The Meanings Attached to Flowers

Every year, as January wears on and February approaches, Beth Hentschel has a small but steady stream of customers coming to her flower shop with the same concern.

“They concerned about roses. They want to give flowers for Valentine’s Day, but for a wide variety of reasons, they don’t want to purchase the glorious red ones. They’ll say ‘I know that means love,’ ” Hentschel notes.

Indeed, we all know that red roses connote a deep form of love. While that isn’t the right sentiment for all occasions, other flowers are certainly a possibility.

Hentschel keeps a handy list so she knows, for example, that while chrysanthemums in general show friendship or a wish for the person to be cheerful and well, specific colors can be trickier. Yellow chrysanthemums, for example, signify slighted love, while white ones stand for truth, and red ones (like their rose counterparts) stand for love.

Other flowers may send mixed messages. Lavender heather, for example, can stand for admiration, but it can also symbolize solitude as well. How does a person interpret that? “You’re wonderful, but only from a distance?”

Other flowers’ meanings are very clear and specific. Give a bouquet of viscaria, for example, and the message is in the form of a question: “Will you dance with me?”

Of course, cultural background plays a role in the interpretation. While orchids represent beauty and refinement, in Chinese culture, they are a symbol for having many children, indicating that the background and expectations of the recipient can be just as important as the choice of flower itself.

Then there are those who are just plain mean, and have already figured out the meaning of a flower for themselves.
“Some people do ask for black roses. Actually, I had a guy ask the other night. He wanted them for his ex-girlfriend, but then he laughed. He appeared to be joking, but he was asking.”

Many, however, are looking for the romance red roses inspire, but are also hoping to send such a message in a non-standard, unique way.

Hentschel offers such seekers of originality plenty of options. “A lot of the time, they will do cala lilies or lily of the valley, gladiolas, orchids, things that are a bit different,” she explains. Or, finishing the floral arrangement with something special will make it stand out. “Queen Anne’s lace is sometimes used, particularly in really elaborate arrangements,” she adds.

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