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

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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
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!

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Meaning of flowers, blooms...

Ranunculus (the Persian buttercup) signifies loss, but in a poignant, poetic way. Like jasmine fragrance in the night. Even if you can't see it, the scent speaks to you...
Lovely articles, thank you.
Sincerely yours truly!

flower meaning

How about Christmas cactus flowers? They come in red, pink and white. And Jade plant, which are delicate tiny white flowers?

Romance- which flower

What flower best mean or reflect romance

flower meanings

forget me nots of course same meaning..

I was told once that corn flower represents fidelity - faithfulness
and daisy represents true love. I have an old print of a painting - still life with a blue vase and those two flowers arranged in it. I really like it since I learned the meanings of the two flowers together.

flowers and their meanings

How about camellias?

Camellias

The Editors's picture

We’ve added camellias to the list above. Each color represents something different.

Meaning of Flowers

Flowers missed - Columbine, Oxalis and Clematis. Enjoyed your article about the meaning of flowers. Thank you

Columbine, Oxalis, Clematis

The Editors's picture

We’ve added meanings for columbine and clematis! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find a meaning for oxalis flowers in our sources.

The meaning of Flowers

What about Orange, Pink, Red, or White Hibiscus flowers?

Hibiscus

The Editors's picture

In general, hibsicus means “delicate beauty.” The inidividual colors don’t seem to have separate meanings.

Flower Meanings -- YELLOW ROSE

Hello,

I would like to bring to your attention that under the Rose Meanings you states that Yellow rose: joy, friendship, the promise of a new beginning. Meanwhile; under SYMBOLIC MEANINGS you state Rose, yellow: Jealousy, decrease of love ... I'm a little confused. Please clarify when possible.

Thank you kindly.

Yellow Rose

The Editors's picture

Thank you for catching that. Yellow roses do in fact symbolize “jealousy, decrease of love, or infidelity.”

Yellow Roses

All my life I always heard that yellow roses meant friendship. There are many songs about yellow roses.

Sunflower

The sunflower symbolizes "HOPE"

Dahlia?

My 3 granddaughters are named for flowers.... Yasmeen (Jasmine), Dahlia and Lily. I would love to know what Dahlia stands for (besides her artistic ability and spunkiness.)

Dahlia meaning.

Here is a link that tells all about Dahlia meanings. flowermeaning.com/dahlia-flower-meaning/

Reference

Hello, I am an artist and would like to use your information as reference material for an exhibition. Would be ok with me doing this? Kind regards Rose.

Rose

Hi Rose, What a fitting name! Yes, you may reference this material. The only thing we can’t allow is any direct duplication/copying online (on a Web site) but it sounds as if this isn’t digital art.  Thank you for asking, your OFA editors  

Reference

Hello OFA editiors,

Thank you so much, yes my name is quite fitting for an exhibition about flowers :-) The concept is around the language of flowers. In our research we have found your site so insightful and informative. With each piece of artwork of a specific flower it will have an explanation with the meaning which we will reference from you website. No direct publication online or print will occur. Kind regards Rose x

Flower reference

Hello, I am a visual artist and would like to reference your information and website for a project. Would you be ok with me doing this?

Hen and chicks

I had a blue sempervivum when I was a kid. I looked it up in a bunch of places but nowhere seemed to know what it meant. Does it have a meaning? I know it's not much like most of these flowers.

Tuberose and ylang ylang

Do you know the meaning of the above flowers? They are my favorite scents.

explore

i like cherry blossoms. but i also wonder about other flowers. its that i wanna see all of them and see what will caught my attention for me to find what's my favorite.

Flowers

I'm fond of flowers that is one of the reason why I loved to order flowers for special occasions plus their hidden meanings are interesting as well. One of my favorite is Watanabe Floral their floral arrangement is so unique.

Snapdragon meaning?

Snapdragons have been my favourite kind of flower since I was a kid, so I was a little bummed to not see them here..What's their meaning? :)

Snapdragon Flower Meaning

Snapdragons are a lovely little flower! They are said to represent deception or graciousness.

Flower suggestion

What’s a flower or flowers representing ferocity, loyalty and something representing some one who’s super bubbly.

re.

I loved hearing about flour symbolism and their meanings..

Flower meanings

The pineapple (including the flowers) means hospitality.

Victorian Video Games

My first thought on reading this article was that if I went back in time to the Victorian era, I would find people obsessed with a made-up system of arbitrary rules which, despite their intricacy and color, had only a tangential connection to reality.

Then I realized that I would have exactly the same experience if I spoke to a present-day gamer who was deep into Skyrim, or Fallout, or the granddaddy of role-playing games, Dungeons & Dragons.

It seems that humans have an instinctive need to create patterns and order where none existed before, then learn and eventually master these invented systems as if they were the structure of reality itself. So the next time you're trying to choose exactly the right flowers while your grandson, bored with flowers, is trying to share his excitement with a complex videogame which you see as a pointless waste of time - you're more alike than you realize!

Welcome to the human condition.

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