Ancient Roots of Flower Symbolism
Flower symbolism began with many ancient religions. Many flowers were originally linked to ancient deities including Venus, Diana, Jupiter and Apollo. During the Renaissance, nature was viewed as a reflection of the divine. Flower symbolism was included in much of the religious art of the day and medieval gardens were often created with both the symbolic meaning of flowers and spiritual symbolism in mind. Flower symbols were used in the religious art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and reached the highest level of development in the Victorian era.
Although the legendary associations and religious meanings of flower symbolism have existed for centuries, the use of the symbolic meaning of flowers to represent emotions was developed to a high degree during Victorian times. Due to the strict protocol of the times, emotions, wishes and thoughts were not openly expressed between men and women. Instead, an elaborate language based on flower symbolism was developed. Gifts of either single flowers or bouquets conveyed clear messages to the recipient.
During the Victorian era, flowers adorned nearly everything--hair, clothing, jewelry, home decor, china plates, stationary, wallpaper, furniture and more. Even the scents of flowers had their own meanings in the language of flowers. For example, a scented handkerchief might be given in place of actual flowers.
With the increasing complexity of flower symbolism, handbooks were written to guide the understanding of the symbolic meaning of flowers. The first book written on flower symbolism in modern times was Le Language des Fleurs by Madame Charlotte de la Tour in 1819. The most popular book on flower symbolism, which remains a prominent resource today, is Kate Greenaway's Language of Flowers (1884).