Saying It With Flowers: The Language of Flowers

Saying It With Flowers: The Language of Flowers

Saying It With Flowers: The Language of Flowers

“Say it with flowers” is a tagline we’ve all heard, but probably gave little thought to its origins. Legend has it that an advertising executive by the name of Patrick O’Keefe came up with it in 1917. O’Keefe was having a conversation with the then-president of the Society of American Florists, Henry Penn.

During their conversation, which was centered upon selling more flower arrangements, Penn is quoted as having said, “There’s nothing you can’t say with flowers.” This triggered O’Keefe’s “aha” moment. However, there’s more to the story than just that. Flowers had long been employed as a means of communicating complex feelings.

The Art of Floriography

People had been saying things with flowers long before O’Keefe coined the phrase. So much so, the practice actually had a name — Floriography, which basically means, “writing with flowers”.

The practice is said to have its roots in the Victorian era, when overt expressions of emotion were frowned upon.  Assigning meaning to various flowers gave people the ability to communicate without speaking. Floriography even incorporated the fragrances of different flowers. There was also a “dictionary” to help people understand what they were saying and what was being said.

Floriography and Tech

The Victorian era basically ended with the demise of Queen Victoria of Great Britain, who died in 1901. Some 16 years after her death, the need for Floriography has diminished somewhat. However, the development of a new form of communication technology sparked resurgent usefulness of the art.

The internet of its day, the telegraph made it possible for someone in San Francisco to send flowers to a person in New York City almost instantly. Taking advantage of this, a group of florists agreed to co-operate to fulfill orders for one another in their given cities. This was the beginning of the Florists Telegraph Delivery association, which today is known as “FTD”. The group adopted O’Keefe’s phrase for a 1918 Mother’s Day ad campaign and it has been in general use ever since.

Saying it With Flowers

While individual flowers conveyed specific messages, the way flowers were presented also bore meaning. For example, in response to a yes or no question, a bouquet passed with the right hand was affirmative, while flowers passed with the left hand signified a negative reply.

Passing a bouquet upside down carried the opposite of the meaning associated the flowers comprising the bouquet. As an example, a romantic gesture was being rebuffed when a gift of red roses was returned upside down.

A ribbon used to bind the bouquet also spoke volumes. The symbolism associated with the type of flower was an expression of the giver when the ribbon was tied to the left. Tied in the opposite direction it referred to the recipient.

The Language of Flowers

Given we’re talking about a language here, there were as many different associations as there are species of flowers. Moreover, color conveyed messages as well. Some of these have carried over into contemporary life.

Red typically exemplifies romantic love in Western cultures. Purple is emblematic of success, elegance and dignity.  Yellow symbolizes good luck, friendship and congratulations.

Perhaps predictably, red roses are emblematic of romantic love, as are red carnations, camellias and tulips. Sunflowers represent adoration and affection. Zinnias say you’re thinking of someone who is far away.

Dark colored geraniums express sympathy, as does lemon balm. Coral and yellow roses also convey sympathy.

Hollyhocks speak to fruitfulness and ambition, while yellow poppies express success. Hydrangeas are associated with new babies, as is heather.

In Summary

Regardless of what you’re trying to say, Floriography gives you the ability to communicate without uttering a single word. The good news is you don’t need to be fluent in Floriography to use it. The best florists can help you ensure the flowers you send say what you really mean.