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

red-roses-1149940_1920_full_width.jpg

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.

720x480-bvc-2020-post-roll.jpg

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

i would like to know pls the

i would like to know pls the meaning of an orchids .. ? ..

Love, Beauty, Refinement,

The Editors's picture

Love, Beauty, Refinement, Beautiful Lady, Chinese Symbol for Many Children

Yellow tulips? White tulips?

Yellow tulips? White tulips? I love tulips!

Red tulips: Declaration of

The Editors's picture

Red tulips: Declaration of Love
Tulip (Yellow) There's Sunshine in Your Smile
Tulips (in general): Perfect Lover, Fame, Flower Emblem of Holland

In "Flower Girl" by Hallmark

In "Flower Girl" by Hallmark they said yellow tulips were the deceleration of giving up on love. Why would they say such a thing if that isn't what they mean? Is there such a flower that means that?

can you tell me what a wolf

can you tell me what a wolf bane means

The name (Greek) means

The Editors's picture

The name (Greek) means "without struggle". Toxins extracted from the plant used to be used to kill wolves in older times, hence the name wolf's bane.

I'm looking for edible plants

I'm looking for edible plants or foods that mean thinking of one of the following:
Dedication
Sensitivity
Togetherness

Can you help me out on these at all?

Thanks very much

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

"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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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?

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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?

Pages