MEANING OF FLOWERS AND THEIR COLORS
“Love is like a beautiful flower which I may not touch, but whose fragrance makes the garden a place of delight just the same.” – Helen Keller
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!
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.)
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.
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.
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
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
Apple Blossom Promise
Baby’s Breath Festivity
Bachelor Button Anticipation
Begonia Deep Thoughts
Black-Eyed Susan Encouragement
Yellow Secret Admirer
Forget-Me-Not Remember Me Forever
Gladiolus Strength of Character
Hibiscus Delicate Beauty
Holly Domestic Happiness
Jasmine Grace & Elegance
Larkspur Beautiful Spirit
Lilac First Love
Lisianthus flower Calming
Marigold Desire For Riches
Orange Blossom Fertility
Orchid Delicate Beauty
Pansy Loving Thoughts
Passion Flower Passion
Queen Anne’s Lace Delicate Femininity
Red Passionate Love
Red & White Unity
Star of Bethlehem Hope
Stephanotis Good Luck
Red Declaration of Love
Yellow Hopelessly In Love
Yarrow Good Health
“If I had a flower for every time thought of you… I could walk through my garden forever.” – Alfred Tennyson
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