Ranunculus to You, Gardenia to Grass


GARDENIA   “Transport of Joy”

            Sheer ecstasy is what they mean.  The gardenia appears more often in flower language books as Cape Jasmine.  See also JASMINE, CAPE.

*GARLAND   “Love’s Bondage”

            “Love for a garden has powerful influence in attracting men to their homes, and on this account, every encouragement given to increase a taste for ornamental gardening is additional security for domestic comfort and happiness.”  The Monthly Repository and Library of Entertaining Knowledge, Dec., 1832, p. 246

GARLIC   “Courage and Strength”

Gay feather:   see LIATRIS

Genista:   see BROOM

GENTIAN   “Virgin Pride”

            That is, pride in being one.  I understand this sort of thing is coming back into style.

GENTIAN, FRINGED   “Intrinsic Worth”

            The Gentian is named for King Gentius of Illyria, who believed in the medical uses of gentians.  See also CENTAURY.

GENTIAN, YELLOW   “In Gratitude”


GERANIUM   “Gentility”

            They explain this by saying that the geranium has a variety to please anybody who comes along and that an ability to be gracious to all comers is a sign of gentility.  Geraniums are also accommodating about growing just about anywhere you stick them.

            This flower is also known as Crane’s Bill, with varieties or second cousins known as Stork’s Bill and Heron’s Bill, or Pelargonium.  The Stork’s Bill, or Pelargonium, was included in Herr Klingenbeck’s book, with the meaning “Delicate Doubt”.  The little poem suggests the traditional role of storks, but he gets no more specific than that.

GERANIUM, APPLE   “Present Preference”

            This is no doubt related to the meaning for Apple Blossom.


            No, I don’t know why, if Stork’s Bill is another name for Geranium, there should be a Crane’s Bill Stork’s Bill.  I can’t tell you what these people were thinking; I only report what they wrote.

GERANIUM, DARK   “Melancholy”

GERANIUM, FISH   “Disappointed Expectations”

            If you have the time and the opportunity, look up a little book called The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1836.  Be prepared to go through security to do so, because Edgar Allan Poe wrote one of his more famous stories for it.  But you can read that in lots of books.  Turn instead to William l. Stone’s “The Language of the Flowers” for a rambling article filled with observations on this and that.  Stone takes floriography back to the Garden of Eden.  I cannot strike from my mind the picture he paints of Eve, on her first day of existence, going around and watering the geraniums.  After actually discussing flower language for a page or two, he veers off into the tale of Margaret Moncrieffe, a daring and, of course, beautiful British spy held prisoner during the American revolution.  She passed her time in captivity painting a dainty little flower picture, chatting about flower language to the American general, Israel Putnam.  (It was not a very harsh imprisonment: Margaret was of a certain level of society and, besides, the Americas hoped to lure her father over to their side.)

            The general was so charmed by her that he was thanking her for the visit when her release was arranged when a dashing young colonel stepped into the conversation and pointed out that the stems and the leaves in the flower painting somehow formed an accurate outline of the fort they were standing in, with certain landmarks pointed out by large blossoms.  Margaret promptly fell in love with the colonel, who was apparently the first man she’d ever met who was as smart as she was.  Alas, when her father found out, he married her off to a landowner in England.  She wound up as a mistress of the Duke of York.  It’s a rather unsatisfactory ending to such a dashing romance, and takes the text farther and farther away from flower language.  But

you need to kick back and take a break from floriography once in a while.  Don’t be so intense: you know what that does to your digestion.

*GERANIUM, HERB ROBERT   “Do Not Think That I Am Such a Person”


            The geranium is so good about growing just about anywhere you shove a branch of it into the ground that some people take it as a symbol of amiable stupidity.  Try to be nice and see where it gets you.  Red geraniums especially are given this meaning thanks to Mme. De Stael, raconteur and letter-writer, who compared a scarlet geranium to a good-looking soldier in a bright red uniform, whom she’d met earlier in the day.  They were both easy on the eye, she said, but utterly worthless otherwise.

GERANIUM, IVY   “Bridal Favor”

            This meaning started with Sarah Josepha Hale but a goodly number of floriographers follow E.W. Wirt, who made it “May I Have Your Hand for the Next Dance?”   Be sure you and your sweetheart have read the same book when you hand over this flower, or you may not know what you’re asking for.

            Laura Peroni goes along with the majority meaning, but edits it to mean “Inclination for a Permanent Relationship.”  These people are everywhere.

GERANIUM, LEMON   “Unexpected Meeting”

            I ask people if they’ve tried a little Lemon Geranium on their Fish Geranium, and all I get are these funny looks.

GERANIUM, MOURNING   “Despondency”

*GERANIUM, NUSK   “Constancy”

GERANIUM, NUTMEG   “An Expected Meeting”

GERANIUM, OAK   “True Friendship”

            This is also known as the Oakleaved Geranium.  One floriographer, in fact, has a separate listing for Leaf of Oakleaved Geranium, “I Give You the Truest Friendship”.  You can play One-Upmanship even with flower language, I guess.


            Not many floriographers used the story for their flower language, but it is apparently not permissible to write about Geraniums without telling the tale of where all geraniums came from.  No, they were NOT brought by storks to be Stork’s Bill Geraniums.  It seems that Mohammed went in swimming one day and hung his clothes over a mallow.  The mallow was so overcome by the honor that it started to blush, and has been a geranium ever since.  That’s okay, as far as it goes, but I can’t help thinking there ought to be more to the story.

Geranium, Pink:   See GERANIUM, ROSE


Geranium, Red, Dark:   See GERANIUM, SORROWFUL

GERANIUM, ROSE   “Preference”

            This was a very popular flower among the Victorians, who loved the rose-scented leaves.  The pressing of fragrant leaves and flowers in books goes back farther than I expected.  Geoffrey Grigson tells of buying an Elizabethan book and finding not only a pansy that was pressed there, but also a marginal note showing that the flower had been there for 350 years.  I like the thought, although it suggests that no on read the book for three or four centuries.  As a writer, I’m bound to find that chilling.  Can’t you just put them in an unabridged dictionary?

GERANIUM, SCARLET   “Comforting”

            But see GERANIUM, HORSEHOE-LEAF


GERANIUM, SORROWFUL   “Melancholy Spirit”*


            This may be just another name for the Penciled Geranium.

GERANIUM, WILD   “Steadfast Piety”

            One of the floriographers who picked this meaning has been in print since 1968.  The book is sometimes attributed to Margaret Pickston, and sometimes to “Father”.

            The Language of the Flowers is a pretty little gift book and, according to Margaret Pickston’s introduction, a facsimile of a hand-drawn book by “Father” (she doesn’t know whose father) which he made for presentation to his wife on their anniversary in 1911.  This is what, in fact, it looks like: there are age spots (foxing) on some pages, and there are places where Father drew dotted lines to show where a flower meaning he’d left out belonged alphabetically.

            I cannot, however, track down where Father got his flower language.  A lot of his meanings are traditional ones, but a number of them appear in no other flower language book until after 1968, when the facsimile was published.  This does not mean Margaret Pickston was faking: Father may have made up some meanings or he may have been taking his floriography from some book I haven’t seen yet.  The book has, however, been influential since 1968.  Anyone in need of a nice, inexpensive flower language dictionary picks up either this one or the latest reprint of Kate Greenaway.  Murder Ink, an anthology of essays about mystery stories, took its flower language from this, but gave it a sinister turn.

Gilly-Flower:   see STOCK

GINGKO   “Arcane Knowledge”

            The Gingko is also known as the Maidenhair Tree.  The leaf is light brown and fan-shaped, and I suppose it gave much the same impression to susceptible gardeners as the maidenhair fern.  Knowing these risqué associations is one of the joys of learning a fern language.

GLADIOLUS   “Ready-Armed”

            The gladius was a sword carried by gladiators, and some people are reminded of it by the shape of this flower.  (In some areas, it is known as Sword-Lily.)  The flower may or may not be at the root of the name Gladys, though of course, some Gladyses go unarmed.

*GLASSWORT   “Pretension”

            The name comes from having its ashes used in making fine glass.  Claire Powell says the meaning comes from the way it droops over water, reminding you of a woman looking at her own reflection.

GLORY FLOWER   “Glorious Beauty”

GLOXINIA   “A Proud Spirit”

GLYCINE   “Your Friendship is pleasing and Agreeable to Me”

            The soybean, from which we get tofu, among other things, is a glycine.  It appears only in the later editions of Mme. De Latour’s book.


GOLDENROD   “Precaution”

            I know lots of people who take precautions before risking a whiff of goldenrod.  Before it got its reputation as a bane to hay fever sufferers (a reputation now considered unjustified) it was used as a treasure-seeking plant (it will supposedly point to buried treasure) or as a flavoring in herbal medicines, to make them more palatable.  This caused its minority meaning, “Encouragement”.


            You wouldn’t think she’d be tardy if she had three bears chasing her.  Unless this is a reference to “the late Goldilocks”.

GOOSEBERRY   “Anticipation”

            This has to do with the way it blooms so early in spring, and not at all the meaning you were anticipating.

GOOSEFOOT   “Goodness”

            See also BONUS HENRICUS, which is a variety of Goosefoot.

*GOOSEFOOT, GRASS0-LEAVED   “I Declare War Against You”

            Claire Powell says that in Italy, it is a straight insult to hand anyone the stems of this plant.

GORSE   “Anger”

            All prickly plants mean something unpleasant.  (Okay, not roses: flowers outrank thorns.)

*GORSE, TWO SPRIGS   “Reciprocated Love”

            And not when Mr. Morato is writing about them.

GOURD   “Bulk, Extent”

*GRAIN, ONE STALK   “Look for Goods and Wealth”

*GRAIN, DOUBLE   “Hope and Contentment”

*CRAIN, TRIPLE   “Assured Wealth”


GRAMMANTHUS CHLORAFLORA   “Your Temper is Too Hasty”  

GRAPE, WILD   “Charity”

            This is one of the meanings which go back to 1829 and Dorothea Dix.  Dorothea Dix, if you have forgotten the three minutes they spent on her in your grade school history classes, was a schoolteacher who wrote a few books for children; most critics now call them forgettable (one of these was her flower language book.)  She got to feeling poorly, and her doctor told her she’d better give up her day job and rest.  So she spent the rest of her life working like a dog on a crusade on behalf of the mentally ill.  She made rude calls on businessmen who wouldn’t donate, and hounded politicians with descriptions of some of the snake pits where the mentally ill of all grades, from the merely eccentric or recalcitrant to the completely shut-off, were imprisoned.  One of her chief goals was the establishment of  a National Insane Asylum, run by the government on the latest and most humane treatment methods.  She nearly made it, too.  President Buchanan never got around to signing the appropriation, and Abraham Lincoln had other things to think about almost immediately.  So that never got done, but Dorothea Dix did a great deal of good along the way, bringing to society’s attention a lot of people it was trying to forget.  And we owe it all to some physician who felt women were the weaker sex and shouldn’t try to hold paying jobs.

GRASS   “Utility”*

            You can use grass for all kinds of things, especially if you include Bamboo.  A popular minority meaning is “Submission”, because grass stays down when stepped upon.

*GRASS, ONE BLADE   “I Beg An Answer, please”

*GRASS, ONE BLADE, TIED IN A KNOT   “I No Longer Wither Away For Your Love”

*GRASS, IN BLOOM   “That Pleases Me”

*GRASS, DOG   “War and Death”

            The Lehners, who are the only authorities who mention this, say Dog Grass was dedicated to Mars, Roman God of Offensive War.  (Minerva was the Goddess of Defensive War.  They had specialists even in those days.)

Grass, Ray:   see DARNEL

GRASS, RYE   “Changeable Disposition”

            See also DARNEL

GRASS, VERNAL   “Poor But Happy”

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