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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Hi can i know the meaning of

Hi can i know the meaning of Zanteschia Arum lilies and Wisteria..bcos i love its flower and would really like to know its meaning..tq^^

Can you tell me the meanings

Can you tell me the meanings of Lily(s) in particular the day lily. Also meanings of the Lotus flower and dahlias? Thank you.

The Lotus flower symbolizes

The Editors's picture

The Lotus flower symbolizes eloquence.
The dahlia symbolism can range from a "wild" or spicy side to instability.
The day lily has symbolized coquetry. However, it is also the Chinese emblem for mother so it is also associated with mothers and nurturing and also symbolic of unions and long-lasting partnerships.

Do you know of any flowers

Do you know of any flowers that represent something along the lines of:
growing out of anxiety/learning and healing and coping and managing anxiety or depression at all?

The Christmas Rose symbolizes

The Editors's picture

The Christmas Rose symbolizes "Tranquilize My Anxiety."

Hi! Just wondering what the

Hi! Just wondering what the flowers for the following would be??
-success or wealth in a non-vain way
-family
-health
-friendship

Yes, the Yellow Poppy

The Editors's picture

Yes, the Yellow Poppy symbolizes wealth and success.  (The Tiger Lily is wealth and pride so probably not what you are seeking.)  Both the Iris and Ivy could symbolize friendship. The family can so many things; traditionally, this may mean children. An Orchid is the Chinese symbol for "may you have many children." The Orange Blossom symbolizes eternal love, marriage, and fruitfulness.

love this info :) how bout

love this info :) how bout white lilies (common or 'stargazer'), sunflowers, & black or grey roses? thx for the help!

White lilies symbolize purity

White lilies symbolize purity or virginity and sunflowers symbolize adoration (as they open faces turn to adore the sun). Black/grey roses aren't a traditional flower—create your own traditions?

Blue roses are my favorite

Blue roses are my favorite and I wanted to know the meaning just in case someone gave me one or asked me way I like them so much.....

Thanks

Just saw it meant mystery,

Just saw it meant mystery, never mind :)

What flowers represent

What flowers represent strength?
and full acceptance & love?
Thanks.

Almanac staff, you seem like

Almanac staff, you seem like a wealth of information on plant meanings. Where is this information gathered from? Is there a reference book that you recommend that has a more complete list? Are there more in the printed Almanac for 2014?

Thanks! We reference our

The Editors's picture

Thanks! We reference our archives which go back 200 years and we also reference reputable educational sources.

I'm looking for flowers

I'm looking for flowers that'll let my girl know that
I'm always thinking of her,
I love her,
I miss her,
She's beautiful,
And strong.
Any help please

Primrose means...I can't live

Primrose means...I can't live without you...very romantic!

What is the meaning of the

What is the meaning of the Chinese blossom?

We're not sure which blossom

The Editors's picture

We're not sure which blossom you mean. There are many flowers in China.  Azalea is the Chinese symbol of womanhood. Day lily is the Chinese symbol of motherhood. Orchid is the Chinese symbol for Many Children. Hope this helps!

Are there any flowers that

Are there any flowers that mean "maturity" or "growing up"?

The Azalea is a symbol of a

The Editors's picture

The Azalea is a symbol of a womanhood if you are speaking of a girl who is maturing. Narcissus means "stay as sweet as you are." This is the best we can come up with!

Looking for a flower that

Looking for a flower that symbolizes perseverance and or strength?

Perhaps not the flower you

The Editors's picture

Perhaps not the flower you are seeking, but Garlic symbolizes strength and courage. The Cactus flower symbolizes endurance.

I am looking for flowers that

I am looking for flowers that mean something like "always will remember" or "will always love you". I'm thinking tea roses in pink. It will be for a tattoo in memory of my little sister who passed away in a car accident at 4 years old. I know black roses mean someone has passed but they are so depressive to me and she was (and is in Heaven) so full of energy and life they jus don't fit. I am almost settled on white tea roses with pink edges. White for her young innocence, pink was her favorite color, and I've found tea roses to mean "always" which fits so nicely. I just wanted another opinion. Thank you.

There are many flowers that

The Editors's picture

There are many flowers that represent love.
Roses are the symbol of love, meaning, "I love you" and "I still love you."
Orange blossom means, "eternal love."
A tea rose means, "I'll remember always." This sounds perfect.

Thank you so much :)

Thank you so much :)

I would like a printed copy

I would like a printed copy of the Meaning of Flowers list as published in the 2009 Almanac.

Could you kindly tell me

Could you kindly tell me what's the meaning of a wilted plant given -intentionally- as a gift?

Hmmm . . . forgotten?

The Editors's picture

Hmmm . . . forgotten?

it usually means rejection,

it usually means rejection, or rejected love.

i would like to know pls the

i would like to know pls the meaning of an orchids .. ? ..

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