When Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge – perhaps better known as Kate Middleton – got married in 2011, she didn’t choose flowers based on their color, or shape, or pleasing aroma. She chose based on their meaning. In the Victorian era, “the language of flowers” was an enormously popular way to communicate, and each bridal bouquet was ripe with symbolism.
Princess Kate’s bouquet included: lily of the valley, hyacinth, sweet william, myrtle and ivy – read on to discover the meanings behind these and other flowers.
10 popular bridal flowers and their symbolism
• Chrysanthemums: red, are a symbol of love, while white chrysanthemums mean loyal, devoted love. But don’t choose yellow chrysanthemums, which symbolize sorrow in love.
• Lilies of the valley are most commonly defined as symbolizing a “return to happiness,” but the tiny white bell-shaped flowers also have the closely associated meanings of sweetness, purity and luck in love. These flowers are expensive, but you don’t need a lot of them in your bouquet – just enough to make your point.
• Hyacinths come in many colors, ranging from pure white to near red, and every color has its own meaning. If you want to show constancy or sincerity, choose blue hyacinth, but if your goal is loveliness, choose white. If you and your intended enjoy sports, or believe that the family that plays together stays together, pick pink or red hyacinths, which are both associated with sports and play. Definitely do not choose any shade of purple hyacinths, since they are all associated with sorrow, or yellow hyacinths, which mean jealousy. In addition to the beauty and symbolism of these star-shaped flowers, they are popular in bouquets for their intoxicating aroma.
• Hydrangeas are colorful, showy plants that are associated with bragging and vanity in the Victorian language of flowers. But in a parallel Japanese flower tradition, called Hanakotoba, hydrangeas symbolize an apology or deep gratitude. So, if you’re partial to this striking and popular bridal flower, you could consider this a multicultural addition to your bouquet!
• Ivy, while not strictly a flower, is sometimes part of the bouquet’s greenery and is a wonderful addition for its message of friendship, fidelity, affection and marriage.
• Myrtle symbolizes love, pure and simple, but has a long history and special symbolism for Jews. This white, star-shaped flower grows wild on Mount Carmel and in the Upper Galilee. It is one of four plants used to decorate the sukkah and merits repeated references in the Torah. In Hebrew, myrtle is also a symbol of marriage, so it’s hard to go wrong adding this fragrant bloom to the flower arrangements at your wedding.
• Ranunculus, whether white, pink, red, yellow or gold, means the same thing: I am dazzled by your charms. Small wonder it’s a perennial favorite at weddings.
• Roses are a universal symbol of beauty, but that’s just the start – these blooms come in hundreds of colors and shades and almost all have a specific meaning. For example, yellow roses with red tips mean falling in love, while blue roses symbolize the impossible, and thorn-less roses represent love at first sight. For brides, the following are good choices: Red roses mean love and romance; pink roses mean friendship, perfect happiness, appreciation and gratitude; white means marriage and new starts; orange means passion, desire and enthusiasm; yellow means friendship and joy; and purple/lavender means enchantment or love at first sight.
• Sweet william is a densely clustered flower that means gallantry and smiles – good characteristics to have in a mate (even if his name isn’t William). Sweet william, which is also associated with smiles, grows in a wide variety of colors, from white to richest red, deepest purple and multicolored.
• Tulips in general symbolize a declaration of love, but specific colors, like roses, have specific meanings: Yellow tulips are probably not the right choice for a wedding since they mean hopeless or spurned love, but violet tulips are probably an excellent choice, since they mean faithful love. Red tulips mean you’re deeply, passionately in love, while pink ones express happiness, affection and love that isn’t romantic. Purple tulips are a symbol of royalty and the related sentiments of abundance and prosperity, while white expresses an apology or forgiveness.
For more information to help you choose blooms, google around the internet – there are plenty of websites on the language of flowers. The Language of Flowers website, at languageofflowers.com, is a good place to start, as are florist sites, many of which have information on flower symbolism. There are also many books on the topic, including the charming novel “The Language of Flowers,” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.
CYNTHIA BENJAMIN is an editor, writer and chef. She is a member of Congregation B’nai Israel, in Woonsocket.