Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

Main Page This family-friendly site celebrates Italian culture for the enjoyment of children and adults. Site-Overview



The Language of Flowers and Foliage - A Victorian tradition that has it's roots in antiquity


Room With a View



Enchanted April



















Victorian Bazaar has a list of meanings in English




The illustrator Kate Greenaway provided the delicate images for a Language of Flowers dictionary that you can now view on-line thanks to the wonderful Project Gutenberg.


Kate Greenaway's Language of Flowers On-Line




You can download a PDF version made from a scan of the book from the, also wonderful, Internet Archive.  You have to have a free membership to download the book.  It is WELL worth the small effort.  The Archive is a great source for bibliophiles.


Kate Greenaway's Language of Flowers Page




Here are some beautiful books on the Language of Flowers from






Mrs. Radcliffe's A Sicilian Romance  with a link to a free PDF copy



Ancient Roman texts mention medicinal herbs and flowers.  And the Latin names for flowers, trees and herbs often signified either their use or a meaning associated with the plant.

But it was only in the Victorian era that these meanings were collected together and codified for use in bouquets for secret floral messages between lovers.

So in the mid 1800s, when someone created a bouquet, they created a message too.  The message wasn’t written in a letter or on a card, but in the arrangement of flowers and foliage that made up the bouquet. 

For the educated at that time, flowers and foliage had assigned meanings.  So the combinations used to make bouquets conveyed messages, to be read only by others in-the-know. 

The mythical origins of the language explains that they came from Turkey where a French painter wooed a Harem girl.  He took her back to France as his wife where she taught European women to speak with flowers and foliage to their lovers.  The Europeans then taught everyone else.



Some plant meanings are obvious, like the Venus’ Fly-Trap signifying deceit and danger.  Ouch!  And a Lemon Branch meaning zest or vigor.  Zing! 

Some meanings are obvious if you know the Latin name for the flower, like the Daffodil.  In Latin it’s called a Narcissus, named for the vain god.  The Daffodil signifies egotism.

The more interesting are the counter-intuitive ones, like a Cactus symbolizing warmth.  But if you think about it, the Cactus grows in a warm climate.  The prickliness is ignored.

It’s interesting to note that some meanings are different than meanings we commonly accept today, such as for the Shamrock.  It does not symbolize luck, but instead means lightheartedness. 

And the holiday-season favorite, Mistletoe, does not mean a kiss, but instead means ‘I surmount difficulties’.  Perhaps the difficulty surmounted is how to get a certain person to let you kiss them, or how to get a certain person to kiss you? Just a thought… 

And in some countries, for Remembrance Day, a day to honor the fallen in war, people wear Red Poppies.  But it's Rosemary that signifies remembrance.  The Red Poppy signifies condolence.  So the Red Poppy wearing show condolences for those the dead left behind, not remembrance of the war dead themselves.

One plant meaning is still commonly known.  The Olive Branch is the universal symbol of peace.  And you do still hear people say someone is as solid as an Oak.  The Oak symbolizes bravery. 



While the language of flowers and foliage is a dead language today, the dictionaries for this language still exist and inspire the more romantic, or devious, among us.  If that includes you, here are some suggestions.

  • A bride’s bouquet of Blue Violets and Forget-Me-Nots surrounded by Ivy promises a faithful and true love within marriage.

  • A Cabbage Rose and Lupines sent ahead by a date means the person will arrive as an ambassador of love, voracious for your company.

  • You could head off the ambassador with a bouquet of Orange Blossoms and Acacia Leaves declaring your chastity (with them) and offering friendship instead.

  • If you receive Variegated Tulips with Peonies it could be you have an admirer of your beautiful eyes who’s too bashful to tell you in person.

  • Watch out for an Oleander Branch with Lavender around a Tuberose.  Someone could be trying to tell you to beware and to distrust dangerous pleasures.

  • But Hollyhock with Sweet-Peas means someone has ambitions for delicate pleasures.

  • A sweet arrangement is Buttercups with Daisies and Magnolia, communicating a childish, innocent, love of nature.

  • Even sweeter is Honeysuckle, meaning generous and devoted affection.

  • At a time of loss, Pansies with either Red Poppies, Marigolds or Pine Branches tell a person of your thoughts for them of consolation, despair and pity.

  • But if the person mourning responds with Mimosa and Elm branches, they’re telling you they’re still sensitive yet coping with dignity.

  • Decorating your doorway with Oak Branches would signify your hospitality to your party guests as they arrive.

  • And a gift bouquet for your party host of Sweet Basil, Parsley, Mint, and Sage will not only make the food more flavorful, but also send good wishes for the festivity, and praises the host for their virtue, especially their domestic virtues.

  • The earthy combination of Grass and Wheat stocks means there’s to be a submission with an expectation of great riches.

  • But for the broken heart, try sending the heart-breaker some Lettuce Leaves with Hydrangeas and one White Rose Bud.  If they understand the language of flowers and foliage, they’ll know you consider them a cold-hearted, boaster who’s heart is ignorant of love.



I’ll leave you with an Oak leaf with an Olive Branch, or the wish that you’re brave enough to seek peace where you now have strife.