Flower Meanings: The Language of Flowers

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the language of flowers, what flowers mean, Illustrated postcard. Printed in England/The Regent Publishing Co Ltd.

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

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Dumbarton Oaks Archives

What Does Each Flower Symbolize?

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Discover the language of flowers with the Almanac’s complete chart of Flower Meanings. When selecting flowers—for a Mother’s Day bouquet, your garden, or even a tattoo—know the symbolic meaning of your favorite flowers.

The History of Flower Meanings

The 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.

Whether you’re giving flowers to a mother for Mother’s Day, a friend on their birthday, or a beloved on Valentine’s Day, 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.”

Flower 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. 

Following the protocol of Victorian-era etiquette, 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 was important. If the flowers were given upside down, then the conveyed idea was the opposite of what was traditionally meant. How the ribbon was tied said something: 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. Still, the fascination with “perfumed words” persists just the same.

Flower Symbolism Chart

See our chart below for meanings of herbs, flowers, and other plants. (Please note: Our chart below reflects mainly Victorian flower language.)

Click on linked plant names for a photo and growing guide.

Meanings of Herbs, Flowers, and Other Plants
AcanthusThe fine art, Artifice
AloeAffection, also Grief
Apple blossomPreference
ArborvitaeUnchanging friendship
AsterSymbol of love, Daintiness
Baby’s breathEverlasting Love
Bachelor’s buttonSingle blessedness
BasilGood wishes
Bay treeGlory
Black-eyed SusanJustice
BorageBluntness, Directness
Butterfly weedLet me go
Calla lilyBeauty
Camellia, pinkLonging for you
Camellia, redYou’re a flame in my heart
Camellia, whiteYou’re adorable
CarnationFascination, Female love, Mother’s love
– Red carnationAlas for my poor heart, My heart aches, Deep love
– White carnationInnocence, pure love, sweet love
– Pink carnationI’ll never forget you
– StripedRefusal
– Yellow carnationDisdain, Disappointment, Rejection
ChamomilePatience in adversity
Chrysanthemum, redI love you
Chrysanthemum, yellowSlighted love
Chrysanthemum, whiteTruth
ClematisMental beauty
Clematis, evergreenPoverty
Clover, whiteThink of me
ColumbineFoolishness, Folly
- Columbine, purpleResolution
- Columbine, redAnxious, Trembling
CoreopsisAlways cheerful
CorianderHidden worth/merit
Crab blossomIll nature
Crocus, springCheerfulness, Youthful gladness
CyclamenResignation, Diffidence, Goodbye
DaffodilRegard, Unequalled love
Dahlia, singleGood taste
DaisyInnocence, Loyal love, I’ll never tell
DaylilyChinese emblem for mother
DillPowerful against evil
EdelweissCourage, Devotion
FernMagic, Fascination, Secret bonds of love
Forget-me-notTrue love memories, Do not forget me
GardeniaYou’re lovely, Secret love
GeraniumFolly, Stupidity
GladiolusFlower of the Gladiators, Integrity, Strength, Victory
GoldenrodEncouragement, Good fortune
HeliotropeEternal love, Devotion
HibiscusDelicate beauty
HollyDefense, Domestic happiness
HoneysuckleBonds of love
HyacinthSport, Game, Play
– Blue HyacinthConstancy
– Purple HyacinthSorrow
– Yellow HyacinthJealousy
– White HyacinthLoveliness, Prayers for someone
HydrangeaGratitude for being understood, Frigidity and heartlessness
HyssopSacrifice, Cleanliness
IrisFaith, trust, Wisdom, Hope, Valor
IvyAffection, Friendship, Fidelity
Jasmine, whiteSweet love, Amiability
Jasmine, yellowGrace; Elegance
Lady’s SlipperCapricious beauty
LarkspurOpen heart, Levity, Lightness, Fickleness (pink or simple varieties).
Lemon balmSympathy
LilacJoy of youth
Lily (white)Virginity, Purity, Heavenly
Lily (yellow)Happy, Gay, Walking on air
Lily (orange)Hatred 
Lily, tiger Wealth, Pride 
Lily-of-the-valleySweetness, Tears of the Virgin Mary, Humility
Lotus FlowerPurity, Enlightenment, Self-regeneration, and Rebirth
MagnoliaNobility, Love of nature
Marigold Grief, Jealousy
MarjoramJoy, Happiness
Morning gloryAffection
MyrtleGood luck, Love in a marriage
NasturtiumPatriotism, Conquest, Victory in Battle
PeonyBashful, Happy life, Shame
PineHumility, Piety
RhododendronDanger, beware
Rose, redLove, I love you
Rose, dark crimsonMourning
Rose, pinkHappiness
Rose, whiteInnocence, Heavenly, I’m worthy of you
Rose, yellowJealousy, Decrease of love, Infidelity
RueGrace, Clear vision
SageWisdom, Immortality
Salvia, blueI think of you
Salvia, redForever mine
SavorySpice, Interest
SnapdragonDeception, Graciousness
SouthernwoodConstancy, Jest
SpearmintWarmth of sentiment
SpeedwellFeminine fidelity
Sunflower, dwarfAdoration
Sunflower, tallHaughtiness
Sweet peaBlissful pleasures, Goodbye, Thank you for a lovely time
Sweet WilliamGallantry
Sweet woodruffHumility
TansyHostile thoughts, Declaring war
TarragonLasting interest
ThymeCourage, strength
Tulip, redPassion, Declaration of love
Tulip, yellowSunshine in your smile
VioletWatchfulness, Modesty, Faithfulness
YarrowEverlasting love
ZinniaThoughts of absent friends, Lasting affection

Flower Meanings by Color

Flowers provide 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 sweet and lovely”; and yellow expressed romantic rejection.

Pink carnations
Pink carnations say “I’ll never forget you,” a sweet sentiment any time of year!

Likewise, a white violet meant “innocence,” while a purple violet said 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 its 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 mean “I love you,” making them ideal for Valentine’s Day (or any day, really!).

What Wedding Flowers Mean

One tradition is to select the flowers of a wedding bouquet based on plant symbolism. For example, look to the royal flower bouquet at the wedding of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, to Kate Middleton (now Catherine, Duchess 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, wore a flower that appeared in the bridal bouquet in his button-hole. This stems from the Medieval tradition of wearing his Lady’s colors to declare 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 bouquet
Be sure to think about what the flowers represent as you plan your wedding bouquet!

Now discover the meaning of birth month flowers!

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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