October 11, 2021

The Meaning of a Flower

“Flowers don’t tell, they show.” – Stephanie Skeem

When I was in middle school, I found some carnations in my locker from a secret admirer. My friend Bethany informed me that since I received a carnation, that meant whoever sent them really liked me. The truth was that the seniors were selling carnations in the school hallway to help pay for their end-of-the-year trip, but the concept of a particular flower meaning something really stuck with me (unlike the secret admirer).

If you grew up in the south like me, you’ve probably heard someone say, “you can’t send [insert type of flower here] to that person, it means [insert meaning]”. So, to help you avoid any Southern Living faux pas, we’ve compiled a list of popular flowers and their meanings.

Camellia

Good Housekeeping says that these flowers were a favorite of Victorians who decided that they mean “my destiny is in your hands”.

  • Pink camellia – longing for you
  • Red camellia – you’re a flame in my heart
  • White camellia – you’re adorable

Carnations

While they may be the same flower sent to me by my secret admirer, their meaning isn’t always “I really like you”. Depending on the color, carnations can mean different things.

  • Overall meaning – 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 carnation – refusal
  • Yellow carnation – disdain, disappointment, rejection

Chrysanthemum

The overall meaning of this flower is honesty. However, just like so many other flowers, depending on the color selected, they can mean slightly different things.

  • Red chrysanthemum – I love you
  • Yellow chrysanthemum – slighted love
  • White chrysanthemum – truth

Cornflower

These pretty little blue flowers mean good luck.

Daffodil

I LOVE daffodils (and I love Walt Whitman’s daffodil poem). These little buttercup flowers mean a new beginning.

Dahlia

This flower symbolizes dignity.

Daisy

Just like the Girl Scouts (or I suppose Lorelai Gilmore) these little spring flowers mean innocence.

Hydrangea

This is my go-to flower when I’m creating an arrangement for my table. Hydrangeas mean gratitude for being understood.

Lavender

These purple wildflowers symbolize devotion (and they smell so good!).

Lilac

Just like so many other beautiful flowers, lilacs remind us of and mean love.

Lilies

These flowers can have so many different meanings (depending on their color or type). When I was a kid I wanted to have Calla Lilies at my wedding until someone told me they meant death (I’m glad to see that someone was wrong).

  • White lily – virgin, purity, heavenly
  • Yellow lily – happy, gay, walking on air
  • Orange lily – hatred
  • Calla lily – beauty
  • Day lily – Chinese emblem for mother
  • Tiger lily – wealth, pride
  • Lily-of-the-valley – sweetness, tears of the Virgin Mary, humility

Magnolia

No, magnolias don’t mean Chip & Joanna Gaines are nearby. Instead, they harken back to a love of nature.

Myrtle

If you’re trying to make the perfect wedding bouquet, myrtle may be a good flower to include. It means good luck in marriage.

Peony

One of my favorite flowers (worth the hour drive to Trader Joes during peony season), their meaning has changed over the years. Today peonies mean romance, marriage, and bashfulness.

Rhododendron

I love rhododendron in a garden, but I also always see bees and hornets flying around them. So, their meaning doesn’t surprise me. Rhododendron means beware (in my case, beware of the bees).

Roses

Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you… Just like our little heart emojis, the color of the rose given is extremely important to the meaning.

  • Red roses – love, desire
  • Dark crimson roses – mourning
  • Pink roses – happiness
  • White roses – innocence, heavenly, I’m worthy of you
  • Yellow roses – jealousy, a decrease of love, infidelity

Snapdragons

These were my favorite flowers in my backyard garden as a little girl. Oddly, the snapdragon has a confusing meaning. It can mean both deception and graciousness.

Sweetpea

This feminine-looking flower means pleasure.

Tansy

Beware of this flower because instead of a declaration of love, it is a declaration of war.

Tulips

Just like so many other flowers, the color of the tulip informs the meaning.

  • Red tulips are declarations of love
  • Yellow tulips mean sunshine and a smile

Zinnia

These happy flowers remind us to never forget about our friends.

Thanks to the Farmer’s Almanac and Good Housekeeping for helping me out with the meanings of these flowers. I sort of feel the need to track down my middle school secret admirer and send him some carnations (but what color will I send?).

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