The meaning of flowers
Flowers are not just a pretty sight, they also have cultural significance. For example, the cherry blossom is considered the national flower of Japan, the edelweiss is the floral emblem of Switzerland and tulips are associated with the Netherlands. The carnation has great significance in Portugal because protesters placed carnations in the muzzles of soldiers’ guns during its 1974 revolution, a decisive event in Portugal’s history known as the Carnation Revolution.
Tulip fields in the Netherlands
Many flowers also have a symbolic meaning that makes them suitable for special occasions. Different types of flowers form part of weddings, birthdays and funerals. For instance, red roses are a symbol of romantic love and are gifted on Valentine’s day.
Cultural aspects of flowers
However, the language of flowers is not universal and sometimes cultural differences have to be taken into account when deciding what flowers are best suited to give on a special occasion like a wedding, birthday, funeral, as get-well wishes or a romantic gift. In Mexico, for instance, special flowers are used to decorate tombstones and altars during the Day of the Dead celebrations on November 2, a festivity of Aztec origin during which love and respect for deceased family member are shown. Marigolds are popular flowers for this purpose because their strong scent and bright colours are believed to invite the souls of the dead to visit the living during the festival. Chrysanthemums are another type of Day of the Death flower. There are other countries, such as Italy, where Chrysanthemums are also associated with death, as shown in HSBC’s early noughties’ commercial “Wrong Flower”.
The number of flowers that are gifted can be significant, too. In Russia and Ukraine, flowers should be given in odd numbers, for example 1, 3, 5, 7 for happy occasions, while even numbers are used for funerals.
In addition, the colour of flowers often has a symbolic meaning, which can also be culture-bound. In many cultures, red roses symbolise love and passion. The colour white often symbolises purity, while in some countries, such as China, it is associated with death and white flowers are therefore used at funerals.
Collage of different types of flowers
Valentine’s Day, also called St. Valentine’s Day, is celebrated on February 14. It used to be a mainly Anglo-Saxon festivity, but has become increasingly popular in other countries in the past few decades. The festival goes back to the Roman festival of Lupercalia that marked the coming of spring during which fertility rites were performed. At the end of the 5th century, the Pope replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day, a festivity that celebrates romantic love and friendship. “Valentines” – Valentine cards - are often anonymously sent to a person one loves, feels attracted to or as an expression of affection and friendship. Flowers are another popular gift on Valentine’s Day. 1-800-Flowers.com, a floral gift company, lists the following flowers as top ten Valentine’s Day flowers in the USA: roses, lilies, tulips, gerbera daisies, orchids, carnations, hydrangeas, sunflowers, gardenias, chrysanthemums.
Popular Valentine's Day flowers in the USA
When deciding to gift cut flowers, our decision should not only be based what type of flowers to buy, but we should also consider their origin and how they are produced. Many workers in the cut flower market have low wages and poor working conditions. The 2:04-minute video Fair Trade Romance? Why Fair Trade Flowers Matter on Valentine's Day explains what Fair Trade is about. For instance, no child labour is used and children are provided with an education instead. Farmers receive a higher income and working conditions are safer. In addition, products are of higher quality than in conventional flower farming.
More information and materials regarding the meaning of flowers
The short video Flower Meanings By Kremp Florist (1:20 min.) provides some insights into the meaning of flowers.
The following website describes some interesting aspects of flowers, such as their symbolic meaning, their origin and fun facts:
The Hidden Meaning of Flowers
The following blog offers a compilation of the meaning of gifting flowers in different countries:
A (non-virtual) memory game
The Memory game “Pick a Flower” by Laurence King Publishing in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is an entertaining way of learning more about flowers by matching 25 flowers with their uses and meanings. The game can also be useful in the classroom when dealing with a flower-related topic. One possible exploitation of the game is that every student gets a card and has to find his or her partner with the matching card. Later, each pair talks about their flower.