The Hidden Languages of Flowers

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As spring unfolds, the fragrant beauty of the season draws us in. We take walks in nature. For the more ambitious, we plant gardens. For the less ambitious, we carefully select bouquets to brighten our living spaces. But flowers are much more than merely decorative. For centuries, cultures around the world have looked to flowers, and their significance is far-reaching. Flowers are sacred. Flowers are inspiration. Flowers are hope. This spring, let’s take a brief botanical tour and explore the many languages of flowers in different cultures.


Armenia and the Forget-Me-Not

անմոռուկ [anmoṙuk]

The Armenian Genocide of 1915 – known by Armenians as Medz Yeghern (the great crime) or Aghet (catastrophe) –  resulted in the deaths of as many as 1.2 million Armenians. In 2015, the purple forget-me-not flower or anmoṙuk (անմոռուկ) became the official emblem in observance of the Armenian genocide. The black center of the flower represents the dark past while the light purple petals represent the unity of today’s Armenian communities worldwide. Five dark purple petals paint the future and illustrate the five continents where Armenian genocide survivors resettled. Finally, the golden inner area symbolizes light and hope. And it’s not just flowers that shed light on the hope that runs through Armenian culture – learn more about it and discover the richness of Armenian folk dances to dig deeper.


Egypt and the Blue Lotus

نيلوفَر [nilufar

Once scattered along the shores of the Nile River in Ancient Egypt, the blue lotus is known by many names, including the blue water lily and the sacred lily. The ancient roots of the lotus flower or nilufar (نيلوفر) are unmistakable, as it is frequently depicted on tomb walls and other ancient Egyptian artwork. The blue lotus even appears on King Tutankhamen’s tomb! This flower is also associated with numerous Egyptian deities, such as Osiris and Ra. Additionally, the flower has psychoactive properties and was once used to treat insomnia and anxiety. Truly, many flowers have a special place in the Arabic language. For example, moonflower or ya [q]amar (يا قمر) has long been used as a romantic term of endearment.


France and Lavender 


Lavender has long been lauded for its homeopathic benefits. The harvesting of lavender in Provence (a region in the south of France, particularly known for its fields of lavender) is a source of regional pride and centuries-long tradition. Small farms harvest the crop for use in perfumes, oils, soaps, and more. If you find yourself in France between mid-June and mid-August, it is well worth your while to visit a lavender field in full bloom. From Les Lavandes de Champelle in the hilltop town of Sault to the sacred silence of Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, experience une rêverie mémorable


Iran and the Damask Rose

گل محمدی [gol-e Mohammadi] or گل سرخ [gol-e sorkh]

From perfume to medicine, rose water has many uses. Iran’s annual Rose Water Festival in Kashan attracts visitors from Iran and the world over. Named for the Syrian city of Damascus where Europeans stumbled across the flower during the Middle Ages, this flower is thought to have its origins in central Asia and Iran. Thus, the flower holds a special place in Persian culture. Every spring the Kashan county of Iran is blanketed in soft, velvety roses. During the festival, thousands of pounds of gol Mohammadi (گل محمدی) or Mohammadi rose are picked to distill into rose water. The centuries-old distillery process known as golab-giri involves boiling the rose petals for hours in copper pots. So, whether you wish to soothe a sore throat or sample the Persian sweet faloodeh, this festival is not to be missed. Planning to attend? Learn how to introduce yourself and start with ‘hello’.


Palestine and the Poppy

شقائق النعمان  [shaqeeqah an-nu’mān]

A national flower of Palestine, the poppy or shaqeeqah an-nu’mān (شقيقة النعمان) grows abundantly in fields during the springtime. Not surprisingly, it represents the relationship between Palestinians and their land. Additionally, this flower is steeped in history, signifying bloodshed from wars. As a result, the poppy appears frequently in Palestinian art and literature. Flowers and other nature-inspired motifs are also on display in Palestinian embroidery work or تطريز (taTriiz). Now more than ever, the poppy takes on special significance. On December 15th, artists and activists created an installation of more than 20,000 red paper poppies in front of the New York Stock Exchange, each poppy laid in remembrance of a Palestinian life lost. 


Russia and Lily of the Valley

Ландыш [landysh]

Lily of the Valley or landysh (Ландыш) was a favorite flower of Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. In fact, Feodorovna and Nicholas II once gifted Queen Alexandra a Lily of the Valley Fabergé egg cast in gold, and embedded with diamonds and pearls. The flower is also found in the Russian legend of Sadko when Lilies of the Valley grew out of tears shed by his spurned lover the sea princess Volkhova. This legend is depicted in the 1898 opera Sadko by Rimsky- Korsakov. Want to learn more about Russia’s rich cultural history? Try a language lesson with one of our native instructors for free!  


Kurdistan and the Daffodil


The daffodil or nergiz can be found spilling from the streets of the Kurdistan region every January through April. This cheerful yellow and white flower is a symbol of spring and is an important part of the Kurdish holiday of Newroz, which is the Kurdish New Year. Friends and family enjoy gifting these flowers to their loved ones. In this way, the daffodil, which is also a symbol of Kurdish nationalism, is a token of one’s affection. It’s no wonder that this flower features prominently in traditional Kurdish clothing, as well as traditional Kurdish tattooing or deq.


Ukraine and the Sunflower

Соняшник [soniashnyk]

Sunflowers – or soniashnyk in Ukrainian – have grown in Ukraine since the mid-18th century. The pervasiveness of the sunflower is undeniable. From sunflower seeds as a popular snack to profitable sunflower oil exports, the sunflower has become an unofficial national symbol. Most significantly, it has been a longstanding symbol of peace. When Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons in 1996, sunflowers were planted in celebration at the Pervomaysk missile base. 


Venezuela and the Orchid

Flor de Mayo

Also known as Flor de Mayo, the orchid is the national flower of Venezuela. In fact, this flower actually inspired the construction of Venezuela’s pavilion at the 2000 World Fair Expo in Hanover. Venezuelan architect Frutas Vivo designed The Flor de Venezuela or the Flor de Hanover. The structure consists of 16 huge petals that open and close. (Each petal measures at least 33 feet or 10 meters long!) After the Expo, the famed Flor was moved in stages to Barquisimeto in northwest Venezuela. Want to delve deeper? Try a Refugee Voices session with our Venezuelan Language Partners.

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Safa Marhaba

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