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Floriography: A Blossoming Revival

The Victorian era — a period of booming industries and scientific innovation — conceived an abundance of revolutionary inventions still in critical use today. And while some of these trends, such as arsenic and tonic skincare and Freakshows, have thankfully faded out of common use, one central trend must make its comeback: Floriography — the language of flowers. The coded language of flowers was so much grander than “red roses symbolise love” and “yellow represent friendship”; it was an intricate method of communication commonly used by members of refined society to escape social conventions of restrictive expression. If corsets and outfits resembling all-black-mourning garb can come back in fashion, what flows more seamlessly into the modern coquette-Pride-and-Prejudice era of today than cryptic floral communication.


Everything from the assortment of the bouquet, the stem, leaves, and shade of petals could alter the meaning of the message you were attempting to send. The receivers themselves held an important role: the way in which you held the bouquet illustrated whether or not you approved of this message. The art itself was quite delicate. God forbid you send a Jaqueminot rose — symbolising mellow love — instead of a Moss Rosebud — a confession of love. Flowers such as lavender and yellow carnations, often innocently gifted to friends today, would symbolise distrust and disappointment in an era of floriography. 

Floriography did not begin in the early 19th century; rather the language’s roots can be found much further back in mythology, royalty and folklore. For instance, Shakespeare’s Ophelia is famously portrayed as “manically” handing out loose flowers to characters of the play — those flowers symbolising her slights at their infidelity, betrayal and destroyed innocence. Remnants of the art remain even today, with the royal family employing symbolic flowers at their grandiose weddings to wish wellness and prosperity to the newlyweds. Imagine the twenty-first century with a renewed embracement of floriography — a world appreciative of our connection with nature, and open to creative expression and communication with one another. As a society we’ve undoubtedly lost our engagement with natural things of beauty, opting for gifts of a more materialistic and temporary value.


Gone will be the days of complex peace treaties and declarations of war; instead, world leaders could opt for sending a bouquet of cattail as a simple way to end a conflict and remind each other of their mutual respect and peace. For those of us petty creatures, flowers could provide a plethora of ways upon which to send a much-needed antagonistic message to those who have slighted us. A single daffodil could ignite a yearly lasting feud; posting a photo of Dame’s rocket and tagging your enemy could illustrate your rivalry with another. Comment an emoji of a black dahlia under a couple’s hard launch if you’re keen to reveal a cheating scandal or simply start some drama. Outside of the ethereal essence of the flowers themselves or the drama they can bring about, they prove a relatively accessible, inexpensive way with endless combinations to gift our appreciation for one another.


With Valentine’s Day hastily approaching, it’s time we re-adopt the language of flowers and make our romantic or lustrous desires known in the most classic of fashions. Delete Tinder and peruse the St Andrews streets with bundles of hyacinth and iris to “DM” the singles of the town. Why tell your friend that the man she’s flirting with at the bar is chock full of money when you could simply hand her a cabbage? Send a four-leaf clover over to your seven-month-situationship and finally ask them “Will you be mine?”; or adversely send a bouquet of nightshade and candytuft, symbols of bitter truth and indifference, if you wish to continue your unsustainable-toxic-pseudo-relationship. Skip over Crushes of St Andrews, and instead place gardenias and periwinkle at their door to declare your attraction and pray you don’t get served with a restraining order. And should you receive an anonymous bouquet of gardenias and periwinkle perhaps nail a poppy to your door to indicate that you are absolutely not available, unfortunately the renewal of floriography will not rid you of the weird potential stalker that stares at you in your seminar.

Illustration by: Darcey Bateson

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