The Language of Flowers

By Amy Weiss

Mar 27 2019

Throughout time, people have assigned meaning to flowers, and many cultures have used these meanings to convey thoughts or messages.

The Language of Flowers (an extremely popular interest during the Victorian era) grew from a mingling of two practices. One was the western tradition of floral symbolism that filtered down from mythology, religion, art, and medicine. The second was the Turkish Selam, or language of objects, which contributed the idea of sending encoded messages via symbolic objects. Selam was popularized by European diplomats and travelers to the East, who brought the practice home with them. Due to a growing interest in botany and the prolific use of plants in decoration and personal adornment, flowers replaced the variety of objects used in the Turkish system.

Flower language books, listing plants and their meanings, were very popular; as many as 98 different books on the Language of Flowers were published between 1800 and 1937. Many of these books have been digitized and made available on the Biodiversity Heritage Library, including many held in NYBG's LuEsther T. Mertz Library [external links to BHL]:

The Language of Flowers by R. Tyas 
Flora's Interpreter and Fortuna Flora by S. J. Hale

More about: Seed plants


Laufer, G. A. 1993. Tussie-mussies: The Victorian art of expressing yourself in the language of flowers. New York: Workman Publishing Company.