The Symbolism Behind Plants and Flowers

By Luciana Wong

Flowers. They’re staple and reliable gifts for any event, everything from birthdays to graduations to weddings and even house warmings. 

But did you know plants and flowers symbolise different feelings and ideas too? Along with herbs and other foliage, flowers carry multiple meanings in different societies and civilizations. Make sure you don’t give people the wrong idea or curse someone by accident, by checking out the list below!

The Good

Myrtle

These crepe-reminiscent flowers represent good luck and love in marriage, making it the perfect gift for any budding couple.

Dahlia

These ruffled flowers signify dignity and are ideal for giving to someone who has succeeded a huge accomplishment, like graduating or getting hired at a new job.

Nasturtium

These flowers represent ‘victory in conquest’. Red ones symbolise courage and strength, while yellow ones stand for happiness and elation. It’s great for someone who has completed a great feat like a difficult exam.

Rosemary

These aromatic plants are often handed out and worn on Anzac Day because they symbolise remembrance and are thought to enhance memories.

Pansy

Like rosemary, pansies represent thoughtfulness and remembrance, so it’s normal to spot them at funerals. They’re extremely easy to grow, do not need a lot of care, and are suitable for starting indoors and outdoors

Hibiscus

Besides adding a deep red colour and cranberry-esque flavour in teas and deserts, this flower represents ‘delicate beauty’ so it’s a great compliment for any recipient.

Red Tulips

If your romantic partner isn’t a fan of roses, red tulips are exceptionally gorgeous alternatives which translate to ‘the declaration of love’.

Daisy

These mini sprouts of sunshine represent innocence and purity. They are suitable for congratulating new mothers as daisies are Norse goddess Freya’s sacred flower, who symbolises love, beauty, fertility and new beginnings.

Lavender

These aromatic violet plants symbolise devotion, acknowledgment, constancy, and love. They’re great reminders for stressed friends to take a breath despite tough times.

Daffodil

Daffodils symbolise new starts and are excellent for anyone starting a new job, family or moving into a new home.

Succulents

These plants are great gifts for friends or family members who are trustworthy and reliable, as it represents loyalty and endurance. But it’s also great for anyone starting their gardening journey, who would benefit from its convenient, low-maintenance quality.

Lucky Bamboo

These bamboos represent good fortune and longevity. They’re very easy to maintain and are perfect gifts for people entering a new stage in their life like starting a new business or moving away from home.

The Bad (or sad or conflicting)

Yellow carnations

As pretty as they are, yellow carnations should be avoided because they represent rejection or disappointment. Opt for white, pink or red ones instead- they represent pure love and sweetness.

Orange lilies

Just like Yellow carnations, they symbolise hatred, pride and disdain.

Sunflower

These large golden flowers lighten up every environment and symbolise good luck, intelligence, happiness, loyalty and longevity in Chinese culture. But it’s also believed to carry notions of haughtiness and pride because the Spanish Conquistador’s of America in the 16th century mistakenly believed that sunflowers were made of real gold.

Black rose

These roses symbolise death and mourning, as well as new or ‘major change’, so if you do come across it, let’s hope it’s at a funeral.

Basil

This herb isn’t usually gifted as a bouquet but be careful giving it in any form to a loved one, because according to 19th century Victorians, it represents the conflict between love and hate. Common basil symbolises hatred while sweet basil conveys best wishes.

Morning Glory

Just like basil, these blue or purple bursts of colour have dual meanings. They often blossom in the morning but die by nightfall, thus Victorians believed they represented love and mortality, as well as fleeting affection or love in vain.

Things to check out

Be sure to tune into The Producer’s Podcast: EncourageMINT on Spotify or Spreaker for more interesting facts and stories about the best plants to give in different situations!

And if you want to get involved through UNSW, check out our Green Impact team, an easy and fun way to learn about how to become more sustainable and to meet other people with a passion for the environment.

Try this fun and short quiz to find out what flower or plant you are, who your perfect study buddy is, and what environment is best for your maximum focus levels!

Or try the Forest app which will keep you focused wherever and whenever by turning your hard work into a lush forest. P.S. Over 835 thousand trees have been planted, donated, and sponsored by the organisation behind this app!

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