Say it with flowers- flowers and symbolism

It is difficult to imagine Valentine’s Day without red roses, a wedding without Ranunculus or Peony. Immortalized in the verses of Robert Frost, Rabindranath Tagore, William Wordsworth, Percy Shelley, and Sylvia Plath, flowers have always captured our imagination with bright colors, intricate patterns, and intoxicating aroma.

From centerpieces at ceremonies to cuisine garnishes and ornaments, flowers have been in use since time immemorial. Flowers make for amazing gifts as well. Especially on special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries. In the digital age, ordering flowers online is a cakewalk. There are tons of online portals offering attractive discounts on a variety of floral arrangements and bouquets so that you can save more every time you shop for flowers.

Floral arrangements were used during the Ottoman, and the Greek empire to communicate in secrecy. However, in the nineteenth century, the meaning assigned to various flowers was formally condensed into a practice, called Floriography. Floriography is the study of the hidden meaning behind floral arrangements, understanding communication using flowers and the purpose of each and every flower. But you don’t need to be a floriography aficionado to understand flowers and the hidden symbolism. Here’s a crash course in understanding what a flower means and symbolizes:

Aster

This wildflower gets its name due to its star-like shape. According to Greek mythology, the flower was created from the teardrops of the goddess Astraea aka Virgo. Other myths suggest the flowers were created from the stardust dispersed by Astraea. The flower symbolizing wisdom and love is synonymous with the goddess of love, Venus.

Aster comes in a wide variety of hues symbolizing various emotions. While the purple asters and by far the most popular ones mean royalty, the pink asters allude to sensitivity. The white and red asters symbolize purity and loyalty respectively.

Asters hold a special place in our cultural landscape owing to the poem, ‘A Late Walk’, by Robert Frost. In the poem, he upholds the asters as a symbol of renewed hope when walking through a ‘mowing field’ among ‘withered weeds’.

Aster is a known cure for cough, cold, indigestion, and hangover. Tea made out of aster has proved to be an excellent remedy for respiratory troubles like asthma.

Daffodil

Best remembered from English Poet William Wordsworth’s, poem ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’, daffodils are bright colored flowers that signify beginnings. These flowers are also known as first perennials because they bloom right after the winter and usher in the spring season. Daffodils come in white, bright yellow and orange colors.

Daffodil gets its Latin name from Narcissus, a character from Greek mythology believed to be so beautiful that he was smitten by his own image. He was very proud of his beauty and at times arrogant too, which led the goddess Nemesis to lure him to a pool where he was transfixed by his own reflection, ultimately drowning. The flowers blooming beside the river where Narcissus drowned, hence believed to be named after him.

Daffodils are associated with prosperity and fortune. Many believe these flowers blooming on the New Year’s day marks a great year. These flowers are often gifted to couples on their wedding anniversary to commemorate joy and happiness. Daffodils have been chosen as a symbol of hope by the American Cancer Society’s spring fundraising event.

Hydrangea

The hydrangea symbolize heartfelt gratitude and understanding. According to legend, a Japanese emperor gifted the flowers to his loved one for ignoring her while busy with business. Since then hydrangea has occupied a special place in the Japanese culture.

While pink and blue hydrangeas are associated with emotions of apology and appreciation, white flowers are believed to represent vanity because despite being beautiful they bear no seeds. The negative connotation is drawn from the victorian culture where these flowers used to be given to someone who turned down love, signifying frigidity. Purple hydrangeas symbolize the wish to better understand someone.

The roots of hydrangeas have medicinal and antioxidant properties used to treat kidney disorder. However, the leaves of hydrangea contain cyanogenic glycosides and if ingested release deadly hydrogen cyanide.

Lilac

The flower draws its name from its very own pale purple color. Lilac as a flower has frequently appeared in work of art viz. impressionist paintings of Monet and Van Gogh, and perhaps most notably in Walt Whitman’s elegy for Abraham Lincoln, ‘When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d’ symbolizing life after death.

The history of Lilac can be traced back to the Greek mythology where it is believed that a nymph named Syringa disguised herself as a Lilac plant to avoid the advances of the forest god Pan. He couldn’t find Syringa but discovered the shrub and cut the stem to make a pipe. The scientific name Syringa Vulgaris is thus derived from the Greek word ‘syrinks’ meaning pipe.

Although the name translates to light purple, Lilac comes in shades of white, violet, blue, and magenta. White symbolizes purity, while violet and blue represent spirituality and peace. The magenta lilacs are associated with love and other strong emotions.

Roses

There is much more to roses than just love and passion as many mistakenly believe. While the pink roses symbolize grace, orange and yellow roses stand for passion and respectively. The white rose signifies purity.

The flower finds its origin in the Greek mythology of the hunter Adonis and Aphrodite. Aphrodite raised Adonis as her son and he grew up to become a great hunter. One day during his hunts he came across Ares (one of Aphrodite’s jilted lovers) disguised as a wild boar. The boar attacked and killed him. It is believed that the blood flowing from Adonis’ corpse created the rose flower. Another theory suggests Aphrodite cut herself on the rose thorns while running to Adonis’ aid, staining the flowers red.

Roses have served as inspiration for many artists, most notably the English playwright William Shakespeare. In his seminal tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, the flower finds a mention in the dialogue- ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ This line spoken by Juliet to Romeo signifies that despite coming from rival families their love conquers their differences.

Roses were used in the ancient as a symbol of secrecy. The Latin term sub rosa meaning under the rose is used to denote confidentiality. The Romans would adorn banquet ceilings with roses implying any discussion over banquet remained a secret. A similar practice was common during the middle ages where meetings were held under the roses hung from the ceiling. The people attending the meeting were held to an oath of secrecy.

Roses have been used in perfume and toiletries due to its signature fragrance. Rosewater is used in skincare products because it is rich in antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory and hydrating properties. The accessory fruit of rose called rosehip is rich in vitamin C and are often eaten raw or dried to make medicines.

July 25, 2019