Floral Poetics: The Language of Flowers in Modern Poetry

Floral Poetics: The Language of Flowers in Modern Poetry

Many people assume that the Victorians created the language of flowers, but it was actually two women from Europe’s 1700s who kick-started the craze. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Aubry de la Mottraye both traveled in the Ottoman Empire and brought back their knowledge of a secret coded language based on flower symbols.


Floriography (or flower language) was a popular Victorian era craze that involved sending coded messages with flowers. Despite its waning in the late nineteenth century, floral symbolism remains relevant today. For instance, contemporary artist Whitney Lynn created a project for San Diego International Airport using flowers with specific sentimental meanings.

The florature craze began in Ottoman Turkey, and was brought to Europe by Lady Mary Wortley Montague and Seigneur Aubry de La Mottraye. After gaining popularity, numerous floriography dictionaries were published. These books included botanical information, novelty items like calendars, and lists of flowers with their associated symbols. Some of these meanings were based on legends, folklore and mythology (the daffodil’s association with egotism, for example), while others came from the flowers themselves. Interestingly, the authors of these books often quoted an Eastern tradition called Selam in their flower dictionaries.

Victorian Era

Floriography, or the language of flowers, served as a subtle form of covert communication in Victorian society. This coded botanical system could convey affection, desire, or disdain, allowing those in an era governed by strict etiquette to communicate their sentiments in a socially acceptable manner.

Books devoted to the flower language became popular in the early 19th century, and dictionaries of flowers and their symbolic meanings soon emerged. But the nuances of this flower language could vary based on the flower, how it was presented or even the hand that delivered it. This nuanced expression of emotion allowed for much room for creativity and interpretation. The flower lexicon expanded to include more than 1,400 different flowers, herbs, and trees. Even though the lexicon varied from culture to culture, many of the sentiments were similar.

Symbolism Evolution

Since the earliest of times, flowers have been used to convey deep messages of love, respect, and emotion. As culture evolves and plants become more widely cultivated, old meanings are modified or forgotten, while new ones emerge.

As the flower language craze grew in popularity in 19th century England and North America, authors penned intuitive guides and dictionaries that associated a particular flower with its symbolic definition. These dictionaries were often lavishly illustrated and bound with sentimental dedications.

Many of the attributed symbols stemmed from mythology, folklore, and religion. For instance, daffodils’ association with egotism was inspired by the story of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool. Others were derived from the plant’s appearance or attributes. For example, mimosa flowers evoked feelings of purity because they close at night and are touch-sensitive.

Cultural Influences

In the Victorian Era, flower language blossomed as a form of discreet communication. It suited a culture where direct verbal expression of feelings was frowned shop hoa tuoi upon and etiquette was an important part of social interactions.

Floriography was popular with the upper class and women’s magazines like Godey’s Ladies’ Book often ran features on it. It was also a popular parlor game where blindfolded people picked a flower from a vase to determine their fate, love or fortune.

During this time, there were numerous flower dictionaries published which gave each bloom a distinct meaning. The lexicons could be quite varied; for example, hyacinth flowers were thought to symbolize beauty, but also loyalty, piety, and forgiveness. These interpretations were based on a variety of sources, including classical literature, Shakespearean associations, and earlier French floriographies.


The practice of flower symbolism is still popular today. It’s used by artists, designers, editors, florists, marketers, poets and writers. It’s often referred to as floriography or the language of flowers.

At its height in the Victorian era, floriography was a literary craze. Hundreds of flower, herb and plant books appeared. Some of these included lists of flowers, herbs and plants with their symbolic definitions. Others were based on legends and folklore. The association of daffodils with egotism, for instance, stemmed from the myth of Narcissus and his obsession with his own reflection.

Floral symbols convey a wide range of sentiments and messages. They also vary by color, as each hue evokes specific emotions and meanings. For example, a passionate red rose represents love and affection, while a delicate white rose signifies purity and innocence.

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