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Q&A: What was floriography?

How did saying it with flowers become the new way to communicate? Jonny Wilkes investigates…

Language of flowers postcard
Published: February 14, 2022 at 8:00 am
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In short: floriography is a symbolic, colourful and bizarrely complicated way of having a chat. Although an ancient idea, the conditions were just right in the 19th century for floriography, the ‘language of flowers’, to bloom.


Young lovers needed a way around the rules and etiquette of their repressive society, so flowers were each assigned a meaning or emotion, which were then given in bouquets – also known as a nosegay or tussiemussie – to spell out a clandestine message. There was no way of learning every single meaning, and they weren’t standardised anyway, so a heap of dictionaries were published to help.

Yet great care was still required. Love could be expressed in hundreds of ways, including with red carnations – but not striped ones. Those were tantamount to a rejection.


This article was taken from issue 65 of BBC History Revealed magazine


Jonny Wilkes
Jonny WilkesFreelance writer

Jonny Wilkes is a former staff writer for BBC History Revealed, and he continues to write for both the magazine and HistoryExtra. He has BA in History from the University of York.


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