What Do Flowers Symbolize?

Botanical imagery has been used symbolically in art, literature and cultural practice as metaphors for moral characteristics such as virtue and peace. Flowers have also been used as representations of gods and goddesses and symbols of natural processes, particularly those related to reproduction and death. Flowers symbolize many concepts depending on the context and the culture. Specific flowers correspond to culturally specific symbols.

Flower are often used in paintings as reminders of the bounty of nature along with a statement about life’s transient nature. Flowers also often symbolize sexual awakening, or blossoming, especially in relation to women’s sexuality and reproductive organs. In Western cultures, roses, jasmine and red tulips typically symbolize love, daisies represent youthful innocence and laurel represents victory. In Christianity, a white lily symbolizes purity, chastity and the Virgin Mary.

In mythology, flowers often appear as metaphors for virtue and vice. An example is the story of Narcissus, the vain youth who fell in love with his own reflection and was punished by changing into a flower that bears his name.

In Buddhist China, the Flowers of the Four Seasons represent the cycle of a year: the orchid symbolizes spring, the lotus is summer, the chrysanthemum portrays autumn, and the plum blossom is winter. Cherry blossoms have long represented the Buddhist cycle of life, and this symbolism was recreated by artists in Japanese art.