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Valentine’s Day: Flower Choices and Meanings

Valentine’s Day: Flower Choices and Meanings

The language of flowers: The floral offering...


by Melissa Bravo - February 9, 2016

“Why do flowers enter and shed their perfume over every scene of life, from cradle to the grave?”

Valentine 1

So asked author Henrietta Dumont in her 1853 book published in Philadelphia entitled “The Language of Flowers: The floral offering, a token of affection and esteem comprising the language and poetry of flowers”. This presumably is the same Henrietta Dumont, age 20, shown in the U.S. census as being born in Philadelphia in 1833.

Valentine 6

In this delightful book with illustrated color images accompanied by flower related poetry of the time, Henrietta gives us a glimpse of the Victorian Era language of flowers. A language now mostly forgotten by those who send and receive a bouquet of sweet-scented blossoms on Valentine’s Day.
Henrietta would have written this book at the midpoint of the reign of Queen Victoria of England (1837-1901). The Queen is credited with spearheading the world-wide infatuation with ‘Floriography’ and the etiquette of passing secret and not so secret messages of ardor, compassion, and even misdeeds.

Valentine 7

‘Valentine’ is the real name of two men – one a priest, another a bishop, who were persecuted and executed, one around the year 197 AD and the other in 496 AD, by the Romans for spreading Christianity. They both were later given sainthood in the Catholic Church, and Valentine’s Day became a dedicated day in the Church’s liturgical calendar. However, the romanticism of the phrase “Your Valentine” is more accurately described as a blend of myth, folklore, and heroism generously embellished by religious and even political agendas of the Era.

Valentine 2

The oldest preserved ‘Valentine’ inscription that we know of, is in a poem wrote in 1415 by twenty-one-year-old French-born Charles, Duke of Orléans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The heart-wrenching poem arrived too late – his wife had died. The poem can be found on display at the British Library in London. Certainly it is no coincidence that this man’s mother’s first name was ‘Valentina’. A woman who died of grief shortly after the treasonous slaying of Charles’s father Louis I, Duke of Orleans, a son, and brother of a French King. Charles is renowned to this day in Europe as a medieval poet who composed some five hundred poetic writings during the 25 years he was a prisoner of war.

Valentine 4

Sometime in the late 17th century, European entrepreneurs began to take aim at the hearts and souls of those caught up in the throes of love using endearing terminology affixed to a breathtaking bouquet. The Hull Museum in Yorkshire England has a wonderful collection of handmade valentine day cards exemplifying the card part of this passion. The Victorian Era fascination with gifting message-encoded floral displays presumably started after the King of Sweden brought the Persian custom to England on a visit in the 1700’s. By the late 18th century this method of gifting flowers for just about any occasion had become a global tradition, a tradition that is now a multi-billion dollar revenue generator for thousands of florists and greenhouse growers every year.

Valentine 5

And so, every year, on February 14th, some 250 million roses, and just as many carnations, make their way around the world. Most are grown in greenhouses in Colombia and Ecuador. The roses we enjoy on Valentine’s Day are grown at the equator to achieve a perfectly straight stem, a result of the plant reaching for the sun’s ray’s directly overhead. Once they begin to bud the flowers are shipped around the world to eventually arrive at your front door.

Valentine 3

Below are just a few examples of the floral meanings assigned to various flowers that can be used on this special occasion.

Carnation Pink: Pure love. See the poem “Desire” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Forget-me-not: Forget me not. See the book “Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart” by Mary Ann Hoberman

Honeysuckle: Generous and devoted affection. See the poem “The Wild Honeysuckle” by Philip Freneau

Lilac: First emotions of love. See the poem “Thou Art Not Lovelier than Lilacs” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Lily of the Valley: Return of Happiness. See the poem “The Lily of the Valley” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Roses: Love. See the poem “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns

Tulips: Declaration of love. Color meanings ranging from the white of respect, the cream of commitment, the purple of spring rebirth, the yellow of happiness and the variegated colors combining all of the above in a frenzied declaration.

Other favorites on Valentine’s Day include irises and many types of aster species. Can’t find the perfect poem or verse in the store card aisle? Consider writing your own poetry to your Valentine, or make use of a poem or verse of antiquity to express your feelings this year. If you need help with your verse, I can write your prose in rhyme, or help you compose a song, to your true love this Valentine.


Writing: N/A


Produced by Vogt Media

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