The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Flowers, Symbolism of

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Flowers, Symbolism of
Edition of 1920. See also Language of flowers on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

FLOWERS, Symbolism of, a special significance attached to flowers by means of which they are made to represent various ideas and sentiments. This mode of communicating thought has developed in certain countries into a language of remarkable elaboration. Among the Greeks and Romans the use of flowers was full of significance. Though the well-developed floral speech of the Romans was probably lost to a great extent, the study was revived in Europe during the Middle Ages, being especially appropriate in connection with such a romantic institution as chivalry. The Orientals have developed the language of flowers into a vehicle for communicating sentimental and amatory expressions of all degrees of warmth. Still further complexity is added by the habit of employing flowers the Turkish or Arabic names of which rhyme with the other really significant words. The language of flowers is, of course, arbitrary, and a bouquet which a Persian girl would understand would be unintelligible to an Egyptian inmate of the harem. Yet among European nations certain flowers have a common significance. The rose is widely accepted as the symbol of majesty, and of love and beauty; the forget-me-not of true love; the lily of purity; the violet of modesty; the daisy and white violet of innocence; the rosemary of remembrance; the amaranth of immortality; the asphodel of death and the unseen world; the pansy of thought; the hyacinth of sorrow; the narcissus of self-admiration; the poppy of oblivion. The almond expresses hope; the lily-of-the-valley unconscious sweetness; the wallflower, love faithful in spite of adversity; the primrose, early youth; and the cyclamen, diffidence. So surely as the orange-blossom is associated with marriage does the finding of white heather betoken good-fortune to come, while the future chances of love may be revealed from the daisy and poppy by a simple method of divination. The laurel has long been accepted as the emblem of glory, the oak of patriotism; the bay the poet's crown, and laurel the crown for beauty. In the Grecian games wreaths were placed upon the brows of the victors, but these were of leaves rather than blossoms. Floral garlands were much used at the feasts of the ancients, and in India it is customary to show special honor to a guest by encircling his neck with a wreath of flowers.

Historical and national associations cluster about certain flowers. The violet was the flower of Athens. The broom plant (planta genista) was worn by Geoffrey of Anjou, and hence arose the name Plantagenet represented in a line of English kings. The red and the white roses of Lancaster and York gave name to a great civil war. Particular families and clans have their floral badges and there are national and heraldic emblems drawn from the floral kingdom, such as the rose of England, the thistle of Scotland, the shamrock of Ireland, and the fleur-de-lis (q.v.) of France, the latter being associated for centuries with the royal crown. The corn flower or Kaiser-blume is the national flower of Germany. The pomegranate became a Spanish national emblem having previously been the emblem of Moorish Granada. In Japan, the chrysanthemum is the flower of the nation, and in India the lotus has an especially sacred significance, as it had formerly in Egypt. In the latter country it often figured in architecture. In the decorative art of India it is represented in bronze and in paintings in connection with divinities or exalted sages. The cactus is the national emblem of Mexico. No flower will ever become the national emblem of the United States in the manner in which such floral emblems have become connected with other nations, but an attempt has been made to gain an expression of popular opinion on the subject of a national flower and the golden-rod appears to lead in the contest, as it has done in the case of the Empire State, of which it has been chosen as an emblem. The legislatures of certain States have taken action on the choice of a State flower, Utah selecting the seg lily; Vermont, the red clover; Oregon, a native grape; Nebraska, the golden-rod; Michigan, the apple-blossom; Maine, the pine tassel and cone; Iowa the wild rose; Montana, the bitter root; Colorado, the white and blue columbine; and Oklahoma, the mistletoe. In England what may be called a party emblem is illustrated in the adoption of the primrose generally but mistakenly known as Lord Beaconsfield's flower, by the Conservatives. Before the "Hundred Days" in French history, the violet was used by the adherents of Napoleon I to symbolize the hope of his return from exile. Consult Folkard, ‘Plant Lore’ (London 1884); Hale, ‘Flora's Interpreter’ (Boston 1835); Haig, ‘The Floral Symbolism of the Great Masters’ (New York 1913); Welsh, C., ‘The Language Sentiment and Poetry of Flowers’ (New York 1912).