Flower Meanings: The Language of Flowers

What Does Each Flower Symbolize?

June 24, 2021
Language of Flowers

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

Dumbarton Oaks Archives

What does each flower symbolize? Which flowers represent love, hope, healing, loss, and good luck? See the Almanac’s complete list of Flower Meanings. Whether you are picking out a flower bouquet for Mother’s Day or a wedding 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
Angelica Inspiration
Apple blossom Preference
Arborvitae Unchanging friendship
Aster Symbol of Love, Daintiness
Bachelor’s button Single blessedness
Basil Good wishes
Bay tree Glory
Begonia Beware
Belledonna Silence
Bittersweet Truth
Black-eyed Susan Justice
Bluebell Humility
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 Adorable
Candytuft Indifference
Carnation Fascination, 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 Cheerfulness, Youthful gladness
Cyclamen Resignation, Diffidence, Goodbye
Daffodil Regard, Unequalled Love
Dahlia, single Good taste
Daisy Innocence, Loyal love, I’ll never tell
Dill Powerful against evil
Edelweiss Courage, devotion
Fennel Flattery
Fern Magic, Fascination, Secret bonds of love
Forget-me-not True love memories, Do not forget me
Gardenia You’re lovely, Secret love
Geranium Folly, Stupidity
Gladiolus Flower of the Gladiators, Integrity, Strength, Victory
Goldenrod Encouragement, Good fortune
Heliotrope Eternal love, Devotion
Hibiscus Delicate beauty
Holly Defense, Domestic happiness
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 Faith, trust, Wisdom, Hope, Valor
Ivy Affection, Friendship, Fidelity
Jasmine, white Sweet love, Amiability
Jasmine, yellow Grace; Elegance
Lady’s Slipper Capricious beauty
Larkspur Open heart, levity, lightness, fickleness (pink or simple varieties).
Lavender Distrust 
Lemon balm Sympathy
Lilac Joy of youth
Lily (white) Virgin, Purity, Heavenly
Lily (yellow) Happy, Gay, Walking on air
Lily (orange) Hatred 
Lily, calla Beauty
Lily, day Chinese emblem for mother
Lily, tiger  Wealth, Pride 
Lily-of-the-valley Sweetness, Tears of the Virgin Mary, Humility
Lotus Flower Purity, Enlightenment, Self-regeneration, and Rebirth
Magnolia Nobility, Love of nature
Marigold  Grief, jealousy
Marjoram Joy and happiness
Mint Virtue
Morning glory Affection
Myrtle Good luck, love in a marriage
Nasturtium Patriotism, Conquest, Victory in Battle
Oak Strength
Oregano Substance
Pansy Thoughts
Parsley Festivity
Peony Bashful, Happy Life or Shame
Pine Humility, Piety
Poppy Consolation
Rhododendron Danger, beware
Rose, red Love, I love you
Rose, dark crimson Mourning
Rose, pink Happiness
Rose, white Innocence, 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
Spearmint Warmth of sentiment
Speedwell Feminine fidelity
Sunflower, dwarf Adoration
Sunflower, tall Haughtiness
Sweet pea Blissful pleasures, Good-bye, Thank you for a lovely time
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 Watchfullness, Modesty, Faithfulness
Willow Sadness
Yarrow Everlasting love
Zinnia Thoughts of absent friends, lasting affection

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


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


Another important area of flower symbolism is the meaning of birth month flowers.


Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

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

The Editors's picture

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.


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.


My husband and I love plumeria, but we have no idea what it represents. Do you know?

Flower meaning

What is the meaning of a dahlia?

Focus, healing

Hello. I’m getting a tattoo on my forearm to represent strength and focus as I cope with a debilitating and very painful nerve condition. I’m combining the scripture chapter and verse, along with a dragonfly. Can you suggest a small flower I might add?

flower meaning strength

Catherine Boeckmann's picture

“Thyme” has the perfect meaning (see above) if you are up for adding a pretty herb. But the lovely edelweiss that grows in the mountains also represents courage. All the best on coping with your condition. 

Flower meaning love and sorrow.

Hello my biotic friend! I just wanted to tell you about the Oleander.

Flower for the loss of a loved one


The anniversary of my sibling's death is coming up. I plan on getting a tattoo in memory of him. Which flower would best represent healing, admiration and love?

Thank you for the help.


Catherine Boeckmann's picture

The red rose is the classic symbol of love and admiration. The red tulip is a declaration of love.  But there are other flowers that symbolize love on the above list. The acorn symbolizes immortal love. Heliotrope also means undying love and honeysuckle represents the bonds of love.


Flower missing

I want to remind u my favourite flower Gerbera and want to know its meaning. Any Help possible regarding??

Gerbera Daisies

Catherine Boeckmann's picture

Gerbera are daisies (gerbera daisies). See above!

Moon Flowers

Is there any flower that symbolizes the moon? I need it for a story I'm writing.


Catherine Boeckmann's picture

Have you considered the Moonflower? This is a beautiful twining vine with white flowers that are rounded in shape like the Moon and they are night bloomers! 

The Latin name is “Ipomoea alba” and they are sometimes called the tropical white morning-glory .



I need a pretty flower/plant that symbolizes fate or destiny for a story. Any help?

What does the red ginger symbolize?

When is it appropriate to offer red ginger flowers.

Red Ginger Flowers

The Editors's picture

We love red ginger! Many of our flower means are from Victorian times so we can’t speak to its symbolism from that perspective. Ginger often symbolizes true love and affairs of the heart. And red ginger commonly symbolizes fiery passion and strength. You could consider red ginger in place of a red rose for someone you feel passionate about!


I have this project that I need to get done by the end of the week but for me to move forward with it, I need to choose a flower or plant that symbolizes concern (for the well-being of others, or just concern in general) and I'm not entirely sure if a plant like that exists? Suggestions would be great.

Flowers that convey/mean courage

Nicole- try Eidelweiss- means courage and devotion

Ancient uses of flowers

Flowers according to their properties can be used for various kind of uses. Some flowers are used for God ,some to express love, some to express gratitude ,etc.
Article you have shared is really nice and helpful .
There are some ancient uses of flowers , not everyone is aware about it.
The definitive guide is written by premium online florist FlowersNFruits .
You can check the blog link on FlowersNFruits.


What other flowers and plants represent readiness

meaning of azelias

what is the meaning of pink azelias


Do Azalias have any special meaning?

Protection, Safety, and White Heathers


I was actually curious if you all had an idea whether white heather flowers represent protection. I don't see them on the list, but I had found that on some other sources and wanted to cross-reference :) I'm working on designing an enamel pin for folks in the place I work for to wear when they are responsible to maintaining a safe space for everyone.

I saw aloe and possibly buckwheat as other options? Are there others that represent safety and protection?

Thank you!

language of flowers for protection

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lauren. You are correct! White heather symbolizes protection as well as good luck. Euphorbia also means protection.

None that represent peace???

Surely there is a flower for PEACE !!!!!!!!!!

Tattoo for son and myself

Hello :). I am contemplating a tattoo represntative of my son and I. We are both fighting illnesses, and I would love something that is symbolic of healing. Any thoughts appreciated! Thank you!