Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension, P.O. Box 68, LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068   Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

Flowers Speak Volumes - A Floral Lexicon

You know what roses mean. But did you know your choice of color can make or break someone's Valentine's Day? And beware of other blossoms -  they can speak volumes.  The custom of exchanging flowers may have less to do with romance and chivalry than with anxiety.  For the shy or uncertain, handing over a bouquet of flowers is an easy way to express sentiment.

Ancient myths, biblical stories, and fables all assigned meaning to flowers. In the early 1700's, King Charles II of Sweden introduced a new language to Europe when he brought the Persian poetical art called "the language of flowers" to the west. Floral lexicons were published throughout the 18th century, allowing secrets to be exchanged with a lily or lilac, and an entire conversation to take place in a bouquet. It seems the more popular the flower, the more superstitions and meanings have been associated with it.

Whatever its origin, the rose is undeniably the best known symbol of beauty and love. It is common knowledge that red roses mean I love you. A dozen of them makes the ultimate statement on Valentine's Day, a tradition surely developed by those who measure value by quantity rather than quality.

Lesser known nuances of meaning are attached to different colors and types of roses. If you're going to join the majority and get roses for your valentine, you'd better get the definitions straight.

Red and white together mean unity, pink means grace and gentility, and yellow symbolizes joy. If you want to stir things up a bit, send orange or coral roses to speak your desire. Burgundy is a compliment to your sweetheart's unconscious beauty.  Sweetheart roses are for couples who like nicknames, as they mean darling, dear, or honey. A single rose signifies simplicity, a nice statement if your pockets are empty. Be certain not to confuse white roses with white rosebuds; the first means you're heavenly, while the second warns that you're too young for love.

We have progressed from Victorian days -- e-mail allows you to woo another across  the globe as easily as across the room. Communication may have expanded globally.  But in another sense, we may have lost ground. Since the only flower that has a universally understood meaning these days is the rose, undiversified flower giving on Valentine's Day has reduced the language of flowers to a monosyllabic grunt.

So if you want to let someone know how you feel this Valentine's Day, exercise your freedom of expression by choosing from a wide array of meaningful blossoms. Flowers are a lot more subtle than the in-box on your e-mail, and they look much nicer on the table or a night stand.

If you want to stray from tradition, or if "I love you" is not what comes to mind when thinking of your valentine, maybe you want something other than the rose.

There's a slew of nice things to say with other flowers, and they're just as nice to receive. Several flowers pose as rose impostors: red chrysanthemums, tulips, and carnations all still say I love you.

The daisy will compliment your valentine's beauty, while the elegant calla lily tops that by celebrating your lover's splendid beauty. You can only send a lilac once since it goes to your first true love. The gardenia is for the scared or the shy, since it expresses secret untold love.
Violets express affection. Mild or deep-rooted?  The floral lexicon doesn't specify!

Some not-so-nice sentiments require a feistier petal, great for couples on the rocks. Mock her vanity by giving narcissus, the flower of self love. Let him have it with a petunia, which expresses anger and resentment. It's okay when your valentine flirts with you, but when it's with another, give a dandelion picked from the sidewalk. Make sure your marigold properly expresses your emotions - the large flowered signify jealousy, while the small flowered encourages your loved one to never despair.  A striped carnation is flat-out refusal, but if that's the case, why send flowers at all?

There are flowers for more unusual tastes if these are not enough.  For the rough exterior, soft inside  types, the cactus gives the surface impression of intimidation, but sends a deeper message of  warmth. Give wisteria to the suave gentleman you meet on the street to say welcome,  fair stranger. For a mama's boy or girl, moss is an expression of maternal love.

If you receive no flowers but are invited for a pasta dinner, you may be in trouble.  Be especially aware of pesto: basil, the cruelest of all flower words, can mean hatred.

Show off your new flower vocabulary, but remember that knowledge is a double-edged sword. You are now equipped with the tools to decipher what your date really thinks of you or subtly express your true feelings with flowers. Good luck and good gardening.

Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service.  Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975,  e-mail - or phone 863-674-4092 or  863-983-1598.  You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle.   Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an Equal Employment Opportunity - Affirmative Action Employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap or national origin.

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