Throughout history, the tradition of giving flowers has been a sign of courtesy, good manners, well-wishing, and cultural norms. The causes for giving flowers are and always have been various: birthdays, apologies, anniversaries, or just a simple thinking-of-you.
Historic proof of the durability of this tradition can be found in many archeological sites. Giving flowers has been as common in the prehistoric times, as it is today. Flowers play an integral part in the lore and mythology of many cultures – ancient China, India, Egypt, Greece, Rome. From these myths we have drawn meanings for specific flowers, associating them to certain deities. Roses are for love, daisies are for innocence. Other than associating flowers to legends, there is another way we identify with flowers, well, plants in general. Every country has a floral emblem – for example, England is a rose, Australia has the Golden Wattle (though we most often associate it with eucalyptus, thanks koalas), Canada proudly blazons the maple leaf, even upon their flag.
The traditional gifting of flowers as we know it today comes from the Middle Ages, and all thanks to the English and the French seeing how the Turkish Empire holds flowers in a special place in their culture. It is believed that setting meanings to particular flowers is also a Turkish thing that the Europeans saw, and liked. Victorian England can be credited for really blowing up the custom into full motion. Flower gardens were planted with special note to meaning. A garden without red roses was deemed unpatriotic. The strict rules of etiquette to which every young man and woman was tied to had a very specific language of flowers linked to it – wooing somebody, sending get-well flower bouquets, sending congratulatory arrangements – this was all done in a protocoled fashion.
Today, the custom of expressing feelings through flowers lingers, though at a smaller extent, and with more freedom. Not everybody knows the language of flowers like their Victorian ancestors did, but meanings of different colors play a large part. Everybody knows that red is passion, yellow is friendship, and white is innocence. And this is all a person needs to know in order to arrange a bouquet that will make somebody’s day brighter.
In a way, we are more empowered in this ancient tradition than our ancestors were. You wouldn’t see a woman sending a man flowers, whereas today, potted plants are a common present for both men and women. Technologically speaking, we are significantly more empowered than our ancestors. Whereas they could only operate with what flowers they could grow in their backyards, or pick in the nearby fields, we get to order plants online, incorporate exotic flowers that could never grow in our home country in even the most basic arrangements. Plants have been modified to be weatherproof, and fruitful. Anyone can own a mini planter in their very kitchen these days, using fresh herbs and spices in any meal they choose, while a few centuries ago, salt was the rarest of commodities.
We have come a long way, but humans will always be as shy of expressing feelings through words as the first men. Thankfully, we have clever little hacks like flower-giving to help us form and maintain relationships. When is the last time you gave someone a flower?
Perhaps you should.