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Secret Messages with Flowers + Printable Valentines

Cupid with red roses

As we fast approach Valentine’s Day, you'll likely see more bouquets of red roses out and about. The rose is a well-known symbol of love and a popular gift during this romantic holiday. But did you know different flowers have different meanings? This is called floriography, or the language of flowers.

The Language of Flowers

The language of flowers has existed in countless forms across many cultures. During the Ottoman Empire, tulips became symbols of power and wealth. In Japan, the recognizable cherry blossom (sakura) came to represent hope and renewal. The lotus flower became a sacred symbol of prosperity and beauty in India. And, in ancient Greece, the rose turned into the now familiar emblem of love (psst! You can learn more about these different places in our kids magazine). 


Cherry Blossoms at Yoshino
A woodblock print from ca. 1833 showing cherry blossoms at Yoshino. Mount Yoshino is the most famous place in Japan to view cherry blossoms in the spring. Image credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


During the 19th century, the language of flowers became a popular trend in England and the United States. The social etiquette of the time was reservedyou might even say repressed. It could be difficult to say exactly what you were thinking. How do you let someone know you consider them a dear friend? Is there a secret way to tell an acquaintance you don't like them? Flowers became a way to communicate these unspoken thoughts. Several books were published to help people express their feelings through flowers and understand the floral messages they received.


What did it mean when someone gave you a pot of basil?
I’m sorry to tell you...they probably hate you.
What should you send a sincere friend? The answer is thornless roses!

You received a vase filled with French marigolds. 
It looks like your sender is jealous. 
Was a bouquet of ranunculus a good sign?
Yes! The sender is dazzled by your charms!

Language of Flowers 1857
The Language of Flowers: An Alphabet of Floral Emblems, published in 1857.
Image credit: Internet Archive / Getty Research Institute.


Let's mix the old with the new. Using these 19th century books as our guide, we’ve decoded some floral emojis. Send a secret message to someone you know with the emojis below:


🌻 (sunflower): homage

🌹 (red rose): love

🥀 (withered rose): reproach

🌺 (hibiscus): delicate beauty

🌷 (tulip): declaration of love

🌿 (green leaves): revived hope

🌽 (corn): riches


Printable Valentine's Day Cards


Of course, this isn’t the 19th century, and it's much easier these days to tell a friend or loved one exactly how you feel. Honest History is here to help with our free, printable cards. Cut out and share your favorite messages with your friends, family, and admirers in your life. And if you're curious to learn some more Valentine's Day history, be sure to check out our previous posts here!

Honest History Valentines Grams


Further Reading