Floracordially Yours

The updated language of flowers.

| April/May 1993

Let your imagination roam back to a time before television, radio, and the telephone. People read books, stationery was engraved, and conversation was an art. Another form of communication existed in addition to the spoken and written word—the language of flowers.

The Victorian era, ushered in with the coronation of England’s Queen Victoria in 1837 and lasting until her death in 1901, coin­cided with the industrialization of Great Britain and the United States. Hallmarks of the age ­included art, architecture, and furnishings noted for their ­ornate decorations, which often featured floral ­designs.

To the Victorians, science was progress, and botany was one of the scientific disciplines. It was just the thing to keep upper-class young ladies ­occupied without truly ­educating them. The study of flowers was considered appropriate for the daughters and wives of the men who made their fortunes in manufacturing and commerce. It did not overtax their fragile minds and bodies, and it was morally uplifting. (That plants reproduce sexually was conveniently glossed over.)

It was still very much a man’s world. Women were to be cherished, admired for their grace and beauty, and placed on very high pedestals. To occupy their time, women counted stamens and studied pistils with only a vague idea of their purpose, and revived the language of flowers that had originally flourished with the Greeks, ­Romans, Turks, Persians, and Chinese.

Flowers were assigned meanings based on their colors, shapes, habits, habitats, or histories. The language of flowers became the code of courtship and romance. A single flower, or a bouquet of them, could send subtle messages of inquiry—the basic question being, “Are you interested?” A positive response might eventually result in a more forthright message: “Your hot breath makes me quiver.”

Courtship in those days was a protracted affair. The ladies had a lot of time on their hands, perhaps because society frowned on having someone in their arms. The floral code made it possible to carry on a steamy affair without uttering a word.

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