The gardenia flower is best known for its sweet and intoxicating scent. However, these refined, waxy blossoms are also loved for their exotic, bright white blossoms and heavy green foliage. The gardenia flower is a genus of roughly 250 species in the rubiaceae family (the same family as the coffee plant). These flowers are a native of southern Asia, Australasia and Africa, and are difficult to grow outside of these regions, as they require high humidity and bright, but indirect sunlight. The gardenia shrubs are evergreen, can grow up to 8 feet tall and 6 feet long, with either opposite or whorling leaves.
The gardenia flower – because of its elegant appearance and strong aroma – has long been used in fashion, weddings and cosmetics. In France, it has become a tradition for men to wear gardenias in their boutonnieres; real or silk gardenias can be seen in the hair of both brides and pin-up models alike; while the essential oils of this flower have become a staple in perfume-making because they can be used to create subtle, yet enchanting fragrances. The gardenia also has a short history as a pure romance flower. As with roses today, gardenias were regularly sent to beloved parties (usually in the form of a corsage) for special occasions like anniversaries, Valentine’s day, or just to tell someone that they are loved. Gardenia flowers have also become a favorite of artists. Billie Holiday, for instance, was known for sporting a signature gardenia flower in her hair until the late 1940s. Modern artists such as Linda Hammar, Billie Colson and Lelia DeMello have also taken some inspiration from these beautiful flowers, while writers like Rebecca Wiles use the blossom as a theme for romantic poetry.
In the Victorian “language of flowers” a white gardenia flower worn on Mother’s Day represented the memory of a mother who had passed away; on the other hand, a red gardenia worn on that day was thought to be a symbol of respect towards a living mother. These flowers are also thought to symbolize healing, purity and beauty. As a gift they can represent love from afar and may be given to a crush or unknowing friend, as they were often thought to say, “I am secretly in love with you.” Gardenias may also be given solely for their simple, graceful beauty. With a lot of love and attention, gardenias can make for great house plants, and may be given as a potted present – along with all of the necessary gardening equipment, of course.