Flower Meanings: The Language of Flowers

Learn the Symbolism of Flowers, Herbs, and Other Plants

August 24, 2019
Flower Bouquet
Pixabay

Do you know the Language of Flowers? Many flowers, herbs, trees, and other plants traditionally symbolize feelings, moods, or ideas, and as our list below shows, each flower has its own particular meaning. 

Flower meanings have fascinated people for centuries, and they even play a large role in William Shakespeare’s works. 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. 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: joy, friendship, the promise of a new beginning
  • 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

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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
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
– Yellow carnation Disdain, disappointment, rejection
Chamomile Patience
Chives Usefulness
Chrysanthemum Cheerfulness
Clover, white Think of me
Coreopsis Always cheerful
Coriander Hidden worth
Crocus, spring Youthful gladness
Cumin Fidelity
Cyclamen Resignation and good-bye
Daffodil Regard
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
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
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
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
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!

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Reader Comments

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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

Iris means wisdom in the

Iris means wisdom in the language of flowers.

What is the meaning of a blue

What is the meaning of a blue rose? I also need purple rose??

Blue rose means mystery and

Blue rose means mystery and purple rose means glory in the language of flowers.

I was looking for a flower

I was looking for a flower that means gratitude

Camellia, bluebells, and

Camellia, bluebells, and yellow lily mean "gratitude" in the language of flowers.

I'm wantin 2 find symbolic

I'm wantin 2 find symbolic meaning for Glory of the Snow(Chinodoxa). Can't find anywhere! :(

I see nothing about Heather.

I see nothing about Heather. Is there a meaning or tradition attached to this lovely flower, both lavender and white^

In the language of flowers,

The Editors's picture

In the language of flowers, purple heather means admiration & beauty; white heather means protection; and pink heather means good luck.

In the back of an old

In the back of an old dictionary was the "rest" of the flowers and their meanings like jealousy, deceit,unfaithfulness and lies.

Thank you for this really fun

Thank you for this really fun info. Im going to look thru family wedding pictures and see what went unsaid...should be fun

What about Impatiens? I have

What about Impatiens? I have some growing on my office window.

I agree about the Dandelions. It thrilled my heart when my young (now 22) son picked them for me.

Impatiens are a symbol of

Impatiens are a symbol of motherly love. I believe that they were used in gardens devoted to the Virgin Mary back in medieval times.

That is the best gift a mom

That is the best gift a mom can get I think. One that is truly from the heart. And did ya know, each color of the rose means a different thing? Red is for true love while yellow is for friendship. White is for pure love. I can't remember them all right now.

Yellow roses also signifies

Yellow roses also signifies jelousy.

Something missing there, a

Something missing there,
a Bunch of Dandelions from your small child means just as much as a bouquet of Roses from your overgrown child!!

I totally agree. There is

I totally agree. There is nothing more special than a wilted bouquet of "wild flowers" from a precious child.

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