The Language of Flowers

As I discussed last week roses have a special meaning depending on color.  This can actually delve deeper depending on variety but I’ll leave that alone because it is simply too much. Instead, I’m going to share with you a little symbolism behind flowers, and then I’ll explain the traditional language of flowers that became highly prevalent during the Victorian era.

Flowers as a whole have had distinct meanings for centuries. Take color for instance white flowers typically mean innocence and purity.  A common color for funerals – there is something distinctly sacred in death that defies color – a blank slate as you enter heaven, or a cleansing of sin. Even a bride wears white to signify virginity and wholesomeness; flowers can mimic the same sentiments.

Take a look at the Iris – it’s the state flower of Tennessee, the inspiration for the French Fleur De Lis, a symbol in many a royal family, the designated flower for a 25th wedding anniversary, and the birth flower for February.   It has several meanings such as wisdom, honor, and valor.  Nearly every flower has a list as impressive as the Iris – flowers might just be pretty to look at but they also have a voice and a place in this world.

In Victorian times and Regency, people rode in horse drawn carriages.  If they were lucky the carriage was enclosed, but if they wanted to be seen, as much of the peerage did, they took pride in riding though the parks in an open-faced coach.  Now, the problem to this is that you would be facing the sour end of a horse.  Therefore, women carried what is called a nose gay.  A small bundle of flowers in which to bury their nose and relieve themselves of the stench of the horse, the river, or any other multitude of things.  Typically, the nosegay was comprised of an ornate metal container with a loop at the bottom.  A woman would loop her pinky or ring finger through it, leaving the rest of the holder resting against her gloved palm.

There are oodles of stories around that explain how flowers actually began to have significant language.  The one that resonated with me is of a sad and lonely wife of a Duke, who was dreadfully unhappy to be separated from her true love.  In time, the pair circumvented the rigidness of society and found a way to be together.  Unfortunately, in those times a man couldn’t send an email or call her up on the phone to arrange a meeting. He would not want to write her a note incase her husband found it and they were discovered.  Between the two of them, they created a complex language of flowers in order to communicate with one another.  For example, he might send a nose gay, or another small handheld bouquet called a tussie mussie, with a red rose (love), a Scottish thistle (Scotland), some chickweed (a rendezvous), some purple hyacinth (sport), and just for grins a little geranium (conjugal affection).  His message might be interpreted as My love, meet me in Scotland for a rendezvous of sport and conjugal affection.   

A few more — If an arrangement included basil, pansies, and a sweet pea, it would mean Best wishes and loving thoughts on your departure.   A mix of an cymbidium orchid , a laurel leaf, and some juniper, might mean magnificent success on your new home.

The list goes on and on.  Over time this tradition grew into society and was, and still is, used in bridal bouquets and anniversary gifts.  I spoke earlier about Irises, the traditional have the meaning of “I Promise.”  So a bride might carry a bouquet of Iris, with white, pink, and red roses, meaning I promise you my innocence, my beauty, and my love.

There is an entire language open for interpretation on flowers.  Personally I’m enamored by how beautiful the sentiments can be behind something so beautiful.I love determining the meaning by color and interpretation to come up with something that truly speaks from my heart, something physical and artistic that words can not describe.

Next week I’m going to finish up my month long devotion to flowers with a piece about why you should support your local florist.  For today please comment with any flower you’d like to know the meaning of and I’d be happy to get back with you tonight about what they mean and what symbolism they might have.



Did You Know…Most Red Roses Don’t Have A Scent??


Yes, it is true.  The majority of red roses, and some colored ones, have absolutely no scent.  Most people only imagine they smell, and nine times out of ten people hold it to their nose and inhale deeply.  (Now that you know this little secret you’ll snicker every time you see someone doing this – hehehehe)

Why? Long ago roses had a wonderful fragrances.  Then we started to cut them and stick them in vases and when they bloomed in a day or two and we threw them out. In order to increase vase life, meaning the amount of time a flower will live outside of it’s natural environment, rose cultivators breed the fragrance out of the flower.  So do you want scent or do you want a flower that will last?  From being in the industry I can tell you a 7 day vase life for a rose is good, 14 is better.  If we still had the fragrance you’d only get a few days at most.

Now I say red roses – but not all of them.  In fact many varieties of roses have scents, they are just heartier and stronger than the overused red varieties.

Last week I suggested if you are going to purchase roses for Valentine’s day, you should consider colored roses and stay way from red. I don’t do this lightly – red roses mean love and what could be more wonderful than receiving a dozen long stem red roses?  Okay – well to some it’s a little cliché’ and as writers we know to stay away from that nasty word.  Colored roses, especially bi-colored tend to live longer.  They are not mass produced so they are more hearty and strong.  A rose like the Esperance, pale pink rose with light green edges, has lots and lots of petals, so when it blooms you will get a fuller and thicker flower, and it has a touch of fragrance.


When I first worked in the floral industry I didn’t know about the language of flowers or the history behind them.  I will go into detail on this next week, but this week I wanted to share with you some symbolism behind roses in particular.

A red rose means love

A white rose means innocence and purity – it also represents sympathy

A yellow rose means friendship

A pink rose means beauty

A orange or coral rose means desire

A lavender rose means fascination

A champagne rose means vitality and devotion

A green rose means freshness

A peach rose means immortality

So instead of just one bouquet that says I love you, why not one that says…You are beautiful, you are my friend, I desire you, You fascinate me….Oh the romantic possibilities.

The care and feeding of roses – Change their water daily or at least every other day. No leaves under the water. Give them a fresh cut on the diagonal so they can keep sucking up the water.  If you receive a little packet of floral food, give them a little, not the whole package, I usually get four uses out of one of those. My advice is to use slightly warm water, in my opinion cold water will shock your flowers and they will not last as long.

My last word of advice.  Do not purchase your flowers from a wire service, FTD, Teleflora, etc.  Buy directly from your local florist, you will get better service, exceptional product and more for your money. I suggest the best shop ever – where they sell emotions – or

Please feel free to comment if you’d like any additional advice on what to order for your loved ones this Valentine’s day. I’d love to answer your questions and talk flowers.  What are your favorite color of roses?  Any special rose stories?



Why Roses Are So Expensive on Valentine’s Day


In honor of Valentine’s day this month I’m going to talk about my second passion in life, Flowers.

Long long ago in a land way to far away – I was a floral designer.  A dream job not only because it had the opportunity to be creative but because I was able to work with one of the most beautiful mediums on earth. I loved going to work everyday and picking out colors and shapes and putting them together in a work of art.  It also helped that I worked for the best floral shop with the most amazing woman in the industry.

When circumstances made it impossible for me to continue working as a designer I started to work for one of the big wire services.  For those of you not familiar with the industry, that would be FTD/Telefora/1-800-flowers, etc.  They give florists the ability to transfer orders from one store to the next, a necessary evil for most shops. My job was to sell flowers to florists direct from the farm.

It was here I learned some very valuable and very important lessons.  Let’s talk about the farms a little bit.   There are floral farms all over the world, predominately we see them in Ecuador, and Columbia, this is because it is a perfect climate to grow flowers year around.  We also see a large population of flowers coming in from Holland (think tulips) Florida, and California.  These farms cultivate fields and fields of flowers of every variety, shape, color etc.  They are also where new varieties are created.

The flowers are grown at the farms, when ready they are cut and packaged.  Typically the product is dry packed, meaning they are put in a box without water, held at a cool temperature in order to preserve the freshness and then flown into a warehouse in the states.  Once in the states orders are filled by the grower and sent either directly to the consumer, directly to the florist or directly to the wholesaler.  Usually florists order from their wholesaler.  This helps because they are able to buy 1-2 bunches of flowers instead of an entire case.  The florist then sells the flowers to the consumer.  So, to sum up a typical chain of custody – Grower to warehouse, warehouse to wholesaler, wholesaler to florist, florist to consumer.

Now everyone in that chain needs to make a profit, correct?  Yes.  So the grower needs to be paid for their product.  Let’s say they charge $0.50 a stem (product plus transportation), by the time the wholesaler gets it and sells it to the florists we might be looking at $1.00 a stem.  By the time the florist cleans and arranges the flowers and sells them, you might be looking at $1.50 a stem.

So why is it the flowers at Valentine’s day are so much more expensive then they are the rest of the year?  No it’s not that the florist wants to make a bucket load of cash for the holiday and rip of their customer because they can. That has absolutely nothing to do with this.  It happens to deal with availability and demand.

Let me explain.  I’ve shown you how the cost of a single flower can go from $0.50 to $1.50.  Now imagine if a flower you wanted is in high demand and you’ll do anything to get it, the price will go up right?  What happens to change the cost of the flowers.  For Valentine’s day a shop might order thousands of roses, the most popular flower for the holiday, which is way out of their normal ordering range.  In order to meet that demand the growers actually cut down their fields of roses, making flowers fairly cheap in September and October, but now those barren fields are able to produce enough flowers, (approximately 200 billion stems of roses) for the Valentine’s day holiday.

So the grower cuts down their fields to have enough flowers, but they also have to increase the number of employees during this time to help with cutting the roses, tending the fields, packaging the product, and shipping it.  It also means logistically hiring more airplanes to fly to product into the states, more trucks to deliver the product, more warehouse space for storage, and on and on.  Each of those steps are costing more money.  Therefore from the grower side the stem is costing $2.00 instead of $0.50.

By the time the florist gets the product and sells it to the consumer, we are looking at $3.00 or more a stem, at their cost.  Then to have the flowers arranged, and delivered there is a labor and gas charge, not to mention any other goods such as babies breath or greenery, and a vase.

There you have it, the florist is providing you a service, they want you to have the freshest most beautiful product.  They are not intentionally charging you $40.00 more for a dozen roses because they can, or because they are greedy – a major misconception that makes my blood boil – but because it costs extra to be able to create the masterpiece for you.

Now you might look at this and see my point, but then walk into your local grocery store and see roses at an unbelievable price for the holiday.  Grocery stores order in bulk, they order for possibly 300 major stores, whereas a local florist is buying for just one.  Mass markets like grocery stores receive benefits, have their own logistical solutions, and get reduced pricing from farms.  Often – they own their own floral farms, so they don’t have as high of a mark up.  This makes it hard for the local florist to compete, but the local florist also knows the value of a rose and they will treat it like gold, where you won’t get that care and handling from a mass market store.

So HerStoryCallers, I hope I have dispelled any myths about why roses cost so much this time of year and given you a little glimpse inside the world of floristry.  Next week I’ll be talking about roses in particular as we get ready for the big day.  For those of you thinking of ordering roses for the holiday – here’s my suggestion – but colored roses, pink, purple, orange, etc. and not red, you’ll get a better product that will last longer.  I’ll explain next week.

What are you Valentine’s day traditions?  What flowers would you like to receive for the holiday?