Flower Meanings: The Language of Flowers

Learn the Symbolism of Flowers, Herbs, and Other Plants

September 24, 2019
Flower Bouquet
Pixabay

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

Leave a Comment

Aster meaning

Thank you for sharing! We have added asters which, as you indicated, commonly represent symbols of love and daintiness.

a bouquet that represents a revolution?

I'm writing a book and a section of the resistance in the nation sends flowers to the rulers as a sign that peace is done and that war shall be waged. flowers are a large theme in the book but im having a hard time picking some that accurately represent a revolution. Can you maybe help?

flower meaning

Generally, flowers represent life and positive symbols. But here are some ideas: A bouquet of Withered Flowers would represent rejected love.  Yellow carnations symbolize rejection. Oleander–which is toxic and fatal if eaten–means “watch out” so that might be appropriate. Orange Lilies symbolize hatred. 

Flowers to symbolize a revolution

I'm writing too, and have come to the conclusion that "fireweed" best denotes a 'rise' from the ashes... 'rebirth' in the face of hardship... so to speak.

meanings of these three flowers

Cosmos, Lobelia , Marigold

Cosmos Lobelia, Marigold

Cosmos not found . Lobelia : Malevolence . Marigold : Despair - Grief . African: Vulgarity, vulgar & mindedness , French: Jealousy

Flower that represents mental health

Hi there,

I am doing an art project, and need to know what flower/s represent mental health/depression/anxiety etc etc, thanks!

Art Project help?

Hi there, I am an artist working on a body of work looking at botanical greenhouses and would like to have some plants/ flowers at the opening that reflect some of the themes I'm working with. Are you able to help with finding the right plants for each?
Looks for ones for, illusions, falsehoods, paradise, lushness, exoticism, wonder.
Any help would be amazing.

Paradise

Your project sounds interesting! I'm not an expert or anything, but I do have a couple flowers that could be interesting.
-Bird of paradise are widely thought to symbolize liberty and freedom, but in Africa they mean joy and paradise. They are crazy beautiful, and definitely give an exotic feel to anything they touch.
-for illusions and falsehoods, wonder, etc. Maybe try some plants with hallucinogenic abilities. I don't know the legalities of growing this kind of plant, but my personal favourite is absinthe (the green fairy) because it was used by many famous artists. It also has beatiful tiny yellow flowers.
-Angel trumpets are also deceptively dangerous and are illegal in some places, but if you're allowed to plant them they would make a great addition to your project. Plus, they attract hummingbirds!
I hope this helped you a bit! Good luck on your project

Flower Meaning

Is there a flower that could represent fate or destiny. Its for a story, something that could give the understatement that the life of someone is linked to someone else, not necessarily in a positive connotation, or perhaps something among the lines of 'We'll see each other again'.
Thank you!

"see you again!"

The Editors's picture

It would appear that there are a couple or even a few choices, with slightly varying contexts:

• Pink carnation says “I’ll never forget you.”

• Camomile says “patience.”

• Ivy says “friendship, continuity.”

• Tarragon says “lasting interest.”

For a Story

Is there a type of flower that means eternal or forever? but purely something like that, no loved involved, especially since it's more of a myserious and sad story.
If you could clue me in that would be greatly helpful ^w^

flower symbolism

The Editors's picture

Nothing ideal comes to mind, unfortunately. Part of the problem is that flowers can have several meanings, and can also vary between cultures. Lilies, for example, especially white ones, are often given at funerals. The Stargazer lily is said to symbolize eternal life, but it can also have other meanings, like sympathy. White lilies can mean purity, innocence, rebirth. Red poppies can symbolize remembrance or eternal sleep, but also have other meanings. One old source lists the Cornelian cherry as symbolizing duration. Amaranth can mean immortality, but sometimes is linked to other symbolism. Pyramidal bell flower (Campanula pyramidalis) is said to represent constancy. You might find some old books on the language of flowers either online or in a library and peruse the plants and their meanings. Perhaps you’ll find just the right one for your story. Good luck!

Need a bunch of flowers to promote healing for a friend

Give me a clue

plants for healing

The Editors's picture

For healing, you may want to consider medicinal plants.  Examples are: Baptisia tinctoria, Hydrangea arborescens, and Thyme. 

flower meaning

Is there a flower that means miracle?

Flower symbolism

The Editors's picture

The rose is probably the most symbolic. This comes from the Christian tradition, especially as pertains to Mary, “the Rose wherein the Divine Word was made incarnate.” Columbine is also a symbol, representing the dove of the Holy Spirit. The pansy symbolizes the Trinity.

The lotus flower could also be considered. This comes from eastern religions and Buddhist tradition. It’s a symbol of self-regeneration and rebirth which is miraculous in itself. Although a beautiful flower, the lotus grows out of the mud at the bottom of a pond. Even when its roots are in the dirtiest waters, the lotus produces the most exquisite and perfect flower.

Tattoo

Hey, I lost my grandma recently and I want to get a tattoo to symbolize her. She has been through harsh times and has fought every battle that came her way, expect for the last one. Throughout it all she remained strong and beautiful. Would a Lotus be a good representation? Since the flower only blossoms once it grows passed the water and gets through tough conditions, however remains beautiful through out it all?

I need help with plant meaning

I'm actually wondering if there was a flower that had both good and bad meaning to it? Something that represents love and death, both. Thank you!

flower symbolism

I’m not sure if a flower or plant symbolized both love and death according to the Victorian language of flowers, but certain plants did symbolize both in certain cultures and periods. For example, in areas of Europe, including western England, rosemary once was used during funerals, with sprigs given to mourners, and the herb planted by graves. Yet it was also used to symbolize love, fidelity, and remembrance. It was exchanged between lovers and also used in weddings, Christmas celebrations, and in royal gardens. In the words of one 19th-century author, “Rosemary is confessedly a plant of ‘grey renown’ and manifoldly mystic significance; it is associated with scenes both grave and gay, with mourning and with feasting.” Myrtle also was associated with both love and death.
Hope this helps!

Plant/Flower Meaning

Hi,

I wonder if theres a meaning of Coralberry/Ardisia Crenata/Chrismas Berry?

Depression and anxiety

Hi I have suffered with depression and anxiety for all of my teenage and adult life. But now I have recently got help and support I need and I am not suffering as bad. What flower best represents growth and strength?

You have the white rose meaning wrong

The white rose traditionally means a heart without love, or rejection to an advancement.

Memory For Someone

Hello,
I have lost a friend a few months ago and I wanted to plant a tree in remembrance for him. I can't seem to find one. Will you help me find one, it can't be to tall and it at least has to say that he will always be remembered and loved. Anyways thank you so much...

Flower meaning

Hello

I want to get a tattoo in remembrance of someone and it should mean I will never forget you and I am sorry. Can you suggest me a flower that can mean will never forget you and will always remember you.

Buckwheat flowers

Buckwheat flowers means protection and love right?

Thanks and more power to you guys! :)

Military appreciation and rememberance garden

I live in a very military orientated community and am married to a National Guardsman. I want to plant a garden to say "thank you" and "you are never forgotten" to my military community. I have researched some possible plants: daisies, poppies, tulips, thyme, zinnia, rose, nasturtium, sweet William and rosemary. Do you have any suggestions for other plants/flowers that would be appropriate for this garden? Thank you.

flower symbolism

Colorful zinnias are great for summer gardens. Mixed zinnia symbolize “thinking of you” or “in memory.” Yellow zinnia specifically means “daily remembrance.” We’re not sure wher eyou live, but sweet peas symbolize departure and thank you. Forget-me-not flowers symbolize true love and memories. A tea rose says, “remember me always.”  Of course, red poppies are the classic flower of remembrance.

Flower meanings

Camelia, just planted a pink one in memory of my mother, it was her favorite
Rhododendron, just planted 5 to border our hot tub
Hydrangea, our beautiful shrub has grown so much and in the late summer it starts with pink, blue and mauve blooms, so gorgeous
What are their meanings?

language of flowers

A pink camelia has long symblized “longing for you” which seems quite fitting for your mother. Rhododendron stand for caution, beware, danger (perhaps fitting for a hot tub?). Hydrangea has mixed symbols and is related to heartfelt emotions. It can be used to express gratitude for being understood. In its negative sense hydrangea symbolizes coldness and heartlessness, perhaps because of its lavish showiness. To us, it can express whatever is sincerely heartfelt so check your emotions!

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