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The Secret Language of Roses, Victorian Era

The secret language of roses of the Victorian Era was rich, beautiful, emotional– and fraught with peril.

“I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: no good in a bed, but fine up against a wall.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

June: The Month Of The Rose

The secret Language of Flowers (a.k.a. floriography, which will be covered in a separate post) has been around for thousands of years and volumes have been written about it. It’s fun, romantic — even poetic.

But for the Victorians, it was also a necessity. Flowers offered one of the few ways they could communicate certain thoughts and emotions in their tightly laced society in which the rules of courtship and other interpersonal communications had to be strictly obeyed. Flowers offered the Victorians a secret language.

Cracking the Code of the Flower

While beautiful, the Language of Flowers could be complex and downright confusing. Flowers meant different things to different people and when used in certain combinations, even those multiple meanings could change.

As with most forms of cryptologic communication, the possibilities for misinterpretation were daunting. Although flowers generally carried positive messages of interest and affection, they could also send negative ones. The same flower could send opposite meanings depending on how it was arranged or even how it was delivered.

A Rose Is A Rose – Or Is It? 

Roses, of all the flowers, were particularly complex. One had to consider not only the color, but the shade of that color, the mixtures of various colors in one bouquet, and even the type of rose/s in the arrangement.

Then there was the matter of positioning the roses which could change the meaning and yet again.  And don’t even mention the inclusion of other types of flowers, each with their own meaning. It seems that the intentions of a simple floral arrangement could have been as easily misconstrued as a cryptic e-mail, text or tweet.

Rose Speak 101

Exactly what did that rose mean?  Be careful, you might not mean what you say or say what you mean.

The rose generally indicated love – but what kind of love? Deep red roses were believed to convey deep emotions. But what emotion: Admiration? Devotion? Respect?

And how many roses should you send?  Twelve red roses meant “Be mine. I love you.” Nine meant “We’ll be together forever.” Twenty-one roses meant “I’m dedicated to you.” And Fifty roses meant – well, you can imagine.

A white rose said, “I am worthy of you.” On the other hand, a white rosebud honored girlhood, while red rosebuds were considered pure and lovely. Yellow roses could indicate jealousy.  Orange could indicate desire and pink generally meant gratitude.

The variety of rose also carried meaning. A Damask Rose, for example, admired a beautiful complexion, while a Cabbage Rose was an ambassador of love. And don’t forget, it was a York and Lancaster Rose that declared war.


You’re not alone.  Just smell a rose and appreciate its beauty before June comes to an end.

“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.”
Dale Carnegie
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