Tuesday, February 9, 2010


 "By a Lady"
Elizabeth Washington Gamble Wirt, 1784-1857
Originally published in Baltimore by Fielding Lucas, June 1829.
This first dictionary of flower meanings can be viewed in full (scanned version) (or downloaded to your Kindle) thanks to the contribution from the University of California Libraries to the Internet Archive.

My appreciation grows for these scanned copies of treasured books for the sake availability and record, but oh how I'd appreciate even more being able to hold an original copy.

Ms Wirt's floral dictionary was one of a number published during the Victorian Age; when gardening for leisure flourished, and propriety meant constraint, the symbolic use of flowers was a means of expression. Floriography, or the meaning of flowers, has continued to serve as a instrument of the romantic gesture. What I adore about Flora's Dictionary is the combination of science and folklore. The book begins by setting the stage for a botanist's study, but the references aren't direct and are quoted from literature, namely poetry - the songs of the heart.

Often the message is as much about the colour of the flower as the flower itself. Over time, the language of  these emblems of emotion has been reconstructed; for instance Ms Wirt's yellow Tulip symbolized hopeless love, while now is commonly known to speak for cheerfulness. Innocent Daisies stand over time, but the Foxglove Digitalis evolves from "a wish" according to Flora's Dictionary to being known as "dead man's bells" or "witches gloves" due to the potency of the plant's chemicals.
Whatever their meaning, flower symbolism continues to satisfy the human psyche, and the heart. With Valentine's Day quickly approaching I'm quite certain the florists will be busy interpreting the language of flowers.

A Contemplation upon Flowers: Garden Plants in Myth and LiteratureAs always, I recommend reading A Contemplation Upon Flowers by Bobby J. Ward.


The Language of Flowers; With Illustrative Poetry by Frederic Shoberl
Lea & Blanchard, 1848

Flora Symbolica or, The Language and Sentiment of Flowers. Including floral poetry, original and selected.
by John Henry Ingram
Published in 1869, F. W. Warne and co. (London)
Flora Symbolica: Flowers in Pre-Raphaelite Art

Flora Symbolica: Flowers in Pre-Raphaelite Art by Debra Mancoff
Prestel, 2003

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