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The Language Of Flowers: Sending Secret Messages

Flowers were used to communicate discreetly between the giver and recipient in Victorian-era England. Lady Montagu imported this tradition from Turkey.


Photo: National Portrait Gallery, London

Lady Montagu, depicted in this painting by Jean Baptiste Vermour, was wife to England's ambassador to Turkey in the 18th century. She introduced the Turkish tradition of communication through flowers to Victorian Britain and published a book on floral symbolism in 1763.

During the late seventeenth century the Turks developed a language of flowers, whereby they could communicate almost any emotion by means of sending flowers. The art of communicating by sending flowers was brought to England by the wife of the English ambassador to Turkey, Lady Montagu, who published a book on floral symbolism in 1763.

Sending Secret Messages With Flowers

The custom was embraced by the English during the Victorian-era in England as secret messages could be sent and received without being overheard by chaperones. There were many nuances conveyed also in the way flowers were presented.

For example, to answer a question one presented the flower using the right hand if the answer was ‘yes’ and the left hand if the answer was ‘no’.

If the giver meant the message to refer to himself, he angled the flower to the left and if referring to the recipient the flower was angled to the right. If the lady held the flower to her heart she was saying “love” and if she placed it in her hair she was communicating “caution.”

What’s a Tussie-Mussie?

Small posies of flowers were called “tussie-mussies” and the choice of flowers used communicated a cluster of feelings. Ladies carried these small bouquets to make the air smell sweeter and to ward off germs (albeit the 18th century concept of germs!).

The bouquet was constructed using lace doilies and satin ribbons and complemented the outfit the lady was wearing. Usually a large rose was in the center and it was surrounded by smaller flowers and sweet smelling herbs.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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