The Victorians have a reputation for stodgy propriety that has outlived Queen Victoria’s reign by a century. Maybe they deserve to be remembered for modestly covering piano legs with frills, but let me tell you; they knew how to say it with flowers.
Floriography is the language of flowers, a fitting lesson for Valentine’s Day. Victorian suitors sent single flowers or bouquets of carefully-chosen posies, each of which signified a particular message. Etiquette books such as the 1883 “Our Deportment, or the Manners, Conduct, and Dress of the Most Refined Society; including Forms for Letters, Invitations, Etc.” served as code breakers. The blushing young recipient of a bouquet no sooner said “Thank you,” than she ran into the back parlor to parse the message of the flowers. And consider the message a young man sends with his choice of buttonhole boutonniere; he could be mildly dashing or wildly daring.
To make sure than none of us sends the wrong message on Monday, here is a brief primer on what popular flowers signify.
Red roses mean passionate, romantic love
Pink roses mean a slightly more temperate love
White roses mean virtue
Yellow roses mean friendship
Daisies mean innocence or friendship
Pansies mean thought
Daffodils mean mild affection
Ivy means fidelity
Tulips are a declaration of love. (The tulip is said to look like the eager, amorous face of a swain.)
Amaryllis means pride
Baby's Breath, so often tucked into a bouquet, means everlasting love
Carnations mean affection, but this is tricky. Pink means I’ll remember you forever, while yellow carnations signify rejection. A striped carnation, and these are common, means rejection.
Lilies mean hatred if they’re orange, or purity if they’re white. Be careful there!
When it comes to grouping your pick of posies, take care with roses, especially. A single rose means, simply, “I love you.” Red and white roses together signify togetherness. Wilted roses are a threatening gesture.
For a can’t-go-wrong Valentine’s Day, purple violets mean faithful. Tiny white violets are even better; they say, “Let’s give happiness together a try.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!
A version of this story appeared in 2011.