Anyone who’s ever received a beautiful Bouq as a gift knows it can be a powerful gesture of gratitude, accomplishment, and affection. But a look at flowers in mythology can clarify just why flowers are so popular in so many of the world’s traditions, from Hawaiian leis to funeral flowers.
In fact, the symbolism of flowers in literature and legends reveals a whole language of flowers you never knew you were speaking! Below, we’ll explore some of the most common mythological flowers and their meanings.
The rose has a rich folklore around the world, but we all know the most enduring rose symbolism has to do with love and beauty. Perhaps not surprisingly, many rose myths come from Greece – home of the goddess of love, Aphrodite.
Mythological life forms seem to always be springing from blood, tears, or the elements, and flowers in mythology are no different: One Greek legend says that the first roses grew from Aphrodite’s tears, and another says they got their red color from the blood from Aphrodite’s foot when she stepped on a thorn dropped by Cupid. Another story says the rose was created by Chloris, a nymph who became the flower goddess Flora and is thought to have transformed fallen heroes into some of the other flowers in this list.
Outside of Greek mythology, roses symbolize purity and motherly love, and are often associated with the Virgin Mary.
A member of the lily family, the hyacinth gets its very name from a myth – in this case, the beautiful Spartan Hyacinthus.
As told by the Greek god Apollo, who loved Hyacinth, the two were playing a truly bromantic game of discus when the discus accidentally struck Hyacinthus and killed him. Some versions of the story say the discus was blown awry by the wind god Zephyr, who also loved Hyacinthus (and clearly needed to work out some jealousy issues…). As Apollo wept over Hyacinthus, a flower sprang from the ground where he’d died, and Apollo named it after him.
The anemone, sometimes called the “wind flower” and belonging to the same family as the uber-hip ranunculus, also has a rich folklore stemming from – who else? – the Greeks.
The story goes that Adonis, huge crush of goddesses everywhere, was killed by a wild boar while hunting. In keeping with the Greek tradition of blaming flowers in mythology on the deaths of hotties, the anemone is said to have sprung up where Adonis’ blood had spilled. Other versions of the story say the anemone was a white flower already in bloom, but turned red from Adonis’ blood.
The daffodil is another name for the narcissus, itself named for the Greek figure at the center of its origin story. Narcissus is said to have fallen in love with his own handsome reflection, as punishment from the gods for his selfishness and ignorance of the nymph, Echo, who loved him. Narcissus wasted away in front of his reflection, and when he died, the narcissus flower sprouted up in his place. In mythology, the narcissus now represents both vanity and unrequited love. So not only did Narcissus lend his name to the symbolism of flowers in literature and myth, but also to ghosts everywhere.
In another cold move to an innocent lady, the narcissus is believed to have been the flower that distracted Persephone when she was abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld.
Of all the mythological flowers and their meanings, nothing embodies the Greek obsession with connecting flowers to male sexuality better than the orchid, whose very name comes from a Greek word for, ahem, certain man-parts. As such, the orchid in ancient Greece symbolized fertility and virility: fathers of unborn children were encouraged to eat large flowers if they desired a boy, and smaller ones if they desired a girl.
While the carnation is associated with several different meanings, one of the most common is that of death. You may have seen crowns of carnations worn during Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations, for example.
But elsewhere, carnations symbolize everything from luck to motherly love. In some cases, the color of the flower determines its meaning: some use white carnations to celebrate a mother who has died, whereas pink represents love and affection.
Mythological flowers and their meanings can shed light on the rich significance of the gifts we give each other every day – and, of course, entertain us with fantastical stories of love and loss. So next time you’re enjoying that perfect birthday or wedding Bouq, be grateful to all the gorgeous Greek gods who had to die for it.Shop All