Sometimes, to express what you cannot with words, you can say with flowers.|
People have done this for thousands of years, and Sunday at the Quad City Botanical Center, education coordinator Ellen Loechner explained the special significance of certain kinds of flowers, plants and trees.
Assigning meaning to flowers began in the ancient Middle East when women were isolated from the outside world and still found a way to communicate secretly, she said. A Greek myth gives meaning to the flower narcissus (the daffodil), which represents vanity.
In the mythological story, the mortal Narcissus admired his reflection more than he did his love Echo, so she wasted away until only her voice was left (which is where the terms "echo" and "narcissist" come from), Ms. Loechner, an Augustana College senior, said.
Many plants and flowers are thought to have medicinal uses, but most of our present-day interpretations of flowers can betraced to the Victorian era in England, she said.
"Victorian England assigned meanings to hundreds of flowers and herbs," Ms. Loechner said, and because the British Empire spanned the globe, people brought back flowers and plants to England from exotic lands.
Flowers were used to express love, friendship, jealousy, even plant secret meanings, she said. Depending on the location and time period, plants and flowers have different meanings, Ms. Loechner said.
The yellow rose today means friendship, but it used to mean jealousy or diminishing of love, she said.
The blue violet represents faithfulness; the white lilac, innocence; purple lilac, first love; and magnolia, the love of nature, Ms. Loechner said.
Combining flowers and plants can convey different meanings, she said, noting sweet pea and morning glory combined to request a meeting at night. What the English called"Tussie Mussies," small bouquets of many varieties of flowers, can express many emotions, some used to ward off disease, she said.
The long reign of Queen Victoria (1837 to 1901) was a conservative time of publicly suppressed emotion and sexuality, said Gary Koeller, education director at the botanical center. Therefore, flowers were used to express things that couldn't be said, he noted.
"They expressed themselves in a way by not talking," Mr. Koeller said. "They needed to express themselves through flowers, through colors. This was also when the floral industry started. In Victorian England is when the merchandising of flowers started."
Flowers were used "as our greeting cards are today, to show someone you care, to send a very strong message," Ms. Loechner said, adding there were dictionaries on the meanings of flowers.
She said last year's novel, "The Language of Flowers" by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, explains much of this significance. In a summary of the book, it notes the Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, aster for patience and red roses for love.
In the book, for Victoria Jones, that language is more useful in communicating grief, mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.
Bettendorf, IA Details
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