Flower Meanings: The Language of Flowers

What Does Each Flower Symbolize?

February 1, 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 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 Adorable
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


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

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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

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


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!

I am looking for a

I am looking for a flower/plant that represents surviving something traumatizing. Also something that represents strength.

Mistletoe stands for

The Editors's picture

Mistletoe stands for surmounting difficulties. Gladiolus is strength of character.  Thyme is strength and courage.

Hello I am looking for a

Hello I am looking for a flower with the meaning "learning to forget the past" or "love without regret". My husband and I are going through a hard time and I am looking to get a tattoo to remind me not to dwell in the past and also lift my spirits. I like the meaning of the lotus, but the lotus flower is so common. Thanks for the help.

There is always the very

The Editors's picture

There is always the very lovely "Forget-Me-Not" which stands for true love and memories. Mistletoe symbolizes the ability to overcome all obstacles.

I have been looking for a

I have been looking for a unique flower that means infinity. I would be getting them for a girl for Valentine's day to show what she represents to me. I've found one, but I'm asking to see if there are any others to note?

In terms of cut flowers that

The Editors's picture

In terms of cut flowers that symbolize "forever" or "neverending" love, consider: the dahlia, the red salvia, and baby's breath.

Hi can i know the meaning of

Hi can i know the meaning of Zanteschia Arum lilies and Wisteria..bcos i love its flower and would really like to know its meaning..tq^^

Can you tell me the meanings

Can you tell me the meanings of Lily(s) in particular the day lily. Also meanings of the Lotus flower and dahlias? Thank you.

The Lotus flower symbolizes

The Editors's picture

The Lotus flower symbolizes eloquence.
The dahlia symbolism can range from a "wild" or spicy side to instability.
The day lily has symbolized coquetry. However, it is also the Chinese emblem for mother so it is also associated with mothers and nurturing and also symbolic of unions and long-lasting partnerships.

Do you know of any flowers

Do you know of any flowers that represent something along the lines of:
growing out of anxiety/learning and healing and coping and managing anxiety or depression at all?

The Christmas Rose symbolizes

The Editors's picture

The Christmas Rose symbolizes "Tranquilize My Anxiety."

Hi! Just wondering what the

Hi! Just wondering what the flowers for the following would be??
-success or wealth in a non-vain way

Yes, the Yellow Poppy

The Editors's picture

Yes, the Yellow Poppy symbolizes wealth and success.  (The Tiger Lily is wealth and pride so probably not what you are seeking.)  Both the Iris and Ivy could symbolize friendship. The family can so many things; traditionally, this may mean children. An Orchid is the Chinese symbol for "may you have many children." The Orange Blossom symbolizes eternal love, marriage, and fruitfulness.

love this info :) how bout

love this info :) how bout white lilies (common or 'stargazer'), sunflowers, & black or grey roses? thx for the help!

White lilies symbolize purity

The Editors's picture

White lilies symbolize purity or virginity and sunflowers symbolize adoration (as they open faces turn to adore the sun). Black/grey roses aren't a traditional flower—create your own traditions?

Blue roses are my favorite

Blue roses are my favorite and I wanted to know the meaning just in case someone gave me one or asked me way I like them so much.....


Just saw it meant mystery,

Just saw it meant mystery, never mind :)

What flowers represent

What flowers represent strength?
and full acceptance & love?