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.

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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.

2021 Engagement Calendar

 

Reader Comments

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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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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!

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

The Editors's picture

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 Editors's picture

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 Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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!

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