Floriography or The Language of Flowers

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How to send a secret message with flowers!

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A Message in a Bouquet

E. Nash Motto Series M-6 Postcards, Iris. To receive an Iris in a bouquet means "I have a message for you," and the content of the message will be conveyed by the meanings ascribed to the other flowers in the bouquet.

Floriography or The Language of Flowers is a metaphysical symbol-system and a secret form of communication in which flowers, twigs, leaves, and other botanical items are used to communicate ideas.

  • Flowers may be listed in correspondence with planets, signs of the zodiac, and spiritual entities such as goddesses, gods, and saints, in the same way that stones and minerals are, in order to facilitate magical spell-casting, divination by omens, and identification of spiritual entities in imagery or as offerings to them on altars.
  • Flowers may be assigned specific meanings in a coded language ("The Language of Flowers" or "Floriography") so that secret messages can be exchanged between people in the form of gift bouquets or potted plants, or in allusive poetry, conversation, or fiction, without observers or outsiders being aware of the message transmission method or the message itself.

In the first usage, Floriography has been around for centuries, as a way of marking omens, assuring the proper offerings for spiritual beings, and gathering ingredients for casting spells.

The latter form -- the coded language -- arose during the mid 19th century in France and soon spread to England and North America. Due to the era of its first appearance, during the reign of Queen Victoria of England, it is often referred to as "The Victorian Language of Flowers,"

Floral Symbolism

The ascription of symbolic significance to plants is as ancient as the use of plants in food and medicine. The magical meanings of roots, seeds, leaves, and flowers can be found everywhere on Earth. In some cases, the medical, culinary, or psychotropic use is predominant and lends its import to the plant; in other cases, the appearance or scent, especially of the flowers, plays the strongest role in the doctrine of signatures, and the meaning of the plant in magic is determined by aesthetics. This is particularly true of flowers, and an entire system of communication, called floriography or the language of flowers, has grown up around the use of flowers as messengers of unspoken meaning.

It is common in metaphysical work to overlay several correspondence systems -- astrological, mineralogical, botanical, zoological, chromatic, mythological, and religious -- so flowers often form one piece of the symbol set that accords with a given planet, zodial sign, day the the week, deity, stone, or metal. Fo this reason, floral ascriptions are often found in astrologically-based lists of months and birthstones or zodiacal signs and birthstones. To a certain extent, linkages between flowers and the zodiac or secular calendar are based on bloom-time for the flowers, but colour and form play a part as well.

Floral Languages

Floriography entered the wider world of magical popular culture during the mid 19th century, and the French were the first to both catalogue it and expand upon it, adding many exotic plants that would not be found as natives in Europe, but which were grown as garden subjects, potted greenhouse plants, or cut flowers to be given as bouquets. English books soon followed, and floriography became somewhat of a mania among the middle and late Victorian eras in England and North America. Dozens of books on the topic were published, many with lovely chromolithographic plates.

The idea was that by giving someone a bunch of flowers you could convey a coded message which could be decoded by the recipient, merely by consulting a floriographic book. Thus a gift of potted Pansies meant "Pensive Thoughts of You," while a bouquet of Lilies betokened "Purity" or non-sexual love. Red Roses told of "passionate love," but Yellow Roses spoke of "envy." And not only flowers were included in this floral language: Ivy meant "I Cling to You," and a branch of Pine conveyed "steadfastness" and "longevity."

Of course, when the postcard craze of 1907 to 1915 hit, the fine chromolithographic publishers of Germany, England, and the United States rushed to fill the desire for floriographic cards. Such cards were printed and published in sets, ranging from as few as 6 to as many as 80 cards in a set.

Floriography Today

Floriography is with us still and remains popular among those who work with nature and the botanical world in their spirituality and magic. It is a deep subject with a long history, which i will continue to address here at Your Wate and Fate.

And, it is worth noting, that there is also a Language of Vegetab;les, which we will explore at a later date.

See Also


catherine yronwode
curator, historian, and docent
Your Wate and Fate


Special thanks to my dear husband and creative partner nagasiva yronwode for illustrations, scans, and clean-ups.