13 February 2008

The Love Cycle:
The Secret Lives of Flowers

By Jennifer Linforth

Edelweiss--it brings to mind Baron von Trapp strumming his guitar and singing to his children. It should conjure images of fools plummeting to their deaths.

Edelweiss, the flower of the clouds, is the flower of fools and emperors. (Its meaning is noble and daring.) The nobility of Austria used the flower to represent their rank—hence the emperor part. But the small white flower also represented love. Many young men climbed the dangerous crags of the Alps in search of the flower. The bigger the bouquet they presented to a lady, the loftier their intent to court her. Unfortunately, many fell to their deaths before they could even try. Hence, the daring part of its meaning and the resulting fool.

The Victorians had a brilliant knack for languages outside the spoken word. What lover of historicals in not familiar with the famous fan language? But beyond a coy flip of a fan, the Victorians perfected the art of sending their messages through flowers. And tokens of love are a very important part of The Love Cycle.

Flowers have had hidden meaning for centuries. The origins of many are rooted in mythology (the narcissus and hyacinth). Who doesn’t know the red rose means love? Victorians classified hundreds of flowers, grasses and herbs into a secret language, assigning each a simple message. A bouquet of snowdrop blooms mixed with jonquils was a suitor's secret way of saying he hoped (snowdrops) for the return of the ladies affections (jonquils).

The flowers had to be presented in the correct fashion to have the deepest meaning. A ribbon tied to the left held a message regarding the sender, tied the right, the message was for the recipient. More meaning could be added by adding more flowers. Blooms presented upside down held the opposite meaning. Never would a lady wish to receive and upside down rose...

Small details like this add to the fun of reading a historical novel. Here are a few favorites used in Victorian times:

Pimpernel: rendezvous
Lavender: distrust
Daisy: 'I will think on it'
Forget-me-not: true love
Spiderwort: esteem, but not love
Lily of the Valley: a return of happiness
Gentian: 'you are unjust'
Yellow rose: infidelity
Hibiscus: delicate beauty

Your turn. Have a flower you are wondering about? Leave a reply--let's see what the Victorians had to say.