Send the right message on Valentine’s Day with ‘The Floral Code’

Looking to send the correct message this Valentine’s Day?

The oh-so-traditional bouquet of red roses only symbolizes “love in general” in The Floral Code—the official “Language of Flowers” that was immensely popular in the Victorian Era (when manners and station often prevented direct talk of romance, and symbolism was the only socially acceptable way to express one’s feelings).

In that code, it is red tulips that specifically mean “I love you.”

A mixed batch of carnations sends a nice message, symbolizing a love that is pure and deep. But stay away from single colors like yellow, which equates to “disdain,” and purple, which means that you’re capricious.

Chrysanthemums convey “lovely,” but avoid the color yellow or “slighted you will be.”

Red currants—tasty little fruits that are available fresh at this time of year in upscale markets—are sweet and naturally red; and your bestowing them as a gift translates to “thy frown will kill me”, which is meant to be romantic.

Oh, and if you’re looking for that “Shades of Grey” touch, the white snowball Viburnum is floral code for “bound”. Ahem.

Saying “I Love You” with tulips

If you are buying tulips as cut flowers for the big V-Day, pick bouquets where the flower heads are nice and tightly closed—displaying that classic “tulip” shape. Take a pass on cut tulips with wide-open petals. Those flowers won’t last more than another day or two.

Or, forgo cut flowers and buy your red tulips alive and growing in a pot. They’ve become widely available in this form around Valentine’s Day and last much longer than cut flowers because they’re still “alive” and better able to utilize food and water. (But follow the same guidelines and look for plants with tightly closed flower-heads.)

Make that Tulip Love Everlasting!

Display potted (or cut) tulips in normal room light (not direct sun); the cooler the room, the longer the flowers will last. Water sparingly.

Potted plants: After the flowers fade, cut off the very top of the flower stalk with scissors (just below the little budge that would have become a seed head). Ditch any decorative foil and put the pot in your brightest sunniest window (although direct sun fades the flowers, it “feeds” the green leaves).

Give the plant a little natural food, like an inch of compost or worm castings. Water when the pot feels light.

No sunny window? Take the pot outside into a sunny spot and leave it out as long as the nights stay above freezing. (Bring it back inside temporarily when and if nights get freezing cold or ice is predicted.)

Either way, feed it again around May 15 or so. Let the green leaves grow and absorb sunshine until their color fades, then just bring the whole pot back inside and put it in a cool basement or closet. No water; no food; no attention.

Then remove the bulbs from the pot and plant them outdoors in the ground this fall—ideally right after Halloween. If you properly fed and “sunned” the leaves, they could well have absorbed enough energy to bloom again next spring and every spring thereafter, becoming a symbol of everlasting love! (Basic red tulips are much more reliable “rebloomers” than the more fanciful types.)

Painting the Roses Red

If you’re planning on the traditional gift of cut roses for Valentine’s Day, choose your colors with care!

  • Red roses do mean “love” in the ancient floral code known as “The Language of Flowers.”
  • But white roses symbolize chastity—which is perhaps not your intended point on Feb 14.
  • Peach roses mean “sympathy” (which might be what you’ll need, but don’t ask for it up front).
  • Yellow roses might be the worst; that color translates to “let’s just be friends.” Oy!
  • And not even all shades of reds are safe; those super-velvety red roses stand for “bashful shame”. (Again, maybe true, but…)
  • So stick with basic red and don’t worry if they have thorns—the more thorns on a red rose, the more passion it’s meant to convey.
Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up