  • Nuts: Stupidity
  • Olive branch: Peace
  • Poppy: Eternal Sleep
  • Pink rose: Happiness
  • Red rose: Love
  • Yellow rose: Friendship
  • Tall sunflower: Pride
  • Variegated tulip: Beautiful eyes
  • Verbena: Pray for me
  • Wisteria: Welcome
  • Mixed Zinnia: Thinking of an absent friend

Delivery Options

As important as the flowers chosen was their method of delivery.

If a bouquet was delivered upright, the message was positive. Delivered upside-down, the message was negative. Handed to someone with the right hand, it meant “yes.” Handed with the left hand, it meant “no.”

The WWI Trilogy by Melina Druga
The WWI Trilogy by Melina Druga: Angel of Mercy, Those Left Behind and Adjustment Year

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Updated:  21 October 2020
Melina Druga
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Melina Druga is a multi-genre author with a lifelong love of history, books and the English language. She pens historical fiction, chick lit and nonfiction.
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