Tanya Hanson: A Whiff of Wedding Flower History


Well, I’ve definitely got weddings on the brain these days, with our daughter Christi getting married soon, Pam Crook’s Kristi a brand-newlywed, Charlene Sands’ son recently engaged…and a mail-order bride book just released! In Marrying Minda, the heroine-bride’s favorite flower is the white rose, and her bridegroom ordered special the big bouquet of them she ended up tossing on his grave. So I figured bouquets and wedding flowers could use a bit of looking into.  


In The Little Big Book of Brides, I learned that a Victorian-era suitor used “the hidden language of flowers” to woo his intended. He might send peach blossoms to let her know “You are perfected loveliness” only to have her send him a posy of burdock ordering him to “Touch me not.” Burdock, pictured here, is a wild plant found in waste places and seldom worth cultivating.  


Hopefully, the lovely lady would send him ambrosia, signifying “love returned” if she received a bouquet of ranunculas, which told her “You are radiant with charm.” He might “think of her” if she sent back pansies…but daffodils meant, sadly, unrequited love.


Down the road a few months, her eventual bridal bouquet also held symbolism. Ivy stood for faithfulness and strength, since the vine is hard to uproot. Rosemary spoke of remembrance, the rose for love. Myrtle embodied love, peace and happiness. In fact, a bridesmaid was encouraged to plant a sprig of myrtle in front of the newly married couple’s first home. She’d marry within the year if it took root. 


The lovely hydrangea marked devotion, the clover, faithfulness, and the marigold, sensual passion. Thyme brought courage, the gardenia, joy; orchids, beauty and passion. Phlox insured united hearts, and the classic lily of the valley signified purity. Only available for a few weeks in May, this classic is definitely a luxury!   


In our case, the bride is selecting her flowers based on color (yellow, for Livestrong), but I think I can convince her to stick some rosemary in somewhere. It’s my favorite herb.


When Queen Victoria married her prince in 1840, she selected a wreath of orange blossoms, not the jeweled tiara expected of a royal bride, and the trend spread. When real orange blossoms were in short supply, wax replicas were made, and used over and over by other brides. The orange blossom symbolizes happiness, fertility and everlasting luck, and took its importance from Greek myth when  Hera received a garland of them to bless her marriage to Zeus. This “first” bridal flower made its way to Europe via the Crusaders.

A bridal bouquet tied with ribbons and knots symbolized the “tying the knot” tradition that likely stems from the handfasting ceremony of medieval Celtic couples. Their hands were bound together while they pledged their fidelity. But a bride’s handful of flowers has been a centerpiece of weddings for centuries.


In Britain’s early days, a bride was supposedly such a powerful source of good luck the guests took to tearing off her flowers, ribbons, even bits of her garments. So eventually, brides simply tossed their bouquets to protect themselves…hence starting a long-standing tradition. While long ago bridal bouquets definitely signified the sweetness of marriage, they were also thought to hold off sickness and, if built of herbs or grains, to protect against evil spirits.

Throughout time and cultures, bridal bouquets have ranged from humble clumps of wildflowers to pomanders, tight balls of herbs and flowers hung by a ribbon, to tussie-mussies, small arrangements of blooms and herbs chosen for their hidden language. Today’s bridal flowers range from elaborate cascades of blooms that tumble from the hands like a waterfall  to nosegays, round clusters held by a handle, to an artful curved arrangement cradled in one arm. Stems wrapped in ribbon are one of today’s loveliest trends.


Certainly a wedding wouldn’t be complete without flowers.  I made bouquets of straw flowers for my bridesmaids, thinking they’d last forever. (They did not.)Those of you who have been or will be brides, what flowers decorate(d) your big day? As a wedding guest, what are the loveliest flower arrangements you remember?


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29 thoughts on “Tanya Hanson: A Whiff of Wedding Flower History”

  1. Morning Tanya! Lovely post. I knew about some of these traditions, but not all.

    My flowers were mostly favorites: gardenias for the mothers, roses and lilies and carnations for the rest of us.

  2. Hi Tracy! Thanks for sharing. I love lilies also. My little book doesn’t have all the flowers in it but “gardenia” symbolizes joy. I’m not sure what flowers I’ll have for the wedding, but I’m sure I’ll be blogging about the big day later on!


  3. Hi, Tanya. It’s June, definitely wedding time.

    We aren’t going to a lot of weddings this summer, so far. Some years it never ends. I remember the year we had EIGHT. That gets expensive.

    I’ve had two daughters get married and the first had these really beautiful tight, perfectly circular balls of roses in several colors of pink. It smelled absolutely wonderful, too. The bride’s bouquet was a larger circle of roses.

    The second had sprays of calla lilies. Each brides maid had three large white calla lilies, very eye catching and pretty.

    I love what they do with flowers.

    That’s amazing about throwing the bouquet. I’ve never heard that before. So funny how traditions start.

  4. Hi Tanya
    Great post today about weddings and flowers. It’s a sunny day finally, and the beautiful pics put me in a good mood! I didn’t know all the various symbolic meanings behind the flowers and I love learning about how traditions get started!
    I think Lindsay will be using Calla Lillies for their upcoming wedding ..one of my favorites.
    Nikki had gardenias in her mixed white bouquet because they were my mother’s favorite.

    The big day will be here before you know it. Take a breath!

  5. What a nice post, Tanya. I use “fire and ice” roses in writing alot, but they work well for paranormals, since another name for them is “vampire roses.” (The white of innocence against the red of blood, lol).

    When I got married I had ivy, calla lillies, and plumeria (my big fat celtic-hawaiian wedding lol).

  6. Hi Mary, I just love the tight flower balls! A wedding we went to recently had “balls” of red carnations sitting in pretty grecian urns on the altar, one on each side, so elegant and simple.

    Thanks for stopping by today.

  7. Hi Charlene, we’ve got clouds again after a sunny beautiful yesterday. Boo. Maybe the sun will come out in a bit as I have, what else 🙂 rose bushes to work on.

    Christi is going to have yellow roses and the bridesmaids daisies and a kind of mum. But that may change. Callas on the tables. I know it’s all gonna be gorgeous. Thanks for the calming words.

  8. Thanks for stopping by today, Suzanne. I totally love the idea of vampire roses. I’ve still got that cowboy-vampire thought in my head. White roses are my favorite.

    I love plumeria. We’re growing some outside and get blooms later on in the summer. Your wedding flowers sound gorgeous. Your “big fat Celtic Hawaiian wedding” makes me laugh.

    Callas definitely are a favorite, aren’t they?

  9. I went and looked at Fire and Ice Roses. So beautiful. Vampire Roses? Really?

    And I soooooooo wish my daughter had gone with the ball of CARNATIONS far more affordable.

  10. Hi Tanya,

    Interesting facts about flowers. I vaguely knew that certain flowers were sent signifying certain things but am not that up on it. I need to find a book about the language of flowers because it’s information that can really add depth to a story. My favorite flower is the carnation. Carnations last a lot longer than some of the other flowers. And they’re quite beautiful. One thing that I see in a few books is that they have the bride carrying bouquets of Bluebonnets. Bluebonnets only bloom here in Texas in the early spring. They’re a small flower and very unsuitable for a bouquet of any sort.

    Congratulations again on the release of Marrying Minda. I’ve got to order a copy. Good luck with book sales.

  11. Thanks for sharing all the flower facts. There are always so many details to include in historicals, you can get lost in all the research. Good luck with your sales. 🙂

  12. Beautiful blog, Tanya. Your new book sounds like a winner. It’s fun hearing about bridal bouquets. I think mine was a single orchid–my mother ordered it for me. Not sure what I would have chosen myself, but it was pretty.

  13. Hi Mary, and Hi Linda, oh, carnations are so lovely. The spicy scent gets to me, and as a kid, it was always fun to stick a white one in food color and see what happened.

    Our daughter is using the same florst her cousin used two summers ago so we’re getting a teensie discount. Anything helps. Whew.

    Linda, I’ll be remembering your comment about bluebonnets next time I read of one making up a bouquet 🙂 Thanks for your good wishes.

  14. Hi Elizabeth, a single orchid sounds way elegant. Was it a white one? I had a white orchid corsage for my first prom. I think the way orchids are built, they almost look like they can talk. Too many Disney cartoons in my head, I guess.

  15. What a beautiful post, Tanya. My daughter also recently got married (in October). She and her husband are only now going on their honeymoon.

    They had so much work and so much to do, that they finally have been able to get away for their honeymoon.


  16. I’m afraid I wasn’t very original at my wedding — white roses for me, red (which matched their gowns) for the bridesmaids. Roses are just so elegant, my all time favorite! Lovely post, Tanya!

  17. Thanks, Kay. I do remember seeing some pix of that fall wedding. We had a fairly large wedding and I recall being sooooooooo tired on the honeymoon. I think it’s actually a good idea to take it later on.

    Thanks for stopping by today! oxoxoxox

  18. Hi Helen, white roses are my favorite too. I try to grow them but have a pretty brown thumb. They’re blooming nicely right now, though. My niece had white roses two years ago, and the girls carried red ones. It was a lovely combination.

    Thanks for stopping by today! oxox

  19. We had white roses and spider mums for our wedding.
    My bouquet was a multi-use arrangement. With a
    couple of snips, the center could be lifted out
    for use as a corsage for me. The rest, which
    still was a lovely arrangement, was then placed
    in the church as an offering to the Blessed Mother.

    Pat Cochran

  20. Hi Tanya, My hubby and I got married in a very simple ceremony in my parents’ living room. I had a bouquet of daisies and yellow roses. Yellow roses are still my favorite. The other wedding flowers I most remember were at a friend’s wedding. She was good friends with a big-time New York florist. I have no idea what he used, but her bouquet and the table arrangements were absolutely stunning.

    I enjoyed the post! Whenever I use flowers in a book, I look up the meaning.

  21. Oh Pat, your multi-use arrangement sounds absolutely wonderful! What a tribute, yet something for you as well.

    Hi Vicki…daisies and yellow roses area figuring heavily into Christi’s wedding, too. Also, I think, the spider mums. Oh, it’ll be here before we know it. I want to enjoy every moment.

    Thanks to everybody today for these beautiful visions and memories!

  22. Hello again, Vicki. It never occurred to me that flowers had such meaning…I’m going to follow your lead and look their significance when I use them in my writing. Thanks for the hint! oxox

  23. Fun post, Tanya! You know, the only flowers I remember in my bouquet were peach roses. My color was peach and I like roses. That was the only symbolism I had. LOL And we’re still married 30 years later.

    Send me an e-mail so I can send you the book you won.

  24. Hi Paty, good to hear from you. My SIL had peach roses and I was maid, make that matron, of honor. They were so, so lovely.

    I am so thrilled to have won a copy of your book at Cate Master’s blog contest! It’s been on my TBR list. Thanks for stopping by today.

  25. My bridal bouquet had pink roses and white carnations. Pretty traditional. The going away corsage was the center of bouquet. When my youngest sister got married, we tried to save her bouquet by drying it in silica. Didn’t work because too many of her flowers were thick and moist.
    Our daughter made her bouquet and the corsages for her second marriage. Her son was about 2 as was a stepson. She used artificial flowers and artificial bugs. The boys had grasshoppers on their corsages. She had bees and ladybugs and probably a grasshopper. Was a cute, small, outdoor wedding. Our oldest daughter had just 2 long stemmed roses: one her grandmother’s favorite color and the other his grandmother’s favorite color.

  26. Hi Patricia, yours is the second post that had a removable corsage in the middle. I never thought of such a lovely thing.

    Since I have a two-year old grandson, I am completely delighted to read about the grasshoppers, bees and ladybugs. He spent about a half-hour the other day examining a “hungry” caterpillar laboring down a sidewalk.

    Two elegant roses would certainly be memorable. Thanks for stopping by tonight.

  27. What a fun topic, Tanya! I’m not very knowledgeable about flowers (I could kill a fake plant!), but I find the subject of certain colors meaning certain things fascinating, especially when the giver and receiver know the meanings.

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