Flowers are ancient symbols
Cut flowers have been a symbol used to recognize major life transitions such as birth, marriage and death for centuries. This f loral tradition has, today, grown to a multi-billiondollar industry worldwide and no holiday symbolizes it more than Valentine’s Day.
So where did flowers become infused with such meaning? Who decided that flowers would play such an important role in the lives and traditions of humans? In today’s world we — more often men than women — use flowers to replace words and emotions. But why?
Through historic art pieces and archeological digs we now know that thousands of years ago, in ancient Egypt, the act of cutting flowers and using them for symbolic and often religious purposes began. At that time, and within that society, flowers carried religious meanings or connotations, so only certain flowers could be used for specific events. The most common uses at that time surrounded death and the path into an afterlife. Flowers used by the ancient Egyptians were the iris, the rose and the lotus flower all of which symbolized various gods within their belief system.
In Chinese culture some 2,000 years ago, society began to cut and arrange flowers based on religious and cultural meaning. Unlike the Egyptians, we know the Chinese often displayed flowers in water so that they would last longer without wilting. In China the tiger lily, orchid, chrysanthemum and peony were popular, as they are today in that country, as well as ours.
Like the Egyptians and Chinese, ancient Greeks and Romans also used flowers and herbs in day-to-day life. But in their society they were most often associated with victory in athletic or military events (much as they are today throughout North America).
Greeks and Romans used parsley, laurel, rosemary, roses and anemones for throwing at sporting events and to construct victory wreaths to be worn on the head of champions! If you received a wreath of laurel, you were the “star of the nation”!
Flower arranging of the modern world, that is similar to what we see today, began about 1,000 A.D. in Europe and “blossomed” (pun intended) during the Italian Renaissance. During this time wealthy families began to collect beautiful, ornate vases for their homes and palaces in which to display cut flowers. This period marked the official start of formal floral design and techniques, many of which are still used today.
Leave it to the Victorians! What better time was there than the Victorian age? Apart from all the sickness and death, lack of indoor plumbing, and other conveniences, the Victorian period marked a time in history when everything made was made beautifully, even if it served no real function. Aesthetics ruled and as a result flowers were IN IN IN!
In England, at this time, both men and women traditionally gave small flower bouquets to each other known as “tussie mussies or posies.” They were not only given as a sign of friendship but were also, and more importantly, given to mask odours in cities of the time. Roses, freesia, lilies — they were all given as a perfume of sorts. Women of the time even added flowers to their hair, which often remained unwashed for weeks.
The Victorians were so infatuated with flowers — giving, receiving, displaying, and wearing — that they created a “language of flowers.” So not only did an arrangement look pretty but it actually held a message!
The daisy stood for cheerfulness and the geranium stood for innocence. A woman would be thrilled to receive Gladiolas from a suitor since they stood for infatuation. While honeysuckle and pansies meant affection, lilies stood for purity and roses meant love, as they do today.
It is interesting to know that flowers you likely purchased or received this past Valentine’s Day had a 50 percent likelihood of moving through one of three major cut flower centres of the globe: Holland, California or Ecuador.
I am willing to bet that you most likely did not give the roses, the tulips, or the lilies you received this year a second thought! But the fact is, that simple bunch of flowers in your home represents thousands of years of evolution in the cut flower industry, billions of dollars and countless jobs around the world. Who knew?
For more interesting facts about flowers or to answer any g a rd e n i n g questions email me firstname.lastname@example.org