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The Evocative Language of
Flowers and Foliage
By Lori Tutino
Sitting on a bench gazing at a garden, we
are all in awe of nature’s bounty; the colors,
smells and shapes naturally brought to life.
These magnifi cent compositions symbolize
many things to all of us, creating an unspoken
language. Passionate emotions are evoked,
inspiring us to paint, write, and create in vibrant
ways. Flowers and foliage themselves have come
to symbolize different feelings and attributes, and
in the 1800’s were used as a means of communication,
a language. Bouquets were carefully prepared to send coded
messages, such as for grieving, welcoming, and to show love. Still today, we see wedding
bouquets of thorn-less lavender roses and white clover to express promise and love at fi rst
sight, funerary arrangements of red carnations and marigolds used to signify pain and grief as
a heart aches, and for the new baby a bouquet of honeysuckle and celandine mixed with cherry
blossoms, to stand for joys to come in the bonds of love, with a good education. Much of this
language has transpired into our present day. An olive branch is interpreted universally as a
symbol of peace, even showing up in The Great Seal of our country. Florists know the various
interpretive colors of roses and tulips: red- true love, white- innocence or worthiness, pink-
sweetness and grace, yellow- infi delity and hopeless love. Plants may speak to us through their
shape, curvaceous or towering, while others cast a spell through their scent, luring us closer.
Forever steeped in the fl owers and foliage giving us life, we’ve been taught their subtle mean-
ings. The pine tree signifi es longevity, which is easily understood, as it is forever green and
stands long and tall. Also tall is the sunfl ower, which stands for pure and lofty thoughts, and
even haughtiness, which makes sense as they appear as wide open inspecting faces!
The designations of fl ora and foliage have come to mean many different things. Some
fl owers say goodnight, as they fold up their petals until sunrise. This natural occurrence is what
the daisy was named for, a shortened form of “day’s eye”. The daisy also connotes innocence
and loyal love. But of course! They’re not ‘out at night‘! Gladiolus gets its name from the
Latin “little dagger”, as the spiky leaves look like swords, growing one above another on a
single side of the stem. A gladiola symbolizes recovery- how appropriate if you prick yourself
on the spikes. Laurel stands for victory. Laurels are used to honor victory and achievement
as a wreath or a crown. We’re often warned not to “rest on our laurels”. According to Greek
legend, the goddess Daphne escaped from Apollo’s amorous advances by changing into a laurel
tree. She was victorious in keeping her dignity! Naming a baby, we may hearken back to strong
emotions evoked from fl owers and foliage. As we choose baby names, we silently see fl oral
pictures in our heads and hear their meanings- the idioms they represent. Flora has its Latin
meaning of fl ower, and was also the Roman goddess of Springtime, while Florian is the patron
saint of fi refi ghters. Sweet William means forever a gentleman, and what a perfect way to
describe the charming Billy who has gone to seek a wife in the nursery rhyme. Lily is of Latin
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Improper Northshoerian April 20020 20 4/2/2009 10:22:47 AM
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