Flower Meanings: The Language of Flowers

What Does Each Flower Symbolize?

March 2, 2020
Language of Flowers

Illustrated postcard. Printed in England/The Regent Publishing Co Ltd.

Dumbarton Oaks Archives

What does each flower symbolize? Which flowers represent love, hope, healing, loss, and good luck? See the Almanac’s complete list of Flower Meanings and Plant Symbolism. Whether you are picking out a flower bouquet for a wedding, choosing a single flower for a loved one, or planting a garden, discover the secret language of flowers!

Jump to the full list of flower meanings by clicking here.

The History of Flower Meanings

The symbolic language of flowers has been recognized for centuries in many countries throughout Europe and Asia. They even play a large role in William Shakespeare’s works. Mythologies, folklore, sonnets, and plays of the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Chinese are peppered with flower and plant symbolism—and for good reason. Nearly every sentiment imaginable can be expressed with flowers. The orange blossom, for instance, means chastity, purity, and loveliness, while the red chrysanthemum means “I love you.”

Flowery Language of the Victorian Era

Learning the special symbolism of flowers became a popular pastime during the 1800s. Nearly all Victorian homes had, alongside the Bible, guidebooks for deciphering the “language,” although definitions shifted depending on the source. 

In the Victorian era, flowers were primarily used to deliver messages that couldn’t be spoken aloud. In a sort of silent dialogue, flowers could be used to answer “yes” or “no” questions. A “yes” answer came in the form of flowers handed over with the right hand; if the left hand was used, the answer was “no.”

Plants could also express aversive feelings, such as the “conceit” of pomegranate or the “bitterness” of aloe. Similarly, if given a rose declaring “devotion” or an apple blossom showing “preference,” one might return to the suitor a yellow carnation to express “disdain.”

How flowers were presented and in what condition were important. If the flowers were given upside down, then the idea being conveyed was the opposite of what was traditionally meant. How the ribbon was tied said something, too: Tied to the left, the flowers’ symbolism applied to the giver, whereas tied to the right, the sentiment was in reference to the recipient. And, of course, a wilted bouquet delivered an obvious message!

More examples of plants and their associated human qualities during the Victorian era include bluebells and kindness, peonies and bashfulness, rosemary and remembrance, and tulips and passion. The meanings and traditions associated with flowers have certainly changed over time, and different cultures assign varying ideas to the same species, but the fascination with “perfumed words” persists just the same.

What Does Each Flower Symbolize?

See our list below for symbolic meanings of herbs, flowers, and other plants. (Please note: There are many meanings for flowers over the centuries; our chart below reflects mainly Victorian symbolism.)

Click on linked plant names for a photo and growing guide.

Symbolic Meanings of Herbs, Flowers and Other Plants
Abatina Fickleness
Acanthus The fine art, artifice
Aloe Affection, also grief
Amaryllis Pride
Anemone Forsaken, sickness
Angelica Inspiration
Apple blossom Preference
Arborvitae Unchanging friendship
Aster Symbol of Love, Daintiness
Bachelor’s button Single blessedness
Sweet Basil Good wishes
Bay tree Glory
Begonia Beware, dark thoughts
Belledonna Silence
Bittersweet Truth
Black-eyed Susan Justice
Bluebell Humility, constancy
Borage Bluntness, directness
Butterfly weed Let me go
Camellia, pink Longing For You
Camellia, red You’re a Flame in My Heart
Camellia, white You’re Adroable
Candytuft Indifference
Carnation Women, Love
– Red carnation Alas for my poor heart, my heart aches
– White carnation Innocence, pure love, women’s good luck gift
– Pink carnation I’ll never forget you
– Striped Refusal
– Yellow carnation Disdain, disappointment, rejection
Chamomile Patience in adversity
Chives Usefulness
Chrysanthemum, red I love you
Chrysanthemum, yellow Slighted love
Chrysanthemum, white Truth
Clematis Mental beauty
Clematis, evergreen Poverty
Clover, white Think of me
Columbine Foolishness, folly
Columbine, purple Resolution
Columbine, red Anxious, trembling
Coreopsis Always cheerful
Coriander Hidden worth/merit
Crab blossom Ill nature
Crocus, spring Youthful gladness
Cyclamen Resignation, diffidence
Daffodil Regard, Unequalled Love
Dahlia, single Good taste
Daisy Innocence, hope
Dill Powerful against evil
Edelweiss Courage, devotion
Fennel Flattery
Fern Sincerity, humility; also, magic and bonds of love
Forget-me-not True love memories, do not forget me
Gardenia Secret love
Geranium, oak-leaved True friendship
Gladiolus Remembrance
Goldenrod Encouragement, good fortune
Heliotrope Eternal love, devotion
Hibiscus Delicate beauty
Holly Foresight
Hollyhock Ambition
Honeysuckle Bonds of love
Hyacinth Sport, game, play
– Blue Hyacinth Constancy
– Purple Hyacinth Sorrow
– Yellow Hyacinth Jealousy
– White Hyacinth Loveliness, prayers for someone
Hydrangea Gratitude for being understood; frigidity and heartlessness
Hyssop Sacrifice, cleanliness
Iris A message
Ivy Friendship, fidelity, marriage
Jasmine, white Sweet love, amiability
Jasmine, yellow Grace and elegance
Lady’s Slipper Capricious beauty
Larkspur Lightness, levity
Lavender Distrust 
Lemon balm Sympathy
Lilac Joy of youth
Lily, calla Beauty
Lily, day Chinese emblem for mother
Lily-of-the-valley Sweetness, purity, pure love
Lotus Flower Purity, enlightenment, self-regeneration, and rebirth
Magnolia Love of nature
Marigold  Despair, grief, jealousy
Marjoram Joy and happiness
Mint Virtue
Morning glory Affection
Myrtle Good luck and love in a marriage
Nasturtium Patriotism
Oak Strength
Oregano Substance
Pansy Thoughts
Parsley Festivity
Peony Bashful, happy life
Pine Humility
Poppy, red Consolation
Rhododendron Danger, beware
Rose, red Love, I love you.
Rose, dark crimson Mourning
Rose, pink Happiness
Rose, white I’m worthy of you
Rose, yellow Jealousy, decrease of love, infidelity
Rosemary Remembrance
Rue Grace, clear vision
Sage Wisdom, immortality
Salvia, blue I think of you
Salvia, red Forever mine
Savory Spice, interest
Snapdragon Deception, graciousness
Sorrel Affection
Southernwood Constancy, jest
Spearmint Warmth of sentiment
Speedwell Feminine fidelity
Sunflower, dwarf Adoration
Sunflower, tall Haughtiness
Sweet pea Delicate pleasures
Sweet William Gallantry
Sweet woodruff Humility
Tansy Hostile thoughts, declaring war
Tarragon Lasting interest
Thyme Courage, strength
Tulip, red Passion, declaration of love
Tulip, yellow Sunshine in your smile
Valerian Readiness
Violet Loyalty, devotion, faithfulness, modesty
Wallflower Faithfulness in adversity
Willow Sadness
Yarrow Everlasting love
Zinnia Thoughts of absent friends

Flower Meanings by Color

Flowers provided an incredibly nuanced form of communication. Some plants, including roses, poppies, and lilies, could express a wide range of emotions based on their color alone.

Take, for instance, all of the different meanings attributed to variously colored carnations: Pink meant “I’ll never forget you”; red said “my heart aches for you”; purple conveyed capriciousness; white was for the “the sweet and lovely”; and yellow expressed romantic rejection.

Pink carnations

Likewise, a white violet meant “innocence,” while a purple violet said that the bouquet giver’s “thoughts were occupied with love.” A red rose was used to openly express feelings of love, while a red tulip was a confession of love. The calla lily was interpreted to mean “magnificent beauty,” and a clover said “think of me.”

Unsurprisingly, the color of the rose plays a huge role. Red roses symbolize love and desire, but roses come in a variety of colors and each has their own meaning.

  • White rose: purity, innocence, reverence, a new beginning, a fresh start.
  • Red rose: love, I love you
  • Deep, dark crimson rose: mourning
  • Pink rose: grace, happiness, gentleness
  • Yellow rose: jealousy, infidelity
  • Orange rose: desire and enthusiasm
  • Lavender rose: love at first sight
  • Coral rose: friendship, modesty, sympathy

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What Wedding Flowers Mean

One tradition is to select the flowers of a wedding bouquet based on plant symbolism. As an example, look to the royal flower bouquet in the wedding of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, to Kate Middleton (now Catherine, Ducchess of Cambridge). Her all-white bouquet had lily-of-the-valley (representing trustworthiness, purity), sweet William (gallantry), hyacinth (loveliness), myrtle (love in marriage), and ivy (continuity). Altogether, these flowers’ meanings reveal the hope of a loving, everlasting marriage.

The groom, too, wears a flower that appears in the bridal bouquet in his button-hole. This stems from the Medieval tradition of wearing his Lady’s colors, as a declaration of his love.

One fun modern idea is to give each bridesmaid a bouquet featuring a signature flower whose meaning suits her personality. 

There is a language, little known,
Lovers claim it as their own.
Its symbols smile upon the land,
Wrought by nature’s wondrous hand;
And in their silent beauty speak,
Of life and joy, to those who seek
For Love Divine and sunny hours
In the language of the flowers.

–The Language of Flowers, London, 1875

wedding-flower-meanings.jpg

Another important area of flower symbolism is the meaning of birth month flowers.

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Meaning of Flowers

Flowers missed - Columbine, Oxalis and Clematis. Enjoyed your article about the meaning of flowers. Thank you

Columbine, Oxalis, Clematis

The Editors's picture

We’ve added meanings for columbine and clematis! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find a meaning for oxalis flowers in our sources.

The meaning of Flowers

What about Orange, Pink, Red, or White Hibiscus flowers?

Hibiscus

The Editors's picture

In general, hibsicus means “delicate beauty.” The inidividual colors don’t seem to have separate meanings.

Sunflower

The sunflower symbolizes "HOPE"

Dahlia?

My 3 granddaughters are named for flowers.... Yasmeen (Jasmine), Dahlia and Lily. I would love to know what Dahlia stands for (besides her artistic ability and spunkiness.)

meaning of dahlia

The Editors's picture

Lauren, Based on the Victorian language of flowers, a single Dahlia symbolizes “good taste.” This seems to suit her artistic abilities!

Reference

Hello, I am an artist and would like to use your information as reference material for an exhibition. Would be ok with me doing this? Kind regards Rose.

Rose

The Editors's picture

Hi Rose, What a fitting name! Yes, you may reference this material. The only thing we can’t allow is any direct duplication/copying online (on a Web site) but it sounds as if this isn’t digital art.  Thank you for asking, your OFA editors  

Reference

Hello OFA editiors,

Thank you so much, yes my name is quite fitting for an exhibition about flowers :-) The concept is around the language of flowers. In our research we have found your site so insightful and informative. With each piece of artwork of a specific flower it will have an explanation with the meaning which we will reference from you website. No direct publication online or print will occur. Kind regards Rose x

Flower reference

Hello, I am a visual artist and would like to reference your information and website for a project. Would you be ok with me doing this?

Hen and chicks

I had a blue sempervivum when I was a kid. I looked it up in a bunch of places but nowhere seemed to know what it meant. Does it have a meaning? I know it's not much like most of these flowers.

Tuberose and ylang ylang

Do you know the meaning of the above flowers? They are my favorite scents.

explore

i like cherry blossoms. but i also wonder about other flowers. its that i wanna see all of them and see what will caught my attention for me to find what's my favorite.

Flowers

I'm fond of flowers that is one of the reason why I loved to order flowers for special occasions plus their hidden meanings are interesting as well. One of my favorite is Watanabe Floral their floral arrangement is so unique.

Snapdragon meaning?

Snapdragons have been my favourite kind of flower since I was a kid, so I was a little bummed to not see them here..What's their meaning? :)

Snapdragon Flower Meaning

The Editors's picture

Snapdragons are a lovely little flower! They are said to represent deception or graciousness.

Flower suggestion

What’s a flower or flowers representing ferocity, loyalty and something representing some one who’s super bubbly.

re.

I loved hearing about flour symbolism and their meanings..

Flower meanings

The pineapple (including the flowers) means hospitality.

Victorian Video Games

My first thought on reading this article was that if I went back in time to the Victorian era, I would find people obsessed with a made-up system of arbitrary rules which, despite their intricacy and color, had only a tangential connection to reality.

Then I realized that I would have exactly the same experience if I spoke to a present-day gamer who was deep into Skyrim, or Fallout, or the granddaddy of role-playing games, Dungeons & Dragons.

It seems that humans have an instinctive need to create patterns and order where none existed before, then learn and eventually master these invented systems as if they were the structure of reality itself. So the next time you're trying to choose exactly the right flowers while your grandson, bored with flowers, is trying to share his excitement with a complex videogame which you see as a pointless waste of time - you're more alike than you realize!

Welcome to the human condition.

Plumeria

My husband and I love plumeria, but we have no idea what it represents. Do you know?

Flower meaning

What is the meaning of a dahlia?

Focus, healing

Hello. I’m getting a tattoo on my forearm to represent strength and focus as I cope with a debilitating and very painful nerve condition. I’m combining the scripture chapter and verse, along with a dragonfly. Can you suggest a small flower I might add?

flower meaning strength

Catherine Boeckmann's picture

“Thyme” has the perfect meaning (see above) if you are up for adding a pretty herb. But the lovely edelweiss that grows in the mountains also represents courage. All the best on coping with your condition. 

Flower meaning love and sorrow.

Hello my biotic friend! I just wanted to tell you about the Oleander.

Flower for the loss of a loved one

Hello,

The anniversary of my sibling's death is coming up. I plan on getting a tattoo in memory of him. Which flower would best represent healing, admiration and love?

Thank you for the help.

love

Catherine Boeckmann's picture

The red rose is the classic symbol of love and admiration. The red tulip is a declaration of love.  But there are other flowers that symbolize love on the above list. The acorn symbolizes immortal love. Heliotrope also means undying love and honeysuckle represents the bonds of love.

 

Flower missing

Hi
I want to remind u my favourite flower Gerbera and want to know its meaning. Any Help possible regarding??

Gerbera Daisies

Catherine Boeckmann's picture

Gerbera are daisies (gerbera daisies). See above!

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