The Meaning of Flowers

Lea Wait, here, enjoying the amazingly warm temperatures Maine has had during the past week. (One of our friends commented that we blog a lot about weather. I guess we do. But so much of what we do here depends on weather that I guess thinking about it and its consequences is built into our DNA. But I digress.)

Crocuses in Lea's Yard

One of my favorite parts of spring has always been seeing daffodils appear. I’ve planted daffodils at every house (a total of four, in three states) I’ve ever owned. Having daffodils visible from every room of my home in the spring has always been on my private bucket list, and I achieved that goal a couple of years ago, to my delight. (Not to my husband’s. He loves flowers, I assure you. He doesn’t like that I believe in naturalizing; that the daffodils appear all over our lawn, and that you can’t mow down their dead leaves until they are really, truly, dead — which isn’t until close to the end of July. Which means clumps of high grasses stand messily all over our lawn until then. Ah, well. All joys have corresponding sorrows.)

Until I lived in Maine full-time I didn’t love crocuses. In most suburban towns where I lived crocuses were planted in straight little lines along front walks or in manicured gardens. I hated that. But here I decided to plant them in the lawn, as I did daffodils, and give them their freedom. It turned out they loved Maine. Now every spring I look forward to the crocuses even more than I do to daffodils, because spunky little crocuses ignore lingering snows and pop up whenever they can. They’re now blooming in full force, whereas daffodils are just beginning to bud.

Many of you probably know that in the 19th century, flowers (and trees and herbs) all had their own special meanings. Without knowing those meanings, you miss understanding a lot of symbolism built into novels, poetry or paintings created then. Some meanings we still understand easily:  Weeping willows mean melancholy. A daisy is a sign of innocence. A dandelion is an oracle. (Make a wish!) A crocus, I’m happy to report, means cheerfulness. A daffodil’s promise, on the other hand, cannot be trusted. It’s a sign of deceitful hope.

Better to give your true love a red tulip. To do so is a declaration of love.    

1896 Chromolithograph of Crocus by Edward Step

On the other hand, a cabbage in a poem or painting means profit. A buttercup means childishness. Basil stands for hatred. Give your beloved a Bachelor’s Button? Perhaps not. It stands for single blessedness. An amaryllis stands for pride. A yellow rose? Infidelity. A dried white rose? Death, preferable to loss of innocence. (A whole novel in one flower!)

And so forth. I’m glad the little crocuses popping up around my house now mean cheerfulness. That’s just what we need after any kind of winter to prepare ourselves for the daffodils and dandelions of the world to come.

Happy spring!

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8 Responses to The Meaning of Flowers

  1. Barb Ross says:

    That’s very funny that we all talk about weather so much, but I guess we do. Even here in Key West where the weather has been exactly the same every day of the 12 days we’ve been here, my husband, my mom and I get up every morning and exclaim, “The weather is exactly the same!”

    I am missing my crocuses back home, and that makes me a little sad, but not sad enough to haul myself out of the pool and head back.

  2. Sarah Graves says:

    Lea, your husband and mine have the same idea about naturalizing. On the other hand, around here that qualifies as a ‘he-who’ — as in, he who does it gets to decide about it, and since in the mowing department it really is the ‘he’ who does it, I don’t have clumps of Queen Anne’s Lace sticking up everywhere, either.

    Barbara, only yesterday’s 80 degrees in Eastport allows me even to think about Key West, much less about any swimming pools that may be located there, and much MUCH less about any Maine crime writers that may be located in those swimming pools. 🙂

    • Kathy Newton says:

      Lea, I love your article but I hate that daffodils are deceitful. I do love them so. I have quite a few blooming now along with my crocuses and some mini irises. I can’t believe spring in VT this year. My magnolia tree started to bloom yesterday. And, Sarah, my husband is a ‘he-who’ too!

  3. MCWriTers says:

    Golly, gee…I have a dried white rose on my kitchen counter. It’s been there since my son was married. Should I throw it away?

    Every fall for decades I’ve planted about a thousand bulbs. Last fall, I did not. So I don’t know what is going to happen this spring. It won’t be like prior years. I’ll probably repent and plant again in the fall. As for crocus…I gave up on them after a horde of nasty-cute chipmunks uprooted every single one of them in an orgy of destruction two years ago.

    This weather, btw, has me speaking the “language of confusion.”


    • MCWriTers says:

      Kate — Chipmunks dug up my crocuses one year, too, but I discovered they’d just dug them up and licked them .. because I’d been a good gardiner and planted them with bone meal or some such good fertilizer. Never again. If you just plant the bulbs, they’re safe. Chipmunks don’t actually like them –they just like the fertilizer.
      Good to know!

  4. lil Gluckstern says:

    I lived in Connecticut for a while, and I loved how the crocuses came up through the snow. You guys are having spring. We, on the northern California coast, are finally having our winter. We whine when it goes into the 40’s 🙂

  5. Fascinating, Lea, to know what some of these very common flowers mean. What about lilacs? The way this spring is going, they’ll be blooming in May…

    • MCWriTers says:

      Liliac means “forsaken.” And, no — I can’t think of any reason why! (I love them!) Mind just burst into bud. The whole language of flowers is fascinating, though!

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