Flowers in modern society are given as a token of appreciation, to loved ones and significant others, to congratulate someone on their victories, as corsages and boutonnieres for a variety of events, funerals, etc. The versatility and cheapness of flowers make them excellent for any occasion; however, the question begs: since when have we as a society deemed it appropriate to use flowers for a multitude of events?
This question can be traced back to the Shanidar Cave in Iraqi Kurdistan where American archaeologist Ralph Solecki discovered Neanderthal (a subspecies of archaic humans) remains in what seemed to be a burial site. Solecki discovered pollen remains in the sediment samples that were taken there. It indicated that these individuals had practiced covering the corpse with flowers as a part of a difficult burial procedure. Later studies, however, cast doubt on this “flower burial” theory, yet nobody knows why flowers were located there.
Egypt had significant religious traditions with flowers. Dried flowers have been found in vases within Egyptian tombs as the act of preserving flowers provided them with the ability to signify the waxing and waning of life in addition to the ability to enjoy the afterlife; this was important to citizens and royals in Ancient Egypt. An example of their use of flowers would be the Festival of Opet which celebrated the fertility of the Nile and the power that the pharaoh had. Florists created garlands, floral jewelry, towering arrangements, large-scale works on-site, and more with flowers to represent fertility. All along the parade path, celebrants carried and donned the blue lotus, which serves as Egypt’s national flower and tribute to the god of beauty, Nefertem. Every room in their homes featured a small bowl of floating lotus flowers, and garlands composed of lilies, roses, and poppies hung around people’s necks, on doorways, and stairs. Flowers had a significant role in Ancient Egyptian culture because they valued beauty and centered their entire existence around it.
Greece and Greek mythology held rich appreciation and use for a multitude of flowers. Flowers were utilized as props in Greek storytelling, and flower crowns were given to contest and competition winners to represent affluence and success, they were also used as ceremonial decorations. Later, to convey their emotions for one another, they began exchanging flowers with one another. As for Greek mythology, flowers are associated with predominant figures in these epic stories. For example, in the story of Hades and Persephone, once Hades (the god of the underworld) kidnaps Persephone (the goddess of spring) her mother Demeter (the goddess of the harvest) became so stricken with grief that she sucked the life out of Earth. Due to this, Zeus (the god of all the gods) sent a messenger to go get her daughter back. In fear, Hades agreed to return Persophone; however, he made her eat six pomegranate seeds, so she was forced to come back to him for six months of the year. Another example would be the story of Narcissus who was a vain man. Once he rejected Echo, a nymph Nemesis (the goddess of revenge), made him fall in love with his reflection, and because the reflection would not accept or return his love he drowned within the lake it is said that daffodils (also known as narcissus) follow Narcissus due to their tendency to grow along riverbanks and streams where Narcissus met his demise. In addition, the rose flower is linked to Aphrodite, and although there are a variety of stories that are linked to the flower, one of the more popular ones is that Aphrodite was created from sea foam, and wherever this foam touched the earth, white roses sprang.
In ancient Rome, flowers were seen as customary representations of renewal and rebirth and both men and women wore wreaths and garlands of flowers and foliage on joyful events. They were presented to gods, especially the goddesses Venus and Flora. Venus, the goddess of spring, received roses during both the wine festival and her ritual cleaning (lavatio) on April 1 (Vinalia). The Roman army observed rose festivals known as Rosaliae signorum, where they decorated the military standards with garlands. Four thousand narcissus flowers were supplied by a florist to a wedding, according to an Imperial-business letter that was written on papyrus. More men than women wore flower garlands. Roman poet Statius portrays a groom as donning a garland of falsehoods, violets, and roses in the first century AD.
Flowers were presented as gifts and used to symbolize certain meanings during the Middle Ages, which saw a boom in plant symbolism. Through the Renaissance and later into the Victorian era, this custom persisted and eventually evolved into floriography (cryptologic communication through flowers). Victorians were so enthralled by this custom that they even developed floral dictionaries to help them interpret the meanings conveyed by floral arrangements. Flowers were a means of communication. It allowed for the communication of messages between lovers, friends, families, and even strangers. Flowers conveyed a variety of emotions, including “I love you,” “I cherish you, my friend,” and “I’m sorry.” They were essential in enabling Victorian inhabitants to express their emotions. You see, Victorians believed that expressing your feelings was unpleasant. So, in the Middle Ages, they modified the list of floral meanings. They then put these into practice in their interactions with one another. Romances were featured in this. Traditionally, courting involved flower exchanges. Even some organizations came up with other floral metaphors. To converse covertly and away from inquisitive eyes, they did this. Soon later, the majority of people became familiar with the meanings of all flowers and floral arrangements. They were able to carry on a discussion for the duration without speaking. Giving flowers as a gift became a common custom. Soon, bouquets were being used to convey specific messages to other individuals. Even the presentation of the flower gift became a component of the sender’s message. Throughout history, this custom persisted (obviously with less spectacular quality).
Giving flowers combines its complicated past with modern culture. Like the Egyptians, we consider sending flowers as a token of condolence to be sincere. Like the Greeks and Romans, we want to make our loved ones’ days brighter by sending them flower gifts. We still use flowers to enhance our ability to connect with others and communicate, just like our predecessors did. Consider the history of flower giving the next time you offer someone flowers or even buy some for yourself. Flowers are used for numerous occasions.