The Meanings of Flowers

Author and floral poet Geri Laufer explores the meanings of flowers and herbs through four tussie-mussie bouquets
meanings of flowers
The old-fashioned Language of Flowers assigns symbolic meaning to every flower and herb.

“Say it with flowers.” This familiar slogan signifies that the giver of a gift of cut flowers is more sensitive or thoughtful than the giver of other gifts. Relatively inexpensive, ephemeral yet beautiful, the gift of flowers is understood to be an exclamation point in a relationship; a congratulation; amends for an argument; a welcome; a get-well note; a general expression of love. But if the sender really has something to say, they will need to investigate tussie-mussies and appeal to the “old-timey” Language of Flowers.

The Language of Flowers developed in France before the Revolution and was based on a number of historical antecedents, including Greek and Roman mythology, the Judeo-Christian religion, herbal medicine, Renaissance art and literature, and the Turkish Selam, a rhyming language of objects. Each herb and flower, tree and plant was assigned a symbolic meaning based on its appearance, fragrance, or associations.

Dozens of Victorian-era Language of Flowers’ dictionaries were written to help the public become well-versed in this poetic method of communication. Some plants acquired several meanings, based on disparate global traditions. Thus, basil meant “best wishes” in Italy, “hatred” in Greece, and “sacred” in India. In other instances, several plants shared one meaning. For example, according to different sources, galax, ivy, gerbera daisy, Peruvian lily, pine, pussy willow, and the yellow rose all mean friendship. The lists are still longer for plants that symbolize love, joy, or health.

These four bouquets of get-well flowers, engagement flowers, wedding flowers, and graduation flowers examine the meanings of individual herbs and blooms.

tussie mussie, get well flowers, meanings of flowers
A small, tussie-mussie bouquet of get-well flowers in yellows

Get Well Flowers

Rose (yellow)=friendship, love
Chrysanthemum=joy, optimism, long life
Forsythia=good nature
Euonymus=long life
Feverfew=good health
St. John’s Wort=health
white tussie mussie, wedding flowers, meanings of flowers
A small tussie-mussie of wedding flowers in white with violets to symbolize faithfulness

Wedding Flowers

Rose (white)=unity, love
Violet=faithfulness, love, modesty
Azalea (white)=love, romance
Hellebore (white)=‘I dream of you night and day’
Clover=luck, health
Dogwood=love through adversity
Wheat=riches, prosperity
Olive=abundance, peace
Ivy=fidelity, friendship
pink tussie mussie, engagement flowers, meanings of flowers
A tussie-mussie bouquet of engagement flowers in pink and purples

Engagement Flowers

Sweetheart Rose (light pink)=grace, beauty, love
Azalea (pink)=love, romance
Statice=never-ceasing remembrance
Mint=warmth of feeling
Verbena=marriage, faithfulness
Rue=grace, clear vision, virtue
Scented geranium=preference, conjugal affection
Ivy=constancy, friendship
graduation flowers, meanings of flowers, tussie mussie
A tussie-mussie bouquet of graduation flowers

Graduation Flowers

Rose (hot pink)=reward of virtue
Bay laurel=success, personal achievement
Walnut=intellect, strength of mind
Cherry=good education
Lemon balm=sharpness of wit
Dusty miller=industriousness
Mini carnation (pink)=admiration
Clematis=ingenuity, mental excellence


By Geraldine Adamich Laufer | Photography by Alecia Lauren

For a modern glossary of the Language of Flowers, refer to Geraldine Adamich Laufer’s book, Tussie-Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in The Language of Flowers (New York: Workman Publishing Company, 1993). It includes Victorian meanings and researched meanings of flowers from traditions as far-flung as Asia and pre-Columbian South America, as well as Buddhist and Hindu customs.

Learn how to make a tussie-mussie with Laufer’s step-by-step instructions.

book cover for Tussie-Mussies, The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in The Language of Flowers