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

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Yes the Calla lily is one of

Yes the Calla lily is one of my favorites too :).

What is the meaning of

What is the meaning of moonflowers?

My favorite flower is the Las

My favorite flower is the Las Vegas Purple Gomphrena. Do they have a meaning?

I would suggest that it could

I would suggest that it could mean undying affection and respect. It's an amaranth, which often represents "undying" or "everlasting," and deep purple flowers generally signify respect, honor, or admiration (as royal purple was used for nobility).

I love white calla lilies. Is

I love white calla lilies. Is there a meaning behind those?

White calla lilies represent

White calla lilies represent faith and purity.

nice. Since the Calla lily

nice. Since the Calla lily flower in general have meaning and the white ones has a meaning, do the purple ones have a found meaning ? Thnks

I love Lythrum, is there a

I love Lythrum, is there a meaning?

I'm curious to know the

I'm curious to know the meaning of the lithium "magic or "naked ladies" thanks for the help. Happy gardening!

Lillium, not lithium...

Lillium, not lithium...

Pink lilies, such as 'Magic'

Pink lilies, such as 'Magic' and 'Naked Ladies', represent wealth and prosperity.

A lot of these flower

A lot of these flower meanings are completely incorrect. Two exanples are Aloe which actually means greif and basil which actually means hate. I am more than welcome to give the correct meanings for this entire list.

You'd have more credibility

You'd have more credibility if you didn't make two spelling errors. Flower symbolism depends on the source (Victorian, etc.) so there's really no right or wrong.

What would peonies mean? And

What would peonies mean? And would different colors mean different things?

Peonies often symbolize happy

Peonies often symbolize happy marriage and happy life. 

I am writing a story, and

I am writing a story, and right now my characters are in a grave yard. A girl's mother sacrificed herself so her daughter could live. Any flowers that represent sacrafice?

Down further on the comments

Down further on the comments I saw someone post that bleeding hearts were for sacrifice :)

Are there any flowers that

Are there any flowers that represent the bond between a daughter and her father?
My dad passed of lung cancer a few months ago and it has been really hard on me. I'm his only daughter and I was (and still am) a daddy's girl. We had a very special father-daughter bond and I'd like to commemorate that.
Thanks!

Katie, We feel for you.

Katie, We feel for you. Perhaps you'd like to consider the lovely herb, rosemary, which symbolizes "remembrance" and has been used in literature between a daughter and the love for her deceased father (Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet). It's not a flower but has a lovely pine-life appearance. Importantly, rosemary has been long considered a healing herb and, like grief, this is a vital and healthy part of the passing of your father. Finally, rosemary has a strong, memorable, delicious fragrance; it's always a favorite whether used medicinally, in the garden, or in the kitchen so your father will always be with you!

What is the meaning of

What is the meaning of Curcuma plant/flower

I am going to be getting a

I am going to be getting a koi fish tattoo. I know many koi tattoos contain the lotus flower. Would like to know the meaning of that, but i did want to try a flower that would symbolize the passing of my grandfather, but at the same time still being connected with the koi and Japanese culture if possible.

Do you know an flowers/plant

Do you know an flowers/plant that is anything like "good luck"
IF you tell me I would be very grateful thank you.

The "Bells of Ireland"

The "Bells of Ireland" symbolize good luck. A simple white carnation works, too.

I draw a lot and I have some

I draw a lot and I have some ideas with flowers and stuff so i was just wondering if you know any flower that represents

death
life
sadness
love
heartbreak
happiness
sacrifice
courage

Very thankful for answer :)

What does Camellia and lady

What does Camellia and lady slippers mean?

Thanks

Camellia is "gratitude" and

Camellia is "gratitude" and lady slipper is "capricious beauty".

I am looking to see if there

I am looking to see if there is a meaning for the Hydrangea flower . Thanks

I would like the meaning of

I would like the meaning of the moss rose and also the bleeding heart. Thank you.

The bleeding heart flower

The bleeding heart flower often symbolizes "sacrifice" and "redemption."  Moss rose is often symbolic for "voluptuous love."

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