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It’s Valentine’s Day! Have you wondered why red roses are the go-to flower for Valentine’s Day giving? Or why white calla lilies are in so many traditional bridal bouquets? The answers to these questions lie in the language of flowers, subtle meanings given to flowers in order to evoke an emotional response.

Floriography has been around for centuries. The Victorians must be credited for elevating this coy game to a high art. Emotions were considered embarrassing and not suitable for expression out loud. Small bouquets called tussie-mussies were carried as fashion accessories, but they spoke volumes. Publishers created handbooks to catalog meanings of blossoms for both flower givers and receivers. Of course, different authors assigned varying messages to the same flower. So you’d have to hope that both parties were on the same page. Literally. The hyacinth, for instance, can imply that you’d like to play games or that you are asking for forgiveness.

According to Wikipedia, the craze can be traced to Joseph Hammer-Purgstall’s Dictionary of the Language of Flowers, published in France in 1809. The practice quickly spread through Europe. The first printed evidence of floriography in the United States was articles written for the Saturday Evening Post in the late 1820s.

Roses are always a meaningful gift. And in general, the meanings are happy and positive. But be careful! There are some thorny ones. Red Roses symbolize love and desire. White ones proclaim innocence and purity or ask for secrecy and silence. Yellow blossoms can say that your love is transient or that you are jealous. A single blossom offers love while an entire bouquet expresses gratitude

Lilies are another flower where the color has great meaning. Yellow lilies whisper that you’re walking on air, while orange ones yell “I hate you!” And those white Callas are in bridal bouquets for a reason. The Calla Lily symbolizes beauty and the color white denotes purity.

Many of those blossoms commonly found in pre-made bouquets have a lot to say. The bright green Bells of Ireland offer good luck. Solid-hued Carnations answer yes to any question, but striped ones say no. Daisies say that you’ll never tell and Gladioli ask for a break.

Of course, the condition of the flowers is so important. You don’t have to speak fluent flower to realize that a wilted blossom is a major dis.  And flowers that are arranged upside down convey the opposite meaning.  If the bunch of flowers was tied with a ribbon to the left, the message contained in the bouquet was about the feelings of the giver.

Even leaves can get into the act. If you’ve weathered a bad patch in a relationship, the gift of a cactus expresses endurance. Ferns say that you find her fascinating. Palm leaves convey victory or success. And for your foodie friends, nothing says strength and courage better than a head of garlic.