Red roses and beyond

The language of flowers

By Stacey Donovan
Flower meanings

We all know red roses are a classic symbol of true love. Beyond that, though, many of us aren’t sure of the symbolic meanings of flowers—and may fear accidentally sending the wrong message (especially in a budding relationship).

Usually we don’t need to worry. Although people in Victorian England were well aware of the symbolic meaning of dozens of flowers, today, most of us just appreciate a pretty bouquet. Still, it can be fun to know a little about the language of flowers, and mentioning their significance in an accompanying card or note may make the gift even more meaningful.

Here are some of the traditional meanings of flowers—and some ideas about who might appreciate them. Of course, if you know that a particular flower in a certain hue is someone’s favorite, then it’s always appropriate. In that case, it just means, “I know you and I love you”…and what could be more meaningful than that?


Flower Meaning Maybe send them to…
Tulips “I love you.” Your Valentine, especially if he or she isn’t into roses.
Lilies “Refined beauty.” Your girlfriend or wife, to let her know she’s a classy lady. Don’t give white lilies by themselves because they might remind her of Easter. Pink lilies can look especially romantic.
Irises “Compliments.” Your Valentine, to tell her you can’t say enough good things about her. Purple irises are often mixed with other flowers in Valentine’s Day bouquets.
Daisies “We understand each other.” Your sister or your BFF.
Gardenia bonsai “You make me so happy.” Your husband.
Bamboo plant “Lucky.” Your boyfriend, to let him know you were lucky to have met him.
Anthurium plant “Home and happiness.” Your spouse, to let him know you love your life together. Like many tropical plants, this is popular to give to guys.
Bird of Paradise plant “Joy and excitement.” Any Valentine, male or female, who makes you feel like you’re in paradise.
Zinnias “I miss you.” A long-distance love or friend.
Orchids “You’re beautiful.” Any Valentine, male or female. Potted orchid plants are more often given to men, while orchid bouquets are more frequently given to women.
Miniature or sweetheart roses “You’re a sweet girl.” Your daughter or granddaughter.
Pink roses “Admiration; gratitude.” Your mom or your grandma.
Lavender roses “Enchantment.” Your new girlfriend…or a crush!
Yellow roses “Friendship.” Your friend, of course. In a romantic context, these can mean, “let’s just be friends,” so watch out!

Did you know?

If you have friends from other countries, you might want to avoid giving them any yellow or white flowers, just to be on the safe side.

  • Yellow blooms, as well as an even number of stems, may indicate bad luck or a breakup to someone from Russia or Ukraine.
  • In China, yellow and white flowers, especially chrysanthemums, are used for funerals, and the number four is strongly linked to death. Mexicans may associate yellow flowers with memorial services as well.
  • White chrysanthemums are also popular as funeral flowers in Belgium, Switzerland and Italy, and white carnations symbolize death in Japan.

Stacey Donovan has been a writer and editor at Hallmark for 19 years. She also writes romance novels (under a pseudonym), and has collected a wealth of obscure knowledge in the process.


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