Beyond Words - Language Blog

What Flowers Signify: Meaning Beyond Language

A picture may say a thousand words, but what about a flower? Last week in Singapore, while the world leaders convened to discuss politics, global climate change, and humanitarian efforts at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, volunteers took to the streets to hand out 45,000 long-stemmed gerber daisies (photo to the left). The daisies were meant to symbolize the ideal of personal kindness, something Singapore’s leaders feel is in short supply.

Using flowers as an expression of a word or ideal is nothing new. Red poppies are still used to symbolize remembrance for the victims of WWI, and in Victorian times, flowers symbolized everything from love to hate to death. The fact that we still give flowers as a sign of affection is just one hint of such history.

Can flowers substitute for words? In the Singapore kindness campaign, the answer is yes. Even though some people were wary of the free flower, others happily accepted one, and, hopefully (or at least as the Singapore Kindness Movement is hoping) realized the meaning behind it — random acts of kindness, giving freely to others.

In case you’re planning to mix a bouquet with a specific meaning for someone near or dear to you (or, an enemy), here are a few of my favorite flower meanings (of which most of my favorite flowers mean something awful — hydrangea signifies heartlessness? I suppose I am pretty heartless…):

Apple blossom

apple-blossom
Meaning: Preference

Arborvitae

arborvitae
Meaning: Everlasting friendship

Buttercup

buttercup
Meaning: Riches

Cabbage

cababge
Meaning: Profit

Carnation (purple)

purple carnation
Meaning: Capriciousness

Daffodil

daffodil
Meaning: Uncertainty

Hydrangea

Hydrangea
Meaning: Heartlessness

Lavender

lavender
Meaning: Devotion and Distrust

Lettuce

lettuce
Meaning: Coldhearted

Lichen

lichen
Meaning: Solitude

Lime blossom

lime-blossom
Meaning: Lust, Fornication

Mint

mint
Meaning: Suspicion

Nasturtium

Nasturtium
Meaning: Patriotism

Peach blossom

peach-blossom
Meaning: Long life

Rosemary

rosemary
Meaning: Remembrance

Sweetbriar

simplicity
Meaning: Simplicity

Thistle

thistle
Meaning: Nobility

Thyme

thyme
Meaning: Thriftiness

Winged seeds

winged-seeds
Meaning: Messengers