Sending flowers now more about the blooms than the message

FLOWER LANGUAGE: In Victorian times, blossoms carried special meaning to bouquet recipients, which would then be decoded with a "flower dictionary." (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

FLOWER LANGUAGE: In Victorian times, blossoms carried special meaning to bouquet recipients, which would then be decoded with a “flower dictionary.” (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

BIG RAPIDS — Sending someone a bouquet of flowers — or better yet, receiving one — is often viewed as a nice surprise or beautiful gift. Throughout much of the 1800s, though, a bouquet was more along the lines of a secret message.

Flower meanings

The Society of American Florists has compiled a list of historical flower meanings. Some of the more well-known flowers are listed below with their meanings, as found on aboutflowers.com.

Baby’s Breath = festivity

Black-Eyed Susan = encouragement

Carnation

  • pink = gratitude
  • red = flashy
  • striped = refusal
  • white = remembrance
  • yellow = cheerful

Daffodil = chivalry

Daisy = innocence

Iris = inspiration

Lilac = first love

Marigold = desire for riches

Rose  

  • pink = admiration/appreciation
  • red = passionate love
  • red & white = unity
  • white = purity
  • yellow = friendship

Sunflower = adoration

Violet = faithfulness


Entire books were published on the meanings behind certain blooms; “secret decoder rings” in print, if you will. Bouquets came from flowers grown in gardens and personal conservatories, or greenhouses, and often were hand-picked and arranged to convey a particular meaning. After all, in 1850s England, it’s not as though you could “let your fingers do the walking” to find a friendly florist to help you “say it with flowers.”

The floral code, however, began fading out in the early 1900s, when the attention of the populace turned more toward rebuilding after wartime.

COLOR SELECTION: Marti Van Order creates a flower arrangement with a variety of pink blossoms at Patterson's Flowers. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

COLOR SELECTION: Marti Van Order creates a flower arrangement with a variety of pink blossoms at Patterson’s Flowers. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

“I’ve read that flowers were a pre-digital version of emoji,” said Bob Patterson, of Patterson’s Flowers. “From research, I found out that in the aftermath of World War I, this focus on flower meanings kind of went away. People were involved in rebuilding and times changed. The big estates with the large gardens went away.”

As a result, the language Victorians expressed through flowers is wilting. While lists of blossoms and their meanings can be found online, for example at aboutflowers.com, where the Society of American Florists has compiled several lists of flowers, it’s not the first thing people think about when ordering a bouquet for their loved ones.

“We try to find out about the recipient’s personality, their likes and dislikes,” Patterson said. “Customers tend to go for arrangements that are vibrant and colorful. They go with their heart and let the colors speak as opposed to going with the flowers’ meanings.”

JUST SO: Megan Gifford, of Forget Me Not Floral and Design, carefully arranges blossoms in a vase for a customer. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

JUST SO: Megan Gifford, of Forget Me Not Floral and Design, carefully arranges blossoms in a vase for a customer. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

While some customers are seeking to send a certain message, many people aren’t aware of the hidden meanings in a bouquet, agreed Megan Gifford, of Forget Me Not Floral and Design.

“Someone might come in and ask specifically about flowers’ meanings, but not usually,” she said. “Roses are generally the flowers people think mean something.”

If people are specifically interested in flowers’ meanings, both floral shops have resources to help customers design the message they’re seeking. More often, however, questions of cost and color take precedence.

Flower selection also is about shared memories, added Anja Fitzgerald, also of Forget Me Not Floral.

“People connect to certain situations,” she said. “They connect lilies with funerals, for example. Customers go by color and the look of the flowers.”

FINISHING TOUCHES: Anja Fitzergerald finishes a floral arrangement at Forget Me Not Floral and Design. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

FINISHING TOUCHES: Anja Fitzergerald finishes a floral arrangement at Forget Me Not Floral and Design. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

Gifford, Fitzgerald and Patterson all agree — it’s the thought behind sending a gift of flowers that matters most these days, rather than what the flowers may have meant nearly 200 years ago.

“Flowers are all about emotions — love, friendship, sympathy,” Patterson said. “When you receive flowers, someone thought of you and wanted to share an emotion with you. It’s not the actual gift, it’s the act of being remembered that’s important.”

Bouquets also are best when tailored to the recipient, added Fitzgerald.

“We need to know if the flowers are going to an elderly person, for example, or a child,” she said. “Kids might like a big lollipop in the bouquet or a variety of colors, whether or not they match.”

“Where in comparison, elderly people like to have their flowers last longer,” Gifford added. “So we might use different flowers because those flowers last longer.”

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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