The Victorian Meaning of Flowers

February 23, 2021 Bridget Blomquist , Associate Director of Horticulture

The Victorian Era was a time rich in technological advances, steeped in following proper social graces and following many rules in which to act. Courtship was regimented, long and had many watchful eyes on young people at social gatherings where they would hope to find a match. Victorians may have been repressed when it came to dating but were the most romantic when trying to gain the affection of those who caught their eye.

Rules of courtship and what was acceptable as romance gave way to the popularity of using flowers as a secret language. Although flowers and herbs had been assigned meanings for centuries, it was Lady Mary Montague, the wife of the English ambassador to Turkey, who was responsible for popularizing the use of flowers as messages in Europe. Lady Mary Montague observed the Turks using flowers to communicate expressions of love and sometimes disdain. Enamored by this practice, she wrote letters to her friends in Great Britain describing this practice. Soon floriography dictionaries with lists of flowers and their meanings were all the rage in the United Kingdom and spread all over Western Europe. 

Tussie Mussies were small, hand-tied bouquets given by suitors to let the apple of their eye know that they fancied them. The specific flowers and herbs used communicated a perfumed message of love and affection. If the recipient was happy to receive the message, she would hold it close to her heart. If this affection was unwanted, she would hold it down by her side and in some instances, gave a return tussie mussie with specific flowers that meant she was not interested. Even the placement of flowers within the bouquet had significant and intricate meanings. The act of flirting, exchanging desires, or rejecting a suitor could be communicated in a somewhat discrete way in a tussie mussie. After a while, tussie mussies began to gain popularity in Victorian culture as gifts and sentiments to mark special occasions like graduations, weddings or the birth of a new baby.

Why not break from the traditional bouquet of red roses? Send your special someone a personalized message of love, desire or admiration by using the floral language of the Victorians. Enlist your florist early to help track down the blossoms for a flirtatious bouquet. During the upcoming growing season, create your own tussie mussie from your home garden to mark celebrations or milestones for the special people in your life. There are many publications and floriography dictionaries available to help you create your floral messages.

Victorian Flower Meanings

Anemone- Forsaken
Bachelor Button- Single Blessedness
Carnation Red- My heart aches for you
Carnation Yellow- Rejection
Daffodil- Unrequited love
Dandelion- Faithfulness; happiness
Iris- Your friendship means so much to me
Ivy- Wedded love
Marigold- Jealousy
Pine- Hope
Poppy Red- Pleasure
Rose Pale Pink- Grace
Rose Dark Pink-Thankfulness
Spider Flower- Elope with me
Zinnia White- Goodness

This blog post and photos first appeared as an article in Life on Capitol Hill, February 2021.


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