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

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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
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
– 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!

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Reader Comments

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flower and friends

Hello..
I want to write something about my friends for the college souvenir. I want to describe each one of them with different flowers. Can u help me with some ideas? I just don't want to use one word to describe but some more words to make it more specific.
Thank u

Flower symbolism

That’s a lovely idea. Perhaps it’s easier to “give” each friend a bouquet of flowers as one flower can’t possible symbolize a complete person. You need to think about each friend and what is important to him or her. For example, each flower in Kate Middleton’s wedding flower bouquet was chosen because of its meaning to her. Only you know your friends and what is important to them. If you simply want one flower, perhaps choose their birth flower!  My mother has different kitchen titles painted with the birth flowers of each member of our family. Here is our page on birth flowers by month: http://www.almanac.com/content/birth-month-flowers-and-their-meanings

Orchid

What is the symbolism of the orchid?

flower symbolism

The Orchid: Beauty, Refinement, Beautiful Lady, Chinese Symbol for Many Children

Magnolias

I'm surprised that my favorite flower was not mentioned, the magnolia. Since there are so many varieties and colors of magnolias, my favorite specifically is the Southern Magnolia. The huge white blossom that is wonderfully lemon-scented.

flower symbolism

The magnolia symbolizes “Nobility.”

Plumeria Q`

What does plumeria/frangipani flowers mean?
Seeking botanical names that mean healing, protection and/or spirituality.
Thank in advance for any help.

flower meaning

Frangipani has many symbolic meanings, depending on the country and history, so it’s rather complex. The meanings range from death to life and rebirth, from funerals to love and marriage, so you can see it’s a hard one to pin down. I suppose that one could say it’s about the cycle of life!

In a sense all plants are healing and plants “know” how to heal themselves. Traditionally, healing or medicinal plants weren’t flowers but plants such as: garlic, parsley, leek, oregano, pomegranate, mint, lentils, fennel, and myrrh. As water is an important part of healing, perhaps consider water-loving plants such as Japanese primroses, cardinal flower, and cinnamon fern.

im looking

i am looking for a flower that means wild or bold can you help? its for a story i plan on writing

language of flowers

Hi Julie, That’s a good question. Flower symbolism tends to be based in Victorian language as well as Greek and Roman mythology, so the meanings tend to reflect these times. The Nasturtium is quite bold, symbolizing conquest and victory in battle. The Narcissus stands for egotism. The Hyacinth is related to playfulness athletic beauty (read more about Apollo).

Hello, I want to ask. What

Hello, I want to ask. What does Buckwheat flower means?

plant symbolism

The Editors's picture

We do not have buckwheat mentioned in our archives, which are mainly based on the Victorian era. However, a brief search suggests that buckwheat may represent “Money, Protection.”

Flower meaning insecurity and uncertainty

Hi,
I'm a illustrator planning on doing a painting on insecurity. I want to include flower symbolism. What flowers should I choose for this topic? Thank you~~

flower meanings

The Editors's picture

Hi Kitty, The concept of “insecurity” seems more modern and isn’t represented in our Victorian symbolism. Could you look at the foxglove, which would really boost confidence in times of insecurity?  The foxglove is a beautiful flower to paint, a sort of “fairy lantern.” It exudes good energy, attracting hummingbirds and bees as this erect flower reaches toward the skies.

Flower Meanings

This is interesting. You state that "the flower, Heather " means "loneliness." Once, I knew a young lady named "Heather" who seemed, sadly, to be the one of the "loneliest" people I hade ever met. Even when she was around other people, she appeared "lonely" although she was somewhat noisy, boisterous, and seemed to "enjoy the crowd."

What I was really interested in; if there is an actual correlation between "non-flower" girls' names and a specific flower. For example, could possibly the name of "Mary" be associated with the "rose", "Margaret" with the "daisy", or perhaps "Sara" with the "daffodil?' Would anyone know or is there a "website" or "book" with this information? Thank you.

flower symbolism

The Editors's picture

What an interesting question! No specific resource comes to mind, but I’m sure that there are many examples of a particular lady, or lady’s name, associated with a certain flower. You might check legends, myths, folklore, etc. For example, anemone is associated with Aphrodite. Also check “Meaning of Flowers,” “Language of Flowers,” and “Flower Symbolism” books. Historical and cultural references are bound to have some links. For example, Moina Michael helped to promote the poppy as a symbol of Memorial Day, to wear as a tribute to those who died for their country during war (for more information, see: http://www.almanac.com/content/when-memorial-day-2016). Botanical names, too, sometimes refer to legends, people, etc. It would be a great research project!

Flower meaning

Hello, do you know of a flower/plant/herb symbolizing trust? Or intuition? I am putting together a piece of art and want to incorporate the themes.

flower symbolism and meaning

The Editors's picture

A daisy symbolizes loyalty, innocence, and “I’ll never tell.” That seems the closet plant to symbolize “trust.”

Flower meaning loneliness

Hi, I'm doing a photography project around loneliness and want to include flowers in the photos - which should I include for isolation, loneliness etc thanks

Flower symbolism

The Editors's picture

Hi Jackie, That’s a hard one because it depends on why someone is lonely. Are they alone because they are longing for someone? That would be the Camellia. Are they just bashful? That would be the peony. Are they sweet and shy? A Violet is demure. Or are they lonely because they have been abandoned or forsaken? Then choose Anemone. A classic plant that means loneliness is Heather.

Is there a flower that means

Is there a flower that means welcomeing? Like I want to give some flowers to welcome someone to the neighborhood.

Meaning of Juniper bush

I am in a bible study and we all have flower names, i.e., mine is Sunflower Sharon.'
Our newest member picked Juniper Jenny. Is there a symbolic meaning for Juniper?
Thank you!

Plant symbolism: Juniper

The Editors's picture

The Juniper is a great choice. It stands for healing, cleansing, exorcism, healthy, love. Many Native Americans used juniper to banish evil spirits and protect themselves from witchcraft. Some tribes hung juniper boughs on their tepees or burned them to keep their homes safe and would rub juniper on their bodies before embarking on a dangerous journey to protect themselves. Juniper was frequently used as a medicinal herbs, too.

Flowers That Mean Siblings

Are there any flowers that represent family, especially siblings? I would like a tattoo that resembles my four brothers and sisters. Are there any flowers that represents brothers? Sisters? Sibling love? The closest thing I can find is Sunflower or Daisy but I feel like there are better options. Thanks!

I do not know of flowers that

I do not know of flowers that have specific meanings for siblings, but Zinnias represent lasting affection. Violets mean “I’ll always be there.” Forget-me-nots stand for memories. And the acorn symbolizes immortal love.  Here’s another idea: My mother had handmade tiles in her kitchen and they were decorated with flowers; each one was the birth flower of her parents, herself, her husband, and the children.  You could consider birth flowers, too. Here’s our page of Birth Flowers by Month.

Need help for a memorial tattoo.

Hi I'm updating a tattoo I got that for family and friends who have passed away. I would like to do a new version/ style. Instead of using a couple of the flowers with meanings I like. Is there a plant or flower with meaning of life after death. Something like that ?

Flower for apology

What is flower for apology especially to brother?

What is flower for deep disappointment? And beautiful flower with such contrast double meaning?

Thanks.

Hyacinth (Purple) means “I am

Hyacinth (Purple) means “I am Sorry, Please Forgive Me.” This is a spring flower, so very timely, too, and it has a double-meaning. 

The Carnation (Yellow) means “You have disappointed me.”

Meanings of flowers & herbs

I too have been compiling a meaning list, after I found the above poem years ago. I want to use them for my wedding reception. (I will have potted herbs on the tables with signs giving their meanings as center pieces & favors.) Looking through your list, which is great & had more than mine, these are the ones I have found, which you did not.
Curry - protection
Catnip - beauty, happiness
Eucalyptus - healing, protection
Lemon Verbena - love, purification
Sunflower - pride, pure thoughts
Thank you for sharing your list!

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