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A favorite in bouquets, floral decorations and old-fashioned cottage gardens, sweet peas are known for their lovely scent and soft ruffled petals, resembling butterflies. Here’s a closer look into the history of this delicate bloom and its significance today.
What is the Sweet Pea?
The scientific name of the sweet pea is Lathyrus odoratus, which means fragrant and attractive. These are perfect terms to describe the flower!
Sweet peas are the fragrant flowers of the Fabaceae family. Discovered in the late 17th century, it’s native to Sicily and the Mediterranean region. The sweet pea shouldn’t be confused with the everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius) that looks similar to it. The sweet pea is an annual plant, while the everlasting pea is a perennial.
Sweet peas are usually grown for their beauty and fragrance, described as a blend of honey, orange and jasmine scents. Sweet peas have slightly folded petals that resemble a butterfly’s wings. In late spring or early summer, they bloom in clusters in a range of enchanting colors including red, pink, purple, orange and white. Often trained up on bamboo stakes, these climbing vines can stretch up to 8 feet tall.
While they’re a part of the legume family and called sweet peas, they’re poisonous and shouldn’t be ingested.
The flower was very popular during the 1800s and was often referred to in poetry and prose.
Here are sweet peas, on tip-toe for a flight:
With wings of gentle flush o’er delicate white…– Keats
Meaning and Symbolism of Sweet Peas
Sweet peas are great for sharing meaningful exchanges with someone special. Here are some of the symbolic meanings of sweet peas:
- Blissful Pleasure – These blooms are beautiful, enchanting and vibrant, making them a perfect symbolism of beauty, delight and pleasure.
- Departures and Goodbyes – Do you know sweet pea is a creative way to say goodbye? These blooms simply say, “Thank you for a lovely time.” This makes them an excellent choice to give to a loved one departing.
- Gratitude and Loyalty – It’s thought that the sweet pea can attract people and encourage new friendships. They have become associated with gratitude and loyalty, which are keys to good, lasting relationships.
- In some contexts, sweet peas represent chastity, strength and truth, due to its association with certain folklore and superstitions. Back in the day, the flower was worn for strength, as well as to reveal the truth. It was believed to be a good omen for brides in France.
Sweet peas can be seen in array of soft pastel hues and blended colors, bringing life and symbolisms to flower arrangements. In the language of flower, here are the common meanings of the bloom based on its color:
- White – These flowers are commonly associated with innocence and purity, which is why they’re favored for weddings. White sweet peas are commonly called Clotted Cream, White Frills, and Dorothy Eckford.
- Orange – Orange colored sweet pea flowers symbolize enthusiasm and excitement.
- Red – Red is commonly used to represent love, passion and desire.
- Pink – These flowers are often linked with beauty and youth. Some of the pink-colored sweet peas are known as Fire and Ice with deep pink and white hues; Gwendoline with magenta pink petals; and Mollie Rilstone with soft pink blooms.
- Purple – Purple sweet peas represent royalty and pride. The two most common purple varieties of sweet pea include Cupani and Matucana with violet and deep crimson blooms.
Uses of Sweet Peas throughout History
Sweet peas are not only a beautiful flower used in aesthetics but have also been used in a variety of other ways.
In Magic and Superstitions
In some cultures, the sweet pea is believed to have magical properties that will deepen one’s wisdom and provide spiritual strength. It was often planted in yards in hopes of bringing joy, love and peace.
As an Ornamental Flower
During the Victorian era, sweet peas became a floral sensation. Victorians loved the bloom for its delicate scent and lovely colors. Eventually, it was used as a floral emblem during the Edwardian era. The flower was the highlight in floral arrangements, especially at dinner parties and grand weddings.
Sweet peas were used in the past as a natural perfume. People could add fragrance to clothes by carrying the flower in a pocket or buttonhole. While there’s no bottled perfume that can perfectly match its scent, many luxury perfume houses feature the floral notes of sweet pea.
While the entire plant is poisonous, it has great contributions in the field of medicine. The Father of Modern Genetics, Gregor Mendel, used the flower in his extensive study in genetics because of its ability to self-pollinate.
The Sweet Pea Flower in Use Today
These delicate blooms deserve a spot in sunny borders, but they can also give a cottage feel to any garden. They can also be grown in pots, hanging baskets, or along the fence for a beautiful display. Sweet peas are ideal placed in vases to fill the room with fragrance. They are also easy to grow and encourage being cut, as the more you cut them, the more flowers you can get.
Sweet peas are romantic, fragrant and colorful, so it’s not surprising they’re a common choice for weddings, featured in bouquets and flower arrangements. While they’re often used as filler flower, sweet peas in bright shades look striking in centerpieces, being the ultimate stellar decoration for your reception tables.
The sweet pea is also a commonly chosen floral motif for tattoos, as they signify remembrance of a loved in – whether in relation to gratitude or goodbyes.
When to Give Sweet Peas
A bouquet of sweet peas can be a thoughtful gesture to someone setting off on a journey. Also, it’s the birth flower of April, making it a perfect birthday present for your friends and family born in April.
Sweet peas are also a lovely thank-you flower to give to anyone who has helped you, showing your gratitude and appreciation towards the person. If you want to make someone’s day special, a basket of these flowers simply says, “I think and care about you”.
Apart from its fragrance, sweet peas can add color and character to your garden, providing lovely blooms all season long. As a symbol of blissful pleasure, goodbyes and thank yous, these flowers suit a variety of occasions, saying a lot without a word.