Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Say it with flowers

Posted by Stephanie Baron 

Honeysuckle represents devoted love.
© Andrew Gagg / Plantlife
Its Valentine's Day this Thursday - the perfect time to give an admiring glance at wild plants which have been linked with love, romance and passion.

Subtle and secret messages have long been passed through the sending or receiving of flowers — a practice known as floriography. The Victorians especially developed the language of flowers and by choosing their bouquets carefully, communicated feelings that the propriety of the times forbid them to speak out loud. Coded bouquets that told of love and attraction were sometimes referred to as a ‘Persian Selam’. Here are a few examples:
  • Bluebell - constancy and everlasting
  • Honeysuckle - devoted love
  • Daisy — innocence and modesty
Perhaps one of the best known flowers associated with romance is the sweet violet, as mentioned in the famous rhyme:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.

The poem's origins are obscure, but it dates back at least to 1590 when Sir Edmund Spencer used it in his opus The Fairie Queene:

She bath'd with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.

The sweet violet has a long and romantic history in both European and Asian folklore: the ancient Greeks first used it to make perfume and the Romans to make wine. Ancient Britons used it for cosmetics. For the Medieval French troubadours, it symbolised constancy in their tales of chivalrous love.

Napolean was particularly fond of the flower: Josephine allegedly threw him a posy the first time they met. After his defeat at Waterloo he was permitted to visit her grave one last time, before he was exiled on the island of St Helena. He found sweet violets growing there and picked a few. Upon his death these were found in a locket that hung around his neck.

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