In the modern era, flowers are considered to be a thoughtful and beautiful gift, but most of us don’t know why that is or when the act of giving blossoms to our loved ones began. Considering we spend $34.3 billion per year on flowers, cultures worldwide consider florals as an integral part of our culture. Let’s discover the history of this tradition and why it continues to this day.
Every single flower has its own individual meaning, and that meaning has likely changed since they were initially used as gifts. For example, if you wanted to know how to pick unique Mother’s Day flowers, you would need to first understand what those flowers mean today. While roses represented conflict in England in the 15th century, they now symbolize love and respect.
Different cultures also have different meanings for the same flowers. The color white symbolizes mourning in most East Asian countries, but in European countries, white is the color of purity. You wouldn’t want to give white roses at a Chinese wedding, or you’re basically saying their marriage won’t succeed.
Ancient civilizations have used flowers to express sentiment, but it wasn’t until later that the French and English created an entire language, called Floriography, contained in flowers.
Although every culture has used flowers in a similar fashion, the Greeks, Egyptians, and Victorian Era Nobles shaped why North Americans and Europeans give flowers as gifts.
The Ancient Greeks gave meaning to every single flower they could get their hands on and prescribed myths and legends to the most famous and beautiful blossoms. The narcissus flower is likely the most well-known today, which follows the tale of Narcissus, who drowns himself in a pool of water after a curse was put on him to love his own reflection obsessively.
The importance of flowers didn’t just appear in stories because the tradition of giving blossoms as gifts likely dates back to the Greeks. The Ancient Greeks initially brought flowers to temples as an offering to the Gods, but this practice spread to everyday people to give thanks to pretty women or “Earthly Goddesses.” This tradition spread to other kingdoms quickly.
Pharaohs would decorate their war carts when preparing for a battle, but ordinary folk would give their loved ones flowers as gifts. The tradition of giving flowers to Gods was still prevalent in Ancient Egypt, but the blue lotus flower has a special importance. Since the lotus opens in the morning and closes at night, they saw this as an allegory for life, death, and rebirth.
The blue lotus is one of the earliest examples of Floriography, and the Ancient Egyptians would build on this language until their demise. However, most of their meanings still remain.
Centuries later, aristocrats in the Victorian Era, England, began to express themselves through flowers. Since showing outward emotion during this time was frowned upon, both men and women would offer up flowers and build bouquets that represented how they felt. Flowers became so crucial during this time that the Royal Gardens gave honor to specific blossoms.
If someone gave you flowers in London during Victoria's reign, you had to know what they meant, or their message would be lost to you. You also had to know how that meaning changed depending on what other flowers were in the bouquet. This was so confusing that multiple books were written on this subject.
Although it’s uncommon to know what each flower means today, the tradition of giving flowers is still just as important as it was in the Victorian era. Flowers celebrate all kinds of holidays and events, like Valentine's Day, graduation, a funeral, or marriage. Modern technology has even made it possible to send tropical or rare flowers to family and friends all over the world.