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Deciphering The Language of Flowers

By Chinelo Eze
09 January 2022   |   5:00 pm
Flowers are a natural aesthetic gift to earth and man. They have a seat in the world, making a beautiful addition to the environment that brings elegance and class to events and society, similarly giving meaning to life. Even as decorations when used on teacups, floral prints, and more, they make an excellent impression; always…

Flowers are a natural aesthetic gift to earth and man. They have a seat in the world, making a beautiful addition to the environment that brings elegance and class to events and society, similarly giving meaning to life. Even as decorations when used on teacups, floral prints, and more, they make an excellent impression; always in style and brighten up your day.

They even play a substantial role in literary works of art of William Shakespeare and other prominent artists.
Flowers appear in Mythologies, folklore, sonnets, and plays of the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Chinese are fuelled with flower and plant symbolism.

These beauties of nature are largely used for decorative purposes, but they are multifaceted. In human society, they have existed for thousands of years. China is recorded as having the oldest flower from archaeological findings. This flower, named Archaefructus Sinensis, is an ancient fruit from China and was found in Northeast China. This flower is perhaps the ancestor of all flowery plants on earth believed to be roughly 125 million years old.

In Turkey during the 1700s, the French; lovers of love and English people discovered a language of flower called Floriography. The intricacies of floriography include unique meaning for each flower and this is connected to the characteristics of the flower. This must have heightened the historic association of the delicate nature of flowers and the aura of pleasant scent to feminity. This language has continued in time, as we still use flowers to express our feelings. In the expression of joy and pain, flowers are used and have been pivotal in expressing what cannot be expressed in words but by gestures through flowers.

Rose grower with bunch of cut roses

As a culture, flowers meaning the symbol of love, have been used in antiquity by the Greeks who associated the perennial red roses to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Roses have shaped the role of communicating love in western culture, hence rose, hydrangea, tulips, and peonies are your go-to flowers used at weddings for their meanings of love, gratitude, grace, beauty, happiness, and bravery. At weddings, the bride graciously holds her bouquet or cascading flowers to the special event. Subsequently, the bride based on tradition would have her single ladies line up to catch her flowers, often roses; when thrown into the air. This act is considered a charm of good luck to the special girl that catches the flower in the air. No wonder such scenes seem like it is a wrestling match.

According to mythology, the Egyptians were drawn to the lotus flower because the puzzling lotus flower opens up at dawn and closes at dusk; they attributed great mysticism to it as rebirth and regeneration. As a result, they sang to lotus flowers as well as throw a feast to celebrate the flower.

The Victorian age gave mass literature to the culture and use of flowers in their society, just as seen in the Netflix series Bridgeton and other Victorian age dramaturgy. The Victorian era was so emotionally unavailable, public display of affection were an oddity in that society, hence they relied on letters aided by the aesthetic nature of flowers to express their innate desires. Small bouquets called tuzzy-muzzies were given by suitors.

Medieval artists who concentrated on spiritual ideas fuelled the significance of blossoms to signify “womanhood” and “purity” in masterpieces of the Annunciation when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was to be the mother of God. Mythology says that visitors to the Virgin Mary’s tomb found only a bed of lilies during the first three days after her death.

Even Homer in his poem “Odysseus” captures the enchanting power of the flowering plant “lotus” and how it changes the men to become forgetful in the poem after eating the sweet plant.

Lotus. Photo: Pixabay

For remembrance, poppies are the flowers used universally and precisely as a symbol of remembrance to those who died in military service. Poppies became accepted as the flower of remembrance after they grew on the battlefields of the Western Front during World War 1, thus birthing the symbolism of remembrance. Poppies are frequently presented on graves in the form of wreaths since their circular shape represents eternity, continuity, and the circle of life. They are used in honour of those who sacrificed their lives in military conflicts. However, these poppies also mean the promise of resurrection after death. This flower represents sleep, peace, and death. Also, yellow roses, pink carnations, and gladiolus are flowers used to remember the departed.

Another flower used to mourn is the Chrysanthemum. Recently Queen Elizabeth was seen wearing a significant sapphire brooch in commemoration of her time together with her late husband Prince Charles. That peculiar brooch is the chrysanthemum flower, and this brooch played a role at moments of their lives. Previously, the chrysanthemum flower was not attributed to death. In China, the flower is one of the “Four Gentlemen” of China, a prestigious league of plants that commonly symbolise the changing seasons which are the plum blossom, orchid, bamboo, and chrysanthemum. This yellow chrysanthemum flower, alongside other colours, came to be associated with death instead of life in European Cultures. Whereas in other countries like the United States, chrysanthemum represents truth and innocence. Furthermore, on expressions, grief and loss are symbolised by white chrysanthemum and suggestive of genuine sadness and requiem in Asian countries, including China, Japan, and Korea. In Western culture, dark crimson roses imply sorrow at the loss of a loved one or dear friend.

Chrysanthemum. Photo: Pixabay

Chrysanthemum flower is known by many names. It is sometimes called mum, or crown daisy but famously known as the flower of death resulting from its repeated use by gravesides and funerals. And it is also called “the Queen of falls” flower. Other flowers associated with mourning, pain, and death are dark-red roses such as black ice and black pearl. Some flowers represent diseases that may lead to death. Sometimes they are used in fundraising efforts for research. An example is the American Cancer Society’s Daffodil Days selling daffodils to raise funds. For Lou Gehrig’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, sunflowers are the symbols used to represent dignity, hope, and grace.

Universally, in the culture and language of floriography flowers provide comfort in death.
Besides having an aesthetic appeal and symbolic abilities, flowers have continuously blossomed in wellbeing and medicine. In the past, flowers were not as extensively used as they are today. Even though they take their seat as centrepieces, they also branch out from their stereotypical roles.

Yarrow. Photo: Pixabay

The Yarrow flower is known for its healing properties and was used in World War 1 to help heal the wounds of soldiers. The delicate and sweet daisy has lots of medicinal properties, which include relieving indigestion, easing coughs, slowing bleeding, and easing back pain. It does not end there. In 17th Century Holland, it is believed that tulip bulbs were more valuable than gold. The flower symbolised immortality, life, and love.
Because of their healing properties, some believe flowers to have special powers. Lotus flower referred to in Homer’s poem helps in the reduction of high temperature, blood pressure, blood sugar, diarrhoea, and bronchitis. According to research on traditional medicine, the lotus seeds are used to strengthen the kidney, spleen, and heart. The “flower of death” ironically helps in wellbeing when brewed as a tea to cure cold and headache and when combined with other herbs, it is used in the treatment of prostate cancer. Chrysanthemum is used in Southern China during summer.

These colourful entities have had their fair share of ever-changing psychological meanings and still do as the meaning are associated with deities. They speak a religious language in symbolic representation; shifting from the spiritual context to a point of no verbal communication.

Flowers might flourish beautifully in the gardens, but they have taken their place in society for centuries to articulate powerful feelings conveyed without words where words fail man.