Flower Meanings: The Language of Flowers

Learn the Symbolism of Flowers, Herbs, and Other Plants

September 24, 2019
Flower Bouquet
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Before you select a bouquet, check out the flower meanings from The Old Farmer’s Almanac!  While most of us know that red roses symbolize love, did you realize that most plants, herbs, and flowers have centuries-old symbolic meanings? Some flowers mean friendship; others symbolize love; yet others represent loss. Here’s our full list of flower meanings.

Bouquets make great gifts, and it is important to know what your bouquet symbolizes. Many people also want to dress up their gardens with flower symbols that represent them. Roses tend to have special meanings, as do flowers used in weddings. Another important area of flower symbolism is the meaning of birth month flowers.

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

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.”

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. Religious, literary, folkloric, and botanical publications were all used to inform meanings.

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.

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.

Pink carnations

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.

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.”

In a sort of silent dialogue, flowers could be used to answer “yes” or “no” questions, too. 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.”

Apple blossom

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!

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.

Rose Meanings

Red roses symbolize love and desire, but roses come in a variety of colors and each has their own meaning. For example, the white rose’s meaning is purity and innocence.

  • 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

Special Meaning of Wedding Flowers: Flowers of Love

Flowers have always been a big feature at weddings, too. 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 flowers had very special meaning.

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 idea is to have a garden gathering and have each person bring a flower that has meaning to them. Or, paint tiles on a kitchen island with a flower that represents each of your loved ones.

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

Meanings of Herbs, Flowers, and Other Plants

Please tell us which flowers have meaning to you! If we are missing one of your favorites, please tell us which one and its meaning.

Wishing to grow a flower that has meaning to you or a loved one? Click on linked plant names for detailed planting and growing guides.

Symbolic Meanings of Herbs, Flowers and Other Plants
Aloe Healing, protection, affection
Amaryllis Pride
Anemone Forsaken
Angelica Inspiration
Apple blossom Preference
Arborvitae Unchanging friendship
Aster Symbol of Love, Daintiness
Bachelor’s button Single blessedness
Basil Good wishes
Bay Glory
Begonia Beware
Bittersweet Truth
Black-eyed Susan Justice
Bluebell Humility, kindness
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 My Heart Aches, admiration
– White carnation Innocence, pure love, women’s good luck gift
– Pink carnation I’ll never forget you
– Purple carnation Capriciousness
– Yellow carnation Disdain, disappointment, rejection
Chamomile Patience
Chives Usefulness
Chrysanthemum Cheerfulness
Clematis Artifice (cunning), poverty
Clover, white Think of me
Columbine Anxiousness, foolishness
Coreopsis Always cheerful
Coriander Hidden worth
Crocus, spring Youthful gladness
Cumin Fidelity
Cyclamen Resignation and good-bye
Daffodil Regard
Dahlia Dignity, pomp
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
Gardenia Secret love
Geranium, oak-leaved True friendship
Gladiolus Remembrance
Goldenrod Encouragement, good fortune
Heliotrope Eternal love
Hibiscus Delicate beauty
Holly Foresight, defense
Hollyhock Ambition
Honeysuckle Bonds of love
Horehound Health
Hyacinth Games and sport, playfulness, rashness
– Blue Hyacinth Constancy of love
– Purple Hyacinth Sorrow, forgiveness, regret
– 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, continuity
Jasmine, white Sweet love, amiability
Lady’s-mantle Comforting
Lavender Devotion, virtue
Lemon balm Sympathy
Lilac Joy of youth
Lily, calla Beauty
Lily, day Chinese emblem for mother
Lily-of-the-valley Sweetness, purity
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, flee
Rose, red Love, I love you.
Rose, dark crimson Mourning
Rose, pink Happiness
Rose, white Purity, heavenly, 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
Sunflower Adoration, false riches
Sweet pea Pleasures
Sweet William Gallantry
Sweet woodruff Humility
Tansy Hostile thoughts
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

Do you have a favorite flower meaning? Or do you know of any meanings we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

Reader Comments

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If you are looking for edible

The Editors's picture

If you are looking for edible plants, here is a page with all herb symbolism. Your exact words may not be listed but many of the flowers have very similar meanings: http://www.richters.com/show.c...

I forgot one but I see it all

I forgot one but I see it all too often in May/June weddings; Snapdragons. Although beautiful I would assume from the name they probably don't mean anything powerful. But am I wrong? As a wedding planner this is a often liked & picked flower & mixed with Calililly's in white or purple or both. So a snap dragon?

Snapdragons mean

The Editors's picture

Snapdragons mean "graciousness."

What about Magnolias (which

What about Magnolias (which are my personal favorite I bought my first home when I was married because it had a Magnolia Tree in the yard? Any special meaning to them? What about Gardenias, calililly which I find seem to be popular in a lot of wedding bouquet's. Or a Tiger Lilly which tend to be popular in fall weddings? Anyone know the meanings of these?

In the language of flowers,

The Editors's picture

In the language of flowers, magnolia means nobility; gardenia means purity; calla lily means beauty; and tiger lily means pride.

I was wondering if there was

I was wondering if there was a flower that ment of undying love?

Hyacinth means "constancy of

Hyacinth means "constancy of love."

One of my favorite flowers is

One of my favorite flowers is the fuchsia. Can you tell me it's meaning?

"Confiding Love" seems to be

"Confiding Love" seems to be the common meaning for fuchsia.

Do you have a meaning for

Do you have a meaning for Buddlea or the Butterfly Bush?

We might look to the

We might look to the symbolism of the butterfly. Given the fascinating metamorphosis of butterflies, many cultures believe the butterfly represents the soul or spirit.  For that reason, we would look at the meaning as "rebirth" or "renewal."

I'm looking for a flower that

I'm looking for a flower that means, "Industrious" or "Striving" and one that means "Great" and another that means "Fruitful/good harvest" Thanks.

Clover can mean industrious

Clover can mean industrious and hard-working. Hollyhock means productive (fruitful). Corn can also stand for fruits of the Earth though it's not a flowering plant. Great? Why, that is all based on your point of view and could be many of the flowers above!

is there a flower that

is there a flower that represents, a lesson learned or anything relating to that matteror maybe even adapting to a certain problem?

Perhaps the lotus flower?

Perhaps the lotus flower? These flowers grow in mud and manage to push through the mud to emerge in water and bloom. It a sense, this flower represents the experiences we have to endure and the journey that we took to gain wisdom.

Can you tell me the meaning

Can you tell me the meaning of 12 white Vendela flowers?

We do not know of any meaning

We do not know of any meaning for vandella flowers. Unfortunately, not all flowers have their own "language."

could you tell me the

could you tell me the meanings of sunflower, hibiscus, sakura, and hortensia? many thanks..

We have meanings for all of

We have meanings for all of your queries, except sakura. Apologies. Dwarf sunflowers say gratitude while tall sunflowers say appreciation. In the language of flowers, hibiscus stands for delicate beauty, and unfortunately, hortensia stands for heartlessness.

Actually, for the Sakura

Actually, for the Sakura blossom, the Japanese have used it consistently to symbolize "perfection/beauty." For your records in the future for other common Japanese plants, the plum blossom("ume") is used in a folklore about a celestial maiden's love for a human on Earth and so often represents "simplicity" "virginity/maiden-ness" and "first love". The Ginko Balboa plant is the Japanese's symbol for "strength" and "unity". And for the Lotus Blossom, depending on its color the Japanese have varying definitions. The most common is pink, which signifies "true love". White signifies "meditation", "nirvana", "tranquility", and sometimes even "reincarnation"; it's essentially peace and rising above the realm of the earth itself into another plane of existence. Then there's yellow, and that one tends to be mixed between "peace" or "joy", and "hope" or "strength". I wish I could find the source to give you, but as a Japanese history fanatic of 20 years, I really can only base this from memory.

Brian, Many thanks for

The Editors's picture

Brian, Many thanks for sharing the symbolism of the Sakura blossom! This is very interesting, including the Japanese history. Thank, again.

Is the a flower that

Is the a flower that represents the bond between siblings?

We do not know of any flower

We do not know of any flower representing the bond between siblings. Perhaps you and your sibling(s) can choose a flower that will stand for your close bond. No reason you can't have your own secret language of flowers!

I'm looking for the symbolic

I'm looking for the symbolic meaning of Penstemon or Beard's Tongue, Liatris or Gay feather, and Lobelia. I'm doing a memory garden and want the meanings. Thank you.

We can help out a little

We can help out a little here. Liatris, in the language of flowers, means apology. It is often used in "I'm Sorry" bouquets. Lobelia means arrogance. We have not come across a meaning for penstemon in the language of flowers.

What does penstemon meaning

I saw that the Greek meaning was to hide and another place said that it has 5 stamens thus pent and stamina , but I was wondering if there was another meaning?

Penstemon

It means pure pleasures not to hide.
Pure pleasures

I'm looking for the meaning

I'm looking for the meaning of pussy willow, can you provide that? My 2nd cousin is expecting her 1st son & she loves daisies (innocence). I was going to pair some artificial daisies with pansies (loving thoughts)& baby's breath 9festivity) as a gift tie-on, along with a card explaining the meaning of each flower, then came across some pussy willow stems that look good in the arrangement, so was trying to find the meaning before I calligraphy the card. Thanks for your help!

Your choice couldn't be more

Your choice couldn't be more perfect; in the language of flowers pussy willow is for motherhood.

I was wondering if there was

I was wondering if there was a flower named sofia or that represents sofia if not how about wisdon? Any flower other than sage that represents wisdom. Any help would be appreciated thank you

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