Flower Meanings: The Language of Flowers

What Does Each Flower Symbolize?

March 2, 2020
Language of Flowers

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

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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, Unequalled Love
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.

2021 Engagement Calendar

 

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

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

The Editors's picture

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.

The Editors's picture

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 Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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 Editors's picture

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

Hello, what flower would

Hello,
what flower would represent my love to my mom? She survived cancer and I would like to have a tatttoo saying: Mami I love you forever, you are the best (strength & wisdom), my true hero and I wish you health.
Or a flower that shows a daughter's love to mother and stands for strength, health and happiness/love?
Thank you

I'm getting a tattoo for

I'm getting a tattoo for family . Not for children or husband for my mom brothers and sisters family . But what flower represents family as in mother , brothers and sister ?

which flower represents

which flower represents courage and innocence togther?

What flower or plant would

What flower or plant would symbolize "brother" or "twin"?

Hello, I am researching

Hello,

I am researching flowers for a character and a story. Can you please tell me a flower that means 'I miss you', one that means 'thank you', and one that, when given to someone, is a threat? Also, if you know anything about foxglove poisoning, such as how long after poisoning do the symptoms appear, I would be very grateful.

Let us contribute to the last

The Editors's picture

Let us contribute to the last one: Begonia is beware. Monkhood means that a deadly foe is near.

Hello! I'm looking for a

Hello! I'm looking for a flower that symbolizes the "love of a mother" or the "bond between a mother and her children (daughter)". Only impatiens? Thanks :)

I looked for the same thing

I looked for the same thing for my mother's funeral bouquet but nothing came up.
Eventually I went for clover mixed in with red roses and Red carnations. Roses and carnations because this was what she had in her wedding bouquet and the clover for eternal love. It's still the flowers I get now when It's the anniversary. Hope this helps .

Moss is for maternal love.

The Editors's picture

Moss is for maternal love. Stock is for bonds of affection, though not only mother and daughter.
You may wish to consider combining "mother" and love." For example, the day lily is the Chinese emblem for mother.
Many flowers symbolize love. For example, a red rose is "I love you." Forget-me-nots are "True Love and Memories."

Hi.What Rose Means For

Hi.What Rose Means For Eternity.I once got told it was Red With Tint Of Orange.Is that true.?x

You are correct in saying

The Editors's picture

You are correct in saying that a Rose has different meanings based on its color and different types of roses can also connote differnet meanings. We haven't heard of the combination that you are mentioning. The classic red rose means "Love" or "I Love You." To us, love is eternal!

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