The Special Collections at the University of Tulsa contains many works about myriad of subjects. I have discovered many interesting volumes when browsing the shelves. The most recent finds are three small tomes regarding the meanings and symbolism associated with flowers: The Language of Flowers with illustrative poetry; to which are now added the calendar of flowers and the dial of flowers published in 1838, The Sentiment of Flowers or language of Flora published in 1837, and The Language of Flowers by Margaret Pickston published in 1968.
Symbolism and hidden meanings have been associated with objects for millennia. The flower language originated in Napoleonic France from eighteenth century themes and ideas. The language of flowers seems to be based on Western conceptions of Oriental courtship. By the nineteenth century Europeans associated flowers with the language of love. This symbolic dialect reached its height in the Victorian era.
Many books were published on the subject, however the exact meanings were never agreed upon by authors or publishers and specific flower meanings could vary in different publications. These books were often given as prizes or gifts. These little books often presented unique, specific meanings and poetry attributed to each plant. Many of these volumes were accompanied with detailed colored illustrations.
These popular flower publications were intended for female readers. However, the continued industrialization and urbanization of the twentieth century de-emphasized the botanical natural world. The views and roles of women began to shift. The ‘sentimental’ natural symbolic associations became old fashioned and these types of publications began to decline.
Some of the common plant meanings are:
Basil – hate
Buttercup – ingratitude
Corn – riches
Daffodil – self-love
Daisy – innocence
Grass – utility
Holly – foresight
Honeysuckle – generous and devoted affection
Ivy – friendship
Lavender – mistrust
Mignonette – your qualities surpass your charms
Narcissus – self-love
Parsley – festivity
Rosemary – your presence revives me
Snowdrop – hope
Strawberry – perfection
Sunflower – false riches
Tansy – I declare war against you
Tulip – declaration of love
Violet – modesty
Seaton, Beverly. The Language of Flowers: A History. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995. Print