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
– 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

Hi Lori, lilies have

The Editors's picture

Hi Lori, lilies have different meanings based on their colors. A white lily symbolizes purity, an orange color is hatred, and a yellow color is gay and “walking on air.”  Hope this helps.

missing gardenia

couldn't find flower or is it a bush? shrub? Gardenia.

“Gardenia” means “You are

The Editors's picture

“Gardenia” means “You are Lovely” or “Secret Love.”  Sounds like it’s the perfect gift from an admirer!

Janacarnda meaning

Planning on getting a tattoo of purple tree/shrub plant I loved when I was in Kenya. Understand it originated in South America. I obviously want to know the meaning of this beautiful flower before it is a part of me forever. Thanks.

Hello,

Hello,
I'm working to choose flowers for a bouquet and I'm wondering about the meaning of the following flowers:
Thistle
Shamrock
Hydrangea
Thank you!

Flower Meanings

What interesting choices. You do know the Shamrock is a symbol of Ireland and the Thistle a symbol of Scotland?

The Shamrock is steeped in symbolism as its three leaves harken back to the Trinity and sacred power. It also has had a long history of healing and protection. Finally, the Shamrock is often associated with good fortune and closedly associated with a joyous, happy marriage.

The Thistle is a tough plant and associated with resiilence, pride, pain, and protection.

The Hydrangea is a mixed bag. On the positive side, it can be used to express heartfelt emotions and to express gratitude and thankfulness, however, it also has a negative side symbolizing frigidity and heartlessness.  Life, it’s complicated!

Hydrangea meaning

In Mexico, Hydrangeas are a symbol of bad luck. I still grow them (white) and love them.

Family

Is there any flower that stands for family?

I'm writing a story about a

I'm writing a story about a character that goes insane/mad and I'm looking for flower/flowers that represent that. The only things I can find on the internet are Ophelia's flowers when she goes mad, but those flowers have separate meanings.

Thank you!

Unity / Family

Is there any plant or tree that signifies unity or family love?

Past, Present, and Future

Hello, I'm working on a portfolio and I wanted to find some flowers that represent/are related to the past, present, and future. I found out that there is some sort of myth concerning snapdragons that if you open the mouth, it will reveal deep secrets about the future. Do you have any other flowers about the future? Also perhaps about present and past as well? Thanks!

Meaning of Flowers

The Editors's picture

That’s intersting to hear about the symbolism of snapdragons!  To find flowers that represent the past, present, and future, you’ll need to be someone creative in your interpretations. Here are some plants to think about: 

Meadow saffron: my best days are past.

Cyclamen: goodbye (implies the past).

Forget-me-not: memories (the name says it all).

The red poppy releases the past.

A white rosebud is childhood (which speaks to the past).

Blue hyacinth is constancy of love (which suggests the present as well as the future).

The acorn symbolizes immortality (which suggests the present as well as the future).

Syringa: future happiness

Lily: return to happiness (which suggests the future).

flowers

If everyone looks at these flowers they are actually really pretty even if they dont sound pretty, such as, Zinnia, Yarrow, Sweet pea, and pansy. I didnt even know that there where flowers called that but when i looked them up they were so pretty that im going to plant some of them in my garden. But if anyone has any flowers that are not listed please comment back and i will plant some in my garden.

I'm looking for a

I'm looking for a flower/plant that represents the unconditional love, loyalty, and pure happiness of my dogs. They mean the world to me and I wouldn't be the same without them.

As great dog lovers, we would

The Editors's picture

As great dog lovers, we would simply view dogs as members of our family and apply the same symbolism you see above. "Violet" seems to match some of the qualities you mention.

I'm putting together a list

I'm putting together a list of favorite flowers and their meanings for our garden club members. Do Jatropha and Tibouchina have meanings? Thank you.
PS. This is a fascinating site!

Statice symbolizes gratitude.

Statice symbolizes gratitude.

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.

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