Throughout the long queer history, our community has adopted a kaleidoscope of many symbolic colours, shapes and deigns to demonstrate our values and pride. We’re a colourful, cute, ecstatic community and we have a long history behind us. Some of it, within these beautiful faunas. In line with our theme of Green, here are some of the most significant flowers of the queer garden.
But first, a quick shout out to Kushiaana, my talented and creative sister who designed all of the following illustrations. She’s a freelance artist and co-founder of independent illustration studio Mush studio in South London. Support the upcoming creatives!
The significance of the hyacinth is one of the oldest flower on this list and comes from the tragic love story of Apollo and Hyacinth from Greek Mythology. Apollo, God of the Sun, and Hyacinth, a Spartan Prince, were a loving couple who rode chariots drawn by swans, played the lyre and practised the art of prophecy.
The green carnation is a very delicate flower which to me looks like a little cute cabbage. It became a badge of honour for homosexual men back in the the 20th century, as a way for them to signal to each other in a way only they could recognise.
This tradition came from the famous Irish poet and gay icon Oscar Wilde in his play “Lady Windemere’s Fan”, where he asked one of the actors and a group of his friends to wear the green carnations in their buttonholes.
It’s believed that the ‘unnatural’ colour of the flower may have been Wilde’s subtle way of mocking the perception that two men in love might be ‘unnatural’ too. Always a man with a message to say.
Though Wilde never confirmed this himself, the Green Carnation flower still holds it’s symbolic representation.
Violets have always been associated with bisexual love. Dating all the way back to the 600c BC, violets were linked with queer female Greek poet Sappho used the titular flower in her lyric poems about love and women. Living in the island of Lesbos, Sappo uses violets to symbolise the female love, with imagery of girls frolicking in gardens, adorned in garlands and had “many crowns of violets”. – so cute!
In honour of Sappho, violets and their colour became a special code used by lesbain and bisexual women. In the mid 20th century, women would give violets to their lovers to woo them, indicating their ‘Sapphic Desires’. This is one of my favourite flowers on the list because of it’s beautiful imagery and symbolism. The colour purple always feels at home as an ambiguous colour that refuses to pick sides.
The word ‘pansy’ has often been used in a derogatory manner towards men who dressed flamboyant in feminie fashion, or showed signs of moving away from what was expected of masculinity. – though they were probably the most fabulously dressed! – This became known as ‘pansying up’, a comparison to the bold and bright colours of this flower.
It’s not known for sure whether the term was first used as an insult towards the LGBTQI+, or if it was created by the community first as a sign of celebration. Regardless, in a similarily powerful move to take ownership of the word ‘queer’, the community turned ‘pansy’ against their adversaries and wore it with pride.
The term ‘Lavender boy’, similar to ‘pansy’ had been a derogatory term for effeminate men since the 1920s. When a male person showed characteristics that did not reflect hetrosexuality and a hetrosexual perspective of masculinity, they were described as having a ‘streak of lavender’ within them. Funny how toxic masculinity was so scared of anything remotely feminine that flowers would be enough to offend them.
For women, the lavender flower became associated with lesbains wanting to be included within the women’s movement, known as “the Lavender Menace”.
Overtime, the term ‘Lavender boy’ became outdated, but the flower and its colour remained a significant part of the queer community, and has become a special part of Valentine’s Day and LGBTQIA+ marriage.
Artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s, ‘Mother of American Modernism’, Queen of vaginal art and doorways often used calla lilies within her paintings as an erotic symbol and depiction of the female genitales. Throughout the 70s, a new wave of feminism celebrated her for her powerful portrayal of womanhood.
O’Keeffe’s sexuality has been under speculation. While she was married to photographer Alfred Stieglitz, she engaged in romantic relationships with women including her friend Rebecca Strand, and even with other couples.
The repeated use of calla lilies within O’Keeffe’s work has continued to be recognised for its ode to womanhood and sensuality. – and we thank her for all her gorgeous artistic work.
These rainbow coloured roses are not the flowers you find often in your garden. To create them, florists use varied methods including dip-dye, spray paint and absorption dyes, and each process will never create the same flower twice. The roses now have become an iconic symbol for the queer comminuty, combing the flag colours with the natural wonders of the rose. Like the community, the colours are bright, diverse and beautiful.
Many shades of purple are often linked with the LGBTQIA+, particularly bisexuality. As the colour lies between pink and blue, the colours associated with male and female, purple is a colour that shows the blending of gender and attraction. The colour has appeared in many of the flowers we’ve mentioned. The violets, lavender plant, pansies and hyacinths come in shades of purple. Even before the bisexual flag was designed in 1998, the shade of purple has always resignated with the bisexualty community, and the plant life that helped us along the way are remembered with their beautiful stories and legacy.
Like all these flowers, the bisexual community has never been decided as one thing, it comes in all shapes and colours and styles. I think that like this garden, anyone who finds themselves feeling different from the rest of the bouquet can find a place in the queer garden like I did.
Written by Prishant K Jutlla
Illustrations by Kushiaania