The Language of Orchids By Caitlin Harper
To celebrate the Spring equinox and Ostara, we have a new limited edition "Bloom Mala", a collaboration between Distinctly Caitlin Designs & Lila in the Sky. This Art noveau inspired Mala is a celebration of Spring and friendship between two indie, brands in the South of France. The author of this Blog Post is Caitlin, and expert in the language of flowers.
A brief history of the Language of flowers. The language of flowers or Floriography has been practiced for centuries by everyone from the Greeks and Romans to Egyptians as well as in large parts of Asia. The meanings of each flower however keeps changing depending on the culture and time period.
The popularity of Floriography exploded in the 1800’s in England, during the reign of Queen Victoria. The Lady who is attributed to have started the craze is Lady Mary Wortley Montague. She wrote letters home from Constantinople, where her husband was stationed. Her letters romanticised the lives of the women in the Royal Harem and told stories of them using secret flower codes to pass messages to their secret lovers, right under the noses of their guards. Her letters were later published and the sexy, romantic secret lover aspect caught the imagination of wealthy Victorian society, which was very chased at the time. It then became popular for young people to use flowers
to pass secret coded messages. One journalist remarked that this trend was for “dramatically inclined introverts with feelings too strong to say out loud”.
As time went on it all became very complicated with people making up meanings and “rules”, such as having the flowers delivered upside down meant that the flowers now had the opposite meanings. It was then that books began to be published as flower dictionaries to help people keep their messages straight and to avoid embarrassment. Imagine you meant to send “I am pledged to another” and they interpreted it as “I happily await your return”. It could get very messy.
Between 1827 and 1923 over 98 different dictionaries were published. These dictionaries drew on multiple sources to put attributes to different flowers, such as folklore, mythology, medicinal properties, looks (walnuts look like brains and are therefore associated with wisdom) and even homophones (cash and cabbage sound alike so cabbage became associated with profit).
The Orchid is a flower of Self-Love, one of the largest families of plants, only second to grasses. There are more than 25000 different species and each one is unique. I feel that this fact plays a part in why it is associated with
the ideas of “Self- love” and “uniqueness”. Every flower is different and is beautiful.
Another meaning is “rare beauty”. Although orchids are not rare as a family, and are found everywhere except for Antarctica. Each one is highly specialised for different pollinators. In fact it was a favourite of the Victorians and there was an “Orchid Delirium” in the years following the publication of Charles Darwin’s book “Fertilisation of Orchids” which discussed how each flower had
become incredibly specialised to attract only certain insects. The Bee Orchid for example gives off a special scent and has a velvety lip that looks like a female bee so as to attract only one type of male bee. This trickery could lead to another meaning, “enchantment”.
“Sensuality” and “You are sexy” are other possible meanings and could come from the orchids topical connotations. Most commercially sold orchids today are of the tropical variety but the “Orchid Delirium”, I mentioned earlier, involved many Victorians getting green houses and travelling the globe to collect orchids. The original ancient Greek name for Orchid could also play a part in why sexiness is associated with it. It means ‘testicle’ and was used because certain orchid roots resemble
the body part.
The idea of “Refinement” could have been attributed to the Orchid because of its association with the wealthy collector but also because of vanilla. The vanilla plant is from the orchid family and is the second most expensive spice in the world. Vanilla plants are also often hand pollinated, which
adds to its price. This is done because the bees, for which it is specially adapted, from its native Mexico, are not found in places where it is now grown, namely Madagascar and Reunion. The discovery of this hand pollination method is attributed to a 12-year-old slave boy, Edmond Albius in
1841. Vanilla flavoured sweetmeats were also a favourite of the Queen and so obviously were associated with luxury.
Finally the orchid is associated with “grace”. This I feel is an obvious one because of its beauty and well, grace. For all these meanings, “grace”,“refinement”, “sensuality”, “rare beauty”, and “self Love”’ giving or
receiving an Orchid means remembering how wonderful you are.
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