Flower Meanings: The Language of Flowers

What Does Each Flower Symbolize?

February 2, 2020
Language of Flowers

Illustrated postcard. Printed in England/The Regent Publishing Co Ltd.

Dumbarton Oaks Archives

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
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.

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

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."

Interesting! Happy

Interesting! Happy Valentine's Day to everyone!

Do you know of any flowers

Do you know of any flowers that mean something along the lines of "you changed my life" or something like that?

The lily of the valley means

The Editors's picture

The lily of the valley means "you made my life complete."  

I'm looking for something to

I'm looking for something to symbolize Happy memories, platonic devotion, or adoption, and ideally wouldn't sound to out of place as someone's name. can you help?

Pages