Valentine's Day history: What do your flowers really mean?


CHICAGO -- How do you show someone you love them? For many, they'll say it with flowers on Valentine's Day.

And while we all may be vaguely familiar with common rose colors -- red for love, pink for joy, white for purity and yellow for friendship -- all the flowers we include in our Valentine's bouquets hold significance we probably don't know.

The meanings we attribute to flowers today largely date back to the Victorian era, when women used flower dictionaries for bouquets, arrangements, and even garden plans. Each flower and plant was chosen carefully before being given to convey a message, whether you were showing your affection with morning glories or expressing your disdain with yellow carnations.

There is nothing wrong with giving roses on Valentine's Day, but not only are they expensive, they're also likely to be smaller than roses you'll find the rest of the year because they are essentially forced to grow quickly to meet high demand. Anjelica Hennessey, owner of InFlorEssence in Chicago, looks for a slightly different variation than the classic long-stem red roses.

"These ones are more ruffly, they're more similar to an English garden rose, which originated the meaning of love in red roses," she said.

Red roses are often paired with baby's breath, which makes sense; the latter means "everlasting love." But Hennessey prefers to look beyond the rose for her romantic arrangements.

Tulips, for instance, are often seen as cheerful, friendly flowers, but their real meaning is far more passionate.

"I recently found out that tulips, any color, have more of a meaning of love than even roses, but people don't really know that and usually tulips are given as more of a friendship representation," she said.

Sweet peas, a kind of orchid, are a gorgeous and fragrant flower that not only plays well in a bouquet, but also stands for loyalty and steadfastness, a promise to your sweetheart that you'll be true.

Anemones are a simple folded flower on a long stem that open wide in full bloom and represent strong desire. They're available in a wide variety of colors, including a deep purple that's about as close to blue as you can find in a natural flower.
"I think these mixed with sweet peas and roses would be really awesome - a nice, dramatic, dark-colored bouquet," Hennessey said.

Lilies are also large, fragrant and eye-catching symbols of love, but you should take care when choosing colors. White lilies are associated strongly with grieving and often purchased for funerals, symbolizing a love that has been lost. Pink lilies symbolize love and desire, and yellow lilies mean friendship and loyalty. Truly, a flower for all occasions.

Delphiniums and mums are good for family bouquets. Delphiniums - tall stems with many blooms clustered together - are symbolic of innocence, especially in its light blue variation. Pair it with cheerful, full white mums for a perfectly innocent and appropriate Valentine's Day bouquet for mom.

"Both the color and the type of flower represent a kind of innocence, innocent love, which is why I think they're perfect for family members. Like, 'Yes, I love you,' but different," said Hennessey.

How to order flowers

To really express your love with flowers on Valentine's Day, Hennessey recommends buying them from a professional florist, as they're experts in their field. Don't try to order a flower that's not in stock; they likely don't have it for a reason. And because Valentine's Day is such a busy time of year for florists, order your flowers a week in advance if you can.

However, if you are buying your flowers on Valentine's Day (and you won't be alone), Hennessey said you should either pick up whatever the florist already has in the shop or let them create whatever bouquet they want instead of asking for specific flowers and styles. Your local florist will have fresh flowers on Valentine's Day, Hennessey said, it's just a matter of how many are left after their biggest day of the year.

Hennessey combined pink lilies, red roses, sweet peas and anemones along with some Italian ruscus - dark green leafy foliage that helps fill out and provide contrasting background to the bouquet - for a fragrant and full Valentine's Day lover's bouquet.

If you find yourself standing in a long line at a florist's, Hennessey said don't sweat the roses. If she could get any bouquet of a single flower on Valentine's Day, she said she'd like sweet peas.

Unusual Victorian flower meanings

Carnations: Common and inexpensive, what color you choose says what you mean. Pink means "sweet and lovely," but red means "my heart breaks" and yellow simply means "disdain."

Basil: Don't let the plant on your kitchen counter bloom, it stands for "hate."

Clover: If you've ever gathered a fistful of white clover flowers that grow everywhere in summertime, what you're really saying is "think of me."

Geranium: The oak leaf variety mean "true friendship" and the pencil leaf variety mean "ingenuity," but perhaps stay away from scarlet geraniums, they stand for "stupidity."

Lavender: Deliciously fragrant, but the Victorians used them to express "mistrust."

Cabbage: Cabbage flowers aren't the most popular in bouquets but maybe they should be - they mean "profit."

Peony: A wedding day favorite, the Victorians took them to mean "anger."

Yarrow: The Victorians saw these pert clusters of small blooms as the "cure for a broken heart."