In my ongoing series about the various types of wedding flowers, this post will be about the orange blossom which were once a popular choice for bridal flowers especially during the Victorian and Edwardian era. The orange blossom has been used throughout the years in bridal bouquets, head wreaths and even as a decoration for wedding dresses. In this post I will start with some information about the orange blossom and then I will discuss the history of the flower as it pertains to weddings.
The flower of the orange tree is known as the orange blossom (citrus sinensis). The fragrant flower has been used for making sweet scented perfumes, for baking delicious desserts, for brewing refreshing tea, for making citrus flavored honey and was also used for wedding decorations. In ancient China orange trees were very abundant in the region and the plants were considered very unusual because the tree could bloom and produce fruit at the same time. For this reason oriental brides were the first to use orange blossoms for their weddings as a symbol of fertility.
Later during the Crusades the knights would bring back exotic orange blossoms from the East back to Europe. This custom started first in Spain and it is here that perhaps the historic origin of the orange blossom wreath can be traced. There is an old Spanish legend that begins with the Royal Palace gardener’s daughter and her fiancé that were denied to marry because an inadequate dowry could not be obtained. When a French ambassador visited the Spanish monarch at the palace he sees the orchard of orange trees with its fragrant white flowers and delicious fruit and he asked to have a cutting to bring back to France. Seeing an opportunity to acquire the money for a dowry, the daughter arranges to give the French ambassador a cutting from the orange tree in exchange for a substantial price. With this money the couple was now able to get married and to honor the important role that the orange tree played in enabling her to marry the daughter decided to wear a wreath made of orange blossoms on her wedding day.
The orange blossom custom moved across the countries of the world from China to Spain to France and later to England in the early 1800s. The exotic orange blossoms were beautiful and fragrant and the flowers came to represent wealth and status for those that could afford such a luxury. When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840 instead of wearing a crown, as would befit her royal status, she choose to wear a simple wreath of orange blossoms, she also wore more orange blossoms on the bodice of her bridal dress. Like many customs and traditions set by Queen Victoria during her long reign, the popularly of both white wedding dresses and orange blossoms increased throughout the following years.
Sentimental gifts between couples were always popular especially during the Victorian era. Prior to their wedding, in 1939 Prince Albert gave Queen Victoria a lovely gold and porcelain brooch created in the form of an orange blossom sprig as an engagement present. The Prince continued to give the Queen orange blossom jewelry; he gave her another brooch and matching earrings in 1845 and then for their wedding anniversary in 1846 he gave her a a wreath of white porcelain orange blossoms with gold leaves attached to a braided black velvet band. The wreath includes four green enamel oranges to represent the four children they had at that time (the couple would eventually have a total of nine children).
Queen Victoria’s porcelain and gold orange blossom parure
photo from the Royal Collection Trust
Because she was so deeply in love with her Prince consort, the Queen cherished her lovely parure of orange blossom jewelry and she would wear them every year on their wedding anniversary. The 1854 photograph below was taken almost fifteen years after the wedding and the Queen is shown wearing the orange blossom wreath with her bridal veil.
Queen Victoria in 1854 wearing her orange blossom jewelry
photo from the Royal Collection trust
Upon the death of Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 she had left detailed instructions that the orange blossom parure was a personal gift from her beloved husband to be worn only by her during her lifetime and would not be passed onto any of her children. This request was honored and today the orange blossom parure is part of the British Royal Collection.
During the Victorian era, the popularity of orange blossoms used at weddings placed such a high demand that when the flowers were out of season a special technique was developed to manufacture wax orange blossoms that were used for making bridal headpieces, trimmings for wedding dresses and bouquets or boutonnières. In 1863 when Princess Alexandra of Denmark married Prince Albert Edward, the heir to the British throne, her wedding dress was trimmed with an abundance of wax orange blossoms.
Princess Alexandra in her wedding dress trimmed with orange blossom
photo from the Royal Collection trust
The always sentimental Queen Victoria, who was the mother of the groom, saved one of the wax orange blossoms from Princess Alexandra’s bridal wreath. She carefully placed the orange blossom in an envelope marked with the wedding date and it is now part of the British Royal Collection.
photo from the Royal Collection trust
Special Note: During the Victorian era it was the superstition that to avoid bad luck wax orange blossom bridal headpieces should be destroyed within a month (the normal cycle of a real orange blossom). For this reason very few headpieces from this time period have survived and the ones that can be found at antique stores or from other sources usually have some damage with broken flowers or discoloration.
Vintage Victorian era wax orange blossom bridal headpiece
In 1953, when Jacqueline Bouvier married John Kennedy, she wore the Lee heirloom veil. Her grandmother, Margaret Merritt Lee, had worn the lovely lace veil when she married James Lee in 1903 and then fifty years later Jacqueline wore the veil on her wedding day. In the photos shown below the pattern of the lace looks beautiful centered on the back of her head and the veil was secured with a headpiece made from orange blossoms and lace accents.
Jaqueline Bouvier wearing the Lee heirloom wedding veil
Orange blossom wedding ideas and suggestions
Throughout the years orange blossoms continued to be a popular choice for weddings incorporating the real or wax flowers into hairpieces and bridal accessories or ceremony and reception decorations such as floral arrangements or cake decorations. The orange blossom designs have been used for jewelry items such as wedding rings or necklaces, some of these items can be found in antique stores or online websites such as eBay. Orange blossom scented perfumes or candles would be perfect for a spring or summer wedding and these items can be purchased at retail stores or online websites. (Special Note: When purchasing any items or products through online sources always use caution and only buy from reputable vendors).
Listed below are some ideas and suggestions incorporating orange blossoms into a wedding:
Floral arrangements for ceremony or reception using orange blossoms
Since the orange blossom has such a great fragrance, may I suggest using the flowers in the bouquets of the bride and her attendants. The bride’s bouquet would look beautiful with white roses, lilies of the valley and orange blossoms similar to the one pictured below. The bridesmaids’ bouquets could be yellow roses, green or white hydrangeas and orange blossoms. Both of these bouquets would be wonderful to use for a spring or summer wedding.
Orange blossom cake decorations
A grand wedding cake is sometimes known as the centerpiece of a wedding reception. In keeping with the theme of orange blossoms, the cake shown in the photo below is a simple vanilla frosted three tiered cake which is beautifully decorated with a cascade of fresh orange blossoms.
Vintage wedding rings or other jewelry with orange blossom designs
Here is a wonderful idea for “something old”. Since the orange blossom represented fertility and everlasting love the image of the flower was often used for jewelry items. During the 1920s to the 1940s wedding rings embellished with engraved orange blossoms accents were all the rage! The rings ranged from simple gold bands to platinum diamond rings.
1940s magazine ad for Traub Brothers orange blossom rings
Orange blossom scented perfumes or scented candles
Orange blossoms have such a lovely fragrance and would be a wonderful scent for a spring or summer bride to use for a wedding. One of the most popular perfume currently available on the market is the Jo Malone Orange Blossom perfume. Might I suggest that the perfume or any of the products in the orange blossom line would also make a great bridesmaid’s gift – the entire bridal party would smell go good!!
Orange Blossom Perfume by Jo Malone