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

language of flowers for health

The Editors's picture

Hello, Anne. A bouquet of carnations in mixed colors signifies health and energy. Other flowers that mean health are cardinal flower and peony. Please accept our well wishes for you and your son. Stay positive.

Blue Rose meaning

The flower language for a blue rose is impossible, unattainable. It makes me so sad.

Ray, eh?

Ray, eh?


My daughter got a promotion; i'd like to send either flowers or a small plant for her desk; symbolizing prosperity, congratulations, encouragement. Any suggestions?

An alstroemeria plant/

An alstroemeria plant/ bouquet is very lovely. They symbolize prosperity and success in a new venture. I believe what u say ur looking for.

Sisterly love

Hi ! My sister and I would like to get matching tattoos to symbolize the relationship we have. We are very complementary and need each other, what kind of flower/ leaf could represent it best ? We thought of roses but perhaps it's not really fitting.
Thanks !


What a great idea for you and your sister! Going off this, I would suggest violets and lavender surrounded by ivy.


Hello! I loved reading about this and always found flowers and their meaning fascinating. I was hoping I could get your advice on what kind of flowers would be best as an end of year gift for my daughters teachers? I'm planning on giving them potted not as a cut bouquet so I'd like to get it right :) She's in Pre-K if that makes a difference lol

meaning of flowers gift for teacher

The Editors's picture

Hi, Amber. What a lovely idea for your child’s teacher. We have a few suggestions for you: basil (for good wishes), bluebell (for kindness), chamomile (for patience, which we are certain she has seeing she is a pre-k teacher!), fern (for sincerity, which you are in your wishes), or sage (for wisdom).

outdoor arrangement

hi there!
i would like to do an outdoor small garden for my father for fathersday. My son and i will be moving soon far away and i would like to mix and match flowers and plants that represent family. i like the idea of pink carnation, white clover, zinnia but i feel lost to which will grow best outside and together. Any help would be greatly appreciated! tia

Where I come from


I would like your opinion, I want to get a tattoo but not just any flower tattoo, right now I’m in a situation where am moving countries to be with my husband but I would like a flower that means something to remember and never forget where I come from and for new beginnings. Is there a flower you recommend me that are beautiful, and delicate?

Thank you!!!!

Meaning of a Tree or Flower

Hi I would like to get a tree or a flower for my husband who had lost his sister a few years ago. Any suggestions?

tree or flower symbolizing loss

The Editors's picture

Hi Karey, How thoughtful.

Lilies. The lily is the flower most commonly symbolize the innocence that has been restored to the soul of the departed.

A dark crimson (almost black) rose bush symbolizes mourning, grief, and sorrow. 

A willow tree symbolizes sadness. 

Gladiolus flowers represent remembrance, as does a rosemary (an herb that smells divine). If he likes to cook (or, you do), having a rosemary bush might be a lovely idea.

You’ll want to consider your climate zone when selecting a flower or bush. Be sure to look up its hardiness zone and match against your own.

Our site has flower growing guides, zone maps, and more if you use the search field. All the best!

I need help, please.

Good afternoon. My boyfriend of 3 years, who i would long the presence of quite a lot, is transferring schools, and we wont be able to meet anymore, hopefully only for now. I wanted to make a charm of a flower that would mean new beginnings for him in a new surrounding, as well as us starting anew without one another. I also wanted to express that i wouldnt forget about him and he has had a special place in my heart. Probably too cheesy, but please help me out haha <3

Forget Me Not

The Editors's picture

What about the “Forget Me Not” flower. It’s a lovely blue flower. You could press the flower inside a charm sealed with UV resin. It speaks to connectedness and memories of time together.

Gardenias and their meanings

When I was little, my family moved to a small city in Mexico known for its perfect climate for growing flowers of all kinds. The market place was full of them, and it was much to my mother's delight. Her favorite flower was the gardenia, and each week she would buy them, filling our home with their fragrance. After a few months of this, her favorite supplier took my mother's hands and, with kindness and compassion, told my mother how sorry she was about all the tragedies. It seems that gardenias in that part of Mexico were the flower of the dead. The seller assumed that each purchase meant another friend or family member of my mother's had died that week.


The Editors's picture

That’s such a wonderful story about your mother and gardenias. Thanks for sharing, Martha!

Need a bouquet that means

I'm making a bouquet for my friend for her birthday because I'm moving out of state and I want it to be special. I want it to display friendship, love, and happiness. But I also want to say something along the lines of "I hope we see each in the future" and "I'll always be here for you no matter the distance.


The Editors's picture

How thoughtful! We would suggest selecting from the many flowers above that mean friendship and love, and adding some ivy which symbolizes constancy.

Meaning of flowers

Refer to book. " Forget - Me - Not ", A floral Treasury . Sentiments & Plant Lore from the LANGUAGE of FLOWERS . Written & rersearched by Pamela Todd ; Illustrated by Jan Penney . A Bulfinch Press Book - Little Brown And Company - Boston Toronto London
First Edition - 1993 . ISBN 0-8212-2000-4 LOC 92-54427
I hope this is helpful .

Missed a flower

Snapdragon.and it symbolism

Snap Dragon or Antirrhinum


Missed a flower

Hi! What about Ranunculus? What’s the meaning to this flower?


The Editors's picture

Usually, this flower symbolizes “charming” or “charmed.”


meanings : You are radiant with charm ; Wild and Ingratitude . All depends on how it is used in the arrangement.

I need a bouquet that means

I need a bouquet that means 'you're an idiot, but we are still friends '

Flower meaning

The Editors's picture

Ha, ha. Flowers tends to stand for one thing or another. As you’re creating a bouquet, you might need to combine two flowers. Columbines represents folly and foolishness. There are many flowers in the list above that symbolize friendship from ivy to iris.

If I wanted to display

If I wanted to display happiness and positivity what would you recommend??

flower meanings

The Editors's picture

Crocus represents “cheerfulness.” Coreopsis is “always cheerful.” Pink roses symbolize “perfect happiness.”

Missed a meaning

You forgot to add True Love to the meanings list for the white daisy flower.