The Universal Language Of Flowers

To me, flowers have always been the underling to wildlife. Whilst I love all aspects of nature, it’s the animate, complex animal kingdom that usually holds my attention. That, and mountains. I guess I never really had much more than a passing interest for flowers. Sure, they’re pretty and they smell great, but they don’t really do much, do they?


See, this is where I was wrong, and it took those oh-so inspiring words of David Attenborough to bring me to my senses. As flowers are amazing, and, more importantly I realised that their language is universal.

Flowering plants make up 80% of all plant species on the planet, which tells you that flowers have an important job to do. Flowers enable the plant to produce offspring. No matter the shape of the flower, its colour, design or scent, its function is the same. To be irresistible to insects.

But, its not only insects that find flowers irresistible. The language the flowers speak to insects in might be very different to our own – more of a pheromone-laced dinner bell – but humans and birds also find flowers irresistible for a lot of the same reasons.


In Australia and Papua New Guinea, bower birds construct elaborate ground nests that are used as performance spaces. These drab little birds don’t have gorgeous plumes to wow their mates, instead, they create a complex artistic display of twigs leaves, and often, petals, arranging them in neat little piles, selecting petals of only their favourite colour, even though plenty of other varieties will be available. They will guard their nests and their petals with vigour.

In the same way, the tiny warrior hummingbirds find flowers as addictive as drugs. They have to, as without a flower’s nectar a hummingbird would not have the energy to survive.

Humans, too, have fallen under the spell of flowers for centuries. The ancient Egyptians were known to arrange flowers and give certain petals special significance, the ancient Greeks used flowers and herbs for body and home decoration. Even today, many modern homes, office spaces and public buildings are adorned with vases of freshly cut flowers.


Flowers are a staple offering of human society all across the world. Flowers are used to symbolise all of our major life events: birth, death, sickness, anniversaries, milestones, and even death, though the bloom chosen differs greatly. Romance is shared and celebrated with flowers, and in Japan, the arrival of the cherry blossoms is a long-awaited, anticipated and lavish event. Cherry blossoms are tossed into lattes, spread over picnics and scattered through art, poetry and music.

Of course, artists and writers are great lovers of flowers. Metaphors, symbols, religious offerings, splashes of colour, sexual symbols. Flowers are everywhere in the world of art. Georgia O’Keeffe seemed to be obsessed with them, and her audience perhaps even more so, though they viewed her paintings of blossoms and blooms in an entirely more sexual light.

But, ultimately, isn’t sexuality the language of flowers? They are created to reproduce, so it’s little wonder then that they feature in our own sexual rituals. We can be addicted to the flowery scent of another’s perfume, sprinkle petals onto the bed of a honeymooning couple or even onto another’s naked body.

So the next time I’m out walking near a flower bed, or almost tread on that single, hardy little stem pushing its way through solid concrete, I’ll be listening to the flower’s language a little more closely.

Photos by Grey Feather Photography

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