Flowers and Their Meanings: What Do These Popular Flowers Symbolize?

Language of Flowers

Floriography is a means of communication through the use or arrangement of flowers. Meaning has been attributed to flowers for thousands of years, and some form of floriography has been practiced in traditional cultures throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa.  Aristotle was perhaps the first person recognized to recognize the significance and document intrinsic meaning to various kinds of flora.  Floriography in fact is such a large subject, that we’ll try to capture just a few highlights here for some of the most commonly used varieties.

Rose Color Meanings

Perhaps the most frequently asked question to a florist is the meaning of roses (and rose colors).  While the rose itself often carries the meaning of color as it’s primary denotation, other factors such as stem length, thorned and dethorned, domestic, Latin or European origins also add nuance.  For most people, however, the colors themselves break themselves into simple categories:

  • Red Freedom: The Strongest Love, True Love
  • Cardinal Red: Sublime Desire
  • Dark Red: Eternal Love
  • Fire: Passionate Love (or) Sympathy
  • Yellow: Friendship (or) Innocence
  • White: Perpetuity (Occidental) or Death-Sympathy (Oriental)
  • Pink: Kindness or openness
  • Light Green: New Friendship
  • Orange: Wishing Success and Joy
  • Lavendar: Charming, Neighborly or Scholarly
  • Blue: Opulence.  Blue roses are dyed

Meaning of Tulips

Tulip mania began the world thirst for tulips.  During that time, the price of a Tulip bulb was literally more than an ounce of gold, with similar markets to bitcoin today for the middle-age Dutch.  In fact, it’s often recognized as the first market to have had a ‘bubble.’   Since that time, Tulips have become a treasure and a meaning of good will to the peoples of Asia Minor, first introduced into Macedonia and Persia by Pericles and then by Alexander.  In the Occident or western society, it’s traditionally an invitation of spring or of happiness (often used in a get well, a cheery or similar arrangement). 

Meaning of Daisies

Daisies have often been connected with female friendship and business networking.  Before the age of the internet, daisies were often shared between friends (or in making new ones) as a sign of trust and belonging.  For this reason, the Girl Scouts in North America are called DaisiesSince daisies in the wild grow well alongside of newly planted grass, the term pushing up daisies to colloquially refer to a older man who has died or is projecting death has been introduced into western vernacular.  Thus, it’s usually not a good flower choice for a man; it is, however, a staple for a female recipient.

Meaning of Sunflowers

From the Greeks and onward, the sunflower seed equivocates these flowers as a male-intended gift; even newer models in computer science wherein multiplication is used, again, referring to the seeds and then of multiplying thereafter, is often represented with sunflowers.  An interpretation of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers has been that he portrays masculinity between the subject and the aesthetic he uses.  But because of the nexus between a flower for a male recipient and computer science, sunflowers now largely are given to “geeks” of both genders, especially in the Silicon Valley. 

Meaning of Orchids

Since orchids are indigenous to the Orient, Oceania and to the Pacific Islands, orchids carry the pseudo-tropical meaning of “relax,” “enjoy yourself,” and “slow down.”  They have been used to invite friendship, as in the Hawai’in lei.  They are given to both men and women and have earned a place of collectability among diehard orchid collectors.  Their meanings are often opposite of stoicism and perhaps slightly epicurean.  Different orchid types from the bat orchid to the lady slipper orchid have various meanings in marked times in history, but today, they are used to calm down an intensive office, for example, or add tranquility to a favorite area of the home.

Meaning of Narcissus (including Daffodils)

The story of Narcissus is, in Greek mythology, about a young man who loved looking at himself so much that he carried a mirror everywhere.  One day he happens upon a pond, and enjoying his own reflection so much, he continues to bend into the reflection until he accidentally drowns.  Daffodils have a happier meaning, but their family (named narcissus) is named as such due to their geometry; the outer flower gives way to a handy mirror to itself, or so it was thought.  Narcissus is a spring time variety, and considered a lover’s flower. They are often given in anticipation of a new relationship.  Paradoxically, for this reason, some families chose this as a funeral flower where the custom is the soul of the person is soon to have a relationship with their deity (in of course the happiest of ways).   

Meaning of Lilacs

Lilacs have a very definite, and very short, season.  For this reason, they are often given – or mean – “this is the season,” or to signify a relationship that has a season.  A parent-child relationship, for example, has seasons; the parent begins as a caretaker, becomes an equal, and gets cared for in the end.  A famous novel in contemporary literature is based around this premise but with a twist of a mother’s love to a deaf daughter, asking the question of how long seasons really are.  Many others use this as a metaphorical flower in literature for a season or something which isn’t meant to be eternal, like Walt Whitman’s review of Abraham Lincoln.  Generally, a get well soon – or to signify something which is seasonal (either the end of a sad or unhappy event or the beginning of a great one) is the oft-used meaning to a lilac.

Meaning of Carnations

Carnations carry the opposite meaning of a Lilac (see above).  They are a hearty flower and can be grown year-round, and thus generally represent a form of eternity.  Commonly used in weddings up until the 1980s as they have a strong historical connection to the flowers of love and affection, they have fallen out of favor as flower-of-choice simply due to their overuse in flower arrangements and in gardens during that time.  Flower fatigue has been set in against the carnation in modern times, marking them with a bad reputation for being a “old person’s flower,” but in fact, the carnations can bring to life many (otherwise) drab days to anyone who gets them [or] used as a gift to symbolize an eternal love or an eternal grace (in the form of a sympathy arrangement).  Because of their unpopularity in North American culture at the moment, they represent the best value; they have been cultivated well through the years, are generally disease free, come with a vibrant color and will last a long time even in cold or warm conditions.

Meaning of Peonies

As styles change, so did the role of peonies.  Our modern mid-century found peonies at the bottom of the list in terms of commercial desirability; they were thought of then as a poor person’s flower since they can dishevel easily and quickly fade.  During this time in North America (1930-1980), carnations had become the hottest flower to use and give, topping roses and anything else.  Today, however, new vigor has been reinstalling the peony as the king, or perhaps queen, of demand in the flower industry.  Peonies were a Mesopotamian flower (indigenously) and now also grow well in Alaska, California and in some areas of Europe today.  They visually represent a “delicate strength,” and as such were often connected with Chinese martial arts in literature.  They have been a favorite of classicists and artists, since they have almost an infinite or onion-like way of unfolding as they mature, allowing for a myriad of allegories and artistic shading techniques.  They have a limited growing season, though newer commercial techniques are widening their cultivation due to popular demand.