Originally started in Constantinople in the 1600s, it was brought to England in 1716 by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. From there, it moved to France where the book Le Langage des Fleurs was published by Mme. Charlotte de la Tour. The English translation of this book was toned down for the Victorian period.

When a woman received a flower, she had the opportunity to accept or reject the sentiment expressed when she wore the flowers on her afternoon calls. The simplest form, with the blossom facing upwards, meant that the feelings where accepted. With the blossom facing down, it meant that the woman did not return the feelings expressed. It is also possible to place the flowers sent in a bouquet with other flowers to send a return message. It is also customary for brides to choose their bouquets to send a message with the ideas of the marriage.

In Victorian times, this allowed a couple to stroll in the garden and chat about flowers on the surface, while the entire undercurrent of the conversation is full of sexual connotations and implications.

Roses are of particular interest. A rose with no thorns but leaves means "I fear no longer; I hope." If it is striped of leaves and thorns it means "There is nothing to hope or fear." A full rose with two buds means secrecy. A single rose is simplicity, while two joined roses represent engagement. A dozen roses is the ultimate declaration of love.

Colors also have meanings. In most cases, the color yellow refers to love lost, jealousy or disdain. The color red refers to love, and white to purity. This is not always the case, but its generally correct.

Through the use of combinations, more complex messages can be sent.

  • Moss Rosebud (confession of love) + myrtle (love) = a confession of love (yea, rather bland)
  • Mignonette (qualities > charms) and colored daisy (beauty) = your qualities surpass your charms of beauty
  • Yellow rose (jealousy) + broken straw (a broken agreement) + Ivy (commitment) = your jealousy has broken our friendship
  • Scarlet geranium (consolation) + passion flower (faith) + purple hyacinth (sorrow) + arbor vitae (unchanging friendship) = I trust you will find consolation, through faith, in your sorrow; be assured of my unchanging friendship (ie: let's just be friends)
  • Columbine (folly) + day lily (coquetry) + witch hazel (spell) + colored daisy (beauty) = Your folly and coquetry have broken the spell of your beauty
  • Golden-rod (be cautious) + monks-head (danger) + sweat pea (departing) + forget-me-not (don't forget me) = Be cautious; danger is near; I will depart soon; don't forget me.

Note: For some of these, there are multiple interpretations that may appear contradictory. This list is compiled from several sources, but most notably from the alt.romance FAQ