10 Iconic Flowers and Their Meanings

These 10 beautiful blooms speak volumes when you send them.
By: Karin Beuerlein
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Photo By: Photo courtesy of Hadley Cash

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Peggy Greb USDA ARS

Photo By: Photo courtesy of John Scheepers Flower Bulbs

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Cal Lemke

Photo By: Photo courtesy of John Scheepers Flower Bulbs

Photo By: Photo courtesy of John Scheepers Flower Bulbs

Photo By: Photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau

Photo By: Photo courtesy of PanAmerican Seed

Photo By: Photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Night Flame ‘Royal Ruby’ Orchid

Let’s face it: the orchid is a flower with sexy overtones. The ancient Chinese considered it a symbol of fertility, and the Greeks obviously got the same vibe, deriving the flower’s name from their word for “testicle.” Orchids’ intricate blossoms and relative rarity also led to an association with refinement and exclusivity. Shown is the variety Night Flame ‘Royal Ruby,’ grown by breeder Marriott Orchids. www.marriottorchids.com

Red Rose

Cultivated for more than 5,000 years, the rose is the granddaddy of them all when it comes to flower mythology. The red rose symbolizes love and beauty across many different cultures. A dozen may be the standard, but sending ten says “you’re perfect,” 15 is a plea for forgiveness, and 50 is a promise of unconditional love.

Tulips

Tulips may make you think of wooden shoes and windmills, but these pristinely beautiful blooms actually hail from ancient Persia, not the Netherlands. Their name is a corruption of the Turkish word tulbend, meaning “turban,” which they resemble. They represent true love, as they are said to have sprung from the fallen teardrops of a brokenhearted lover in Persian legend.

Dahlia 'Mystery Day'

These superstars of the late-summer garden have a dual flower personality. Some cultures think they represent dignity and eternal commitment, but others believe them to mean treachery and sterility. 'Mystery Day' is one of the cultivars grown by Cal Lemke at the University of Oklahoma Department of Botany and Microbiology.

Hyacinth ‘Blue Jacket’

According to Greek mythology, purple hyacinths were born as flowers of sorrow: the grieving god Apollo created them from the blood of a murdered friend. They’re an appropriate gift for sympathy or for seeking forgiveness. www.johnscheepers.com

Narcissus

Narcissus may be the poster child for egotism, but his namesake flower (also known as the daffodil) has come to stand for a number of happier meanings: loyalty, friendship, joy. They’re a Chinese symbol of good fortune, although a lone daffodil is a bad omen. So spring for several if you give them as the traditional tenth anniversary gift.

Pansy

Pansies are thought to be considerate and romantic, which probably explains why they’re the emblem flower of the first wedding anniversary. The name comes from the French word pensée—“thought”—because the blooms look like little human heads lost in reverie.

Poppy

Cheerful poppies have a dark side: they’re symbols of sleep and oblivion, and the Chinese flower calendar even calls the poppy a harbinger of evil, signifying the inability to control one’s worst urges. But we’d prefer the label “dreamy,” which perfectly describes the sight of a field of poppies nodding in the sun.

Yellow and Orange Marigolds

Marigolds have a bold color and an unsubtle scent—so it stands to reason that they symbolize strong emotions: courage, passion, jealousy, exuberance. Tradition says that girls who place marigolds under their pillows will dream about the man they’ll marry one day.

Sweet Pea

Fragrant sweet peas are the flowers for fond farewells. This custom began in Victorian times when departing friends would leave behind a bouquet of sweet peas in gratitude for their hosts’ hospitality. This spirit of thankfulness is reflected in the sweet pea’s status as the 30th anniversary flower: think of it as a way to say thank you for time well spent.