Flower Meanings: The Language of Flowers

Learn the Symbolism of Flowers, Herbs, and Other Plants

November 12, 2018
Pink Roses
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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I'm looking for a

I'm looking for a flower/plant that represents "gratitude" or "grateful" I'm not finding much in my online research & see a long list of responses. Help!? :) Thank you very much!

I am very interested in

I am very interested in knowing if anyone has ever heard of the "moon plant." I saw a video of it one time but have not been able to find it again. It is an interesting plant as it vibrates as it blooms open to a beautiful white flower. If anyone knows of this plant and know where I can buy them. Please let me know.Thank You...Miss SGA

The "Moon Plant" is an

The "Moon Plant" is an invasive vine plant. It's blooms are said to have hallucinogenic properties when they are used as a tea. Similar to LSD.

It's because of this that they were outlawed in several states and commercial properties in Florida I know had to have the plants removed.

I live in Oklahoma now and there are a few of the plants on this property. You can't
kill them easily... I've tried. But I think you will be hard pressed to find them for sale at a nursey or garden center.

The Moon Flower is a

The Moon Flower is a night-blooming white morning glory, noted for it's intoxicating scent.

moon plant

While the common name "moon plant" refers to many night-blooming plants, often with white flowers, one of the more common ones is a climbing vine, related to morning glories. It is easy to grow from seed and is usually readily available at most garden centers during planting season or from seed catalogs.

I want sure why but i have

I want sure why but i have this yellow rose that my fiance picked for me and put water in a cup and the water has only been changed once and is still alive not wilted or dying or anything....is there really such a thing called an eternal flower????

I'm looking for a plant or

I'm looking for a plant or flower to get my dad for Father's Day for his garden...anything that means father and daughter?

Tall red roses are often

Tall red roses are often considered the flower for Father's Day, showing a father love, gratitude, and reverence. Another idea is a boutinniere of a purple rose with green leaves for his button hole!

Found this site in hopes to

Found this site in hopes to find a suitable flower for the representation of family or bond, in that manner.

Stock (Matthiola incana) is a

Stock (Matthiola incana) is a lovely flowering plant that means "bonds of affection."

looling for the meaning of

looling for the meaning of yellow roses and purple tulips.
Roses were my grandmothers favorited and tulips were my grandfathers.

Flowers can symbolize

Flowers can symbolize whatever memory you wish. For example, these flowers may simply symbolize your grandmother and your grandfather. 
Traditionally. yellow roses have had mixed symbolism--from joy and friendship to jealousy. (Red roses symbolize love; white roses symbolize innocence and purity; pink roses symbolize happiness and appreciation.)
Tulips generally symbolize "Perfect Lover."  (Red tulips symbolize love, yellow tulips symbolize "sunshine in your smile.")
The color purple often symbolize enchantment, love at first sight, majesty, and royalty.

Yellow roses are for

Yellow roses are for sympathy.

Yellow roses are for

Yellow roses are for friendship. I sent to a coworker then had to show her boyfriend what they meant from a gardening book.

What does the pink rose

What does the pink rose symbolize? They are my bf favorite flower.

Pink roses symbolize "perfect

Pink roses symbolize "perfect happiness."

Is there a meaning for the

Is there a meaning for the Columbine flower? It was my fathers favorite.

The columbine has a long

The columbine has a long history of symbolism starting with the Greek and Roman cultures. In Celtic culture, the flowers were supposed to open the door to the other world.
Symbolism of columbine flowers is often combined with symbolic numbers. In the Christian tradition, the spurs on the flowers were thought reminiscent of five doves sitting together and thus of the Holy Spirit. The tripartite leaves were seen as symbols of Trinity, seven columbine flowers can be interpreted as the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. A motif of three columbine flowers, which is often found, symbolizes the three Christian virtues: fides, spes, and caritas (faith, hope, and love or charity).
The blue/purple color has often been associated passion and penance. So sometimes in literature, this flower will have symbolism that falls on both sides of penance (infidelity versus faith).

Do you know what an oak

Do you know what an oak symbolizes?
Thank you

The Oak Tree symbolizes great

The Oak Tree symbolizes great strength, endurance, and lasting power. 

This is a lovely site. I find

This is a lovely site. I find it interesting as well as a good resource to many. I would like to know and I didn't find it above or I could have overlooked it. Is there a flower which means hidden, hidden beauty or something along that meaning. Thanks

Hi Chi, Thank you! The

Hi Chi, Thank you! The "Gardenia" symbolizes "secret love."  The Acacia (Blossom) symbolizes concealed love or a chaste love. I hope this helps.

This question was mine also.

This question was mine also. Gardenia is one of my favorite flowers thank you for this place <3

Thank you, that was some

Thank you, that was some useful information, I can't wait to tease my friends when they give others flowers. I have a few questions though
1)what does the lily-of-the-nile represent?
2)is there a flower that means 'friends and rivals' or something similar?
3) A flower that means 'unrequited love'?
4) A flower that represents secrets or 'secret keeper' , or 'secret keeping'. I've heard that a wallflower represents this, is that true?

Thank you again, and I'm sorry for the trouble.

Lily of the Nile represents

Lily of the Nile represents "lasting love." In terms of your other questions, the closest answers are: A fern means "secret bond of love." Gardenia is "secret love." Acacia (Blossom) is "concealed love" or "chaste love."

I'm looking, not for

I'm looking, not for "foresight" but for insight, perception, awareness, et cetera. Not necessarily knowledge or wisdom. Relating to the present, not the future or past- Anything for that?

I'm designing a character

I'm designing a character with a mail-carrier theme in mind. I'm looking for a plant or flower with any of the bellow meanings in mind;
"safely delivered"
"feelings on the wind"
"written thoughts"
...ect?

Recommendations are really appreciated. :)
~Thanks!

I am curious about daylilies.

I am curious about daylilies. The flower only last one day.

That is why they are called

That is why they are called day lilies. Each flower lasts one day, but the plant produces flowers for quite a while.

In the language of flowers,

The Editors's picture

In the language of flowers, daylily (Hemerocallis) can mean coquetry. The plant is native to Asia. In China, people grew certain species for their edible buds, and also used the plant for medicine. In that country, the flower worn by expectant mothers was thought to encourage the birth of a boy. It was also thought that it could lessen sorrow by causing forgetfulness. The plant can also symbolize one's respect for and devotion to one's mom. The genus name, Hemerocallis, is derived from two Greek words meaning "day" and "beauty."

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