In Western astrology, there are 4 elements: fire, water, air, and earth. Each element is associated with three zodiac signs. If you’re not sure what to get somebody for their birthday or to say “Thank you” or “Get well soon”, consider choosing flowers by zodiac signs!
Read on to learn more about the 4 Western zodiac elements and the 5 elements of traditional Chinese philosophy, with examples of which flowers best represent each element. You don’t even have to wait until “September” to learn about Earth, Wind & Fire and the other elements!
What Are the Four Elements?
As early as the 8th century BCE, ancient Greek philosophers started coming up with theories based on the four classic elements they believed were essential aspects of the universe: earth, water, air, and fire. They thought everything on the planet was made of these elements, and that these elements also represented essential qualities of human nature.
For example, fire meant flame and the sun and indicated destructive zeal alongside creative passion. Air signified inspiration, intelligence, and the mind. Flowing and ever-changing, water represented empathy and emotion. Solid, substantial earth was associated with the sensual and physical aspects of life.
The idea that these four elements made up all matter became the cornerstone of early natural philosophy and medicine for more than 2,000 years.
Today, Western astrology associates each element with one season and three astrological signs:
- Earth: Autumn: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
- Water: Winter: Pisces, Scorpio, Cancer
- Air: Spring: Libra, Aquarius, Gemini
- Fire: Summer: Sagittarius, Leo, Aries
Flowers That Represent Fire
With the wide variety of red, orange, and yellow blooms out there, it isn’t hard to find flowers that represent fire. Some blossoms even resemble flames! Here are a few of our favorites.
Not only is the fire poppy a species that uses the smoke, heat, or charred soil of fire as signs to sprout, but they also come in shades of orange and red, making them ideal blooms to represent fire.
Dutch Carnival Dahlia
Primarily red with yellow edges, the Dutch Carnival dahlia has a fiery appearance, with blooms that can get as large as 6 inches across.
Yellow and Red French Parrot Tulip
As delicate as they are beautiful, yellow and red French parrot tulips do best grown in pots that can be brought indoors when it’s too windy, cold, or hot, although they can live outside in USDA Growing Zones 4 to 7 if you protect them from windy conditions.
Gloriosa Flame Lily
Although not a true lily, the Gloriosa Flame Lily resembles flickering flames. Native to southern Africa and parts of Asia, this stunning bloom is also known as glory lily, fire lily, climbing lily, cat’s claw, creeping lily, and tiger’s claw.
Trees and Plants That Propagate by Fire
Did you know some plants – particularly certain tree species – actually require fire for their seeds to sprout? Some plants, like Eucalyptus, Banksia, and the lodgepole pine, have fruits or cones that are completely sealed with a resin that must be melted off via the heat of a fire (typically a wildfire) before they can open up and release their seeds.
Some other plant species need to receive the chemical signals from charred plant matter and smoke to break seed dormancy. Some of these species can remain buried in soil seed banks for decades until a wildfire brings them to life.
Still other plants don’t require fire to finish their life cycle, but they have ways to protect themselves from fire, such as:
- Thermal insulation provided by moist tissues, dead leaves, or bark that protects vital tissues
- Resprouting via specialized buds protected under the bark of the trunks until a wildfire comes through
- Prolific flowering allows some plants to reach their full flowering stage as soon as 9 days after a fire
- Tall crowns protect some trees in fire-prone areas by keeping their leaves and vital growth tissues above the reach of most flames
Light it up! This bright, eye-catching, fire-inspired Bouq features roses and spray roses in burgundy, fuchsia, and orange, with bursts of pink dianthus and orange mini carnations, and pincushion sparks. Green palm fronds frame this showstopping display.
Flowers That Represent Water
What flowers better represent water than blooms that actually grow in water rather than on land? Some of our favorite flowers that represent water include:
Fragrant Water Lily
Perhaps the most iconic bloom associated with ponds and other areas of shallow water, the fragrant water lily features huge flat green leaves and big, showy white flowers that sit on the water’s surface, with the roots growing in the pond’s soil.
Another pond favorite flower is the American lotus, whose flowers can grow up to 1 foot across and whose umbrella-like leaves can grow up to 2 feet across. The long stems grow to be 3 to 6 feet long, so you don’t need such shallow water to grow these beauties.
The striking violet, pink, or pale blue blossoms of the water hyacinth grow as spikes from glossy foliage. These flowers do so well in full sun in zones 9 to 11 that they can become invasive, block sunlight, and starve the pond of plankton and algae, so keep them in floating baskets if you have fish in your pond.
Dive into Aquamarine. Blue-lavender globe thistle, agapanthus, and hydrangea float amongst fresh white roses, alstroemeria, and Star of Bethlehem for a flower arrangement reminiscent of calm waters.
Flowers That Represent Air
You might think it’s tricky to find plants that represent air, but nope! Here are a few we found.
Have you heard about air plants? In nature, they grow on other plants (typically tree branches). In your home, they can grow in unique containers without any soil. They should be kept out of direct sunlight and submerged in water for about half an hour each week (depending on the species).
Cottonwood trees represent air for two reasons: they grow more than 100 feet up into the sky, and their cottony seeds drift along in the air for up to 100 miles!
When you think about the air, do you think with your nose? If so, lavender might be the best air-representing flower for you! Lavender is one of the most popular fragrances in the world.
Artistic and innovative, this all-white Bouq brings together diverse elements — dried pampas, fresh roses and spray roses, and sprays of baby breath and limonium to represent the ethereal element of air.
Flowers That Represent Earth
While food plants are most commonly associated with earth, there are other flowers that represent earth, as well.
Also called moss phlox, creeping flox rarely grows taller than 6 inches, making it an excellent representation of the earth element. Needing only average soil and moisture, there are varieties of creeping phlox that can thrive in zones 3 through 9.
A member of the mint family, bugleweed tops out at 6 inches tall. The bugle-shaped blossoms come in shades ranging from white to blue. Some varieties have leaves tinged with shades of purple, making them an especially earthy-looking plant.
What could represent earth better than the drought-resistant candytuft? This perennial is evergreen in warmer climates and reaches a maximum height of about 12 inches.
Down to Earth Bouq
Peep peachy Tiffany roses, Marrone carnations, and alstroemeria amongst lush green sword fern fronds and foxtails in this Bouq designed to channel confidence, self-love, and contentment. It’s an earth-inspired arrangement that Mother Earth herself would approve of.
The Five Elements of Traditional Chinese Philosophy
While Western astrology recognizes four elements, Chinese philosophy acknowledges wuxing (the “five processes” or “five phases”): wood (mu), fire (huo), earth (tu), metal (jin), and water (shui). While the Greek four elements are regarded as unchanging building blocks of nature, the five phases are seen as ever-changing material forces.
Each element has different characteristics and is associated with various aspects of nature such as season, direction, shape, color, and climate.
- Wood: East, Spring, Windy, Green, Rectangular
- Fire: South, Summer, Hot, Red, Angular
- Earth: Center, change of seasons, Damp, Yellow, Square
- Metal: West, Autumn, Dry, White, Round
- Water: North, Winter, Cold, Black, Undulating
Flowers That Represent Wood
In Chinese philosophy, wood is associated with green, spring, and wind. With that in mind, here are some flowers that represent wood.
There are more than 2,100 species of spurge, many of which feature green flowers, which can be associated with wood.
When you think about spring flowers, you likely picture tulips. Despite being brightly colored, these spring blooms can be associated with wood in Chinese philosophy.
Marigolds are one of the most wind-tolerant flowers, making them an excellent choice for flowers that represent wood.
Flowers That Represent Metal
Metal is associated with white, autumn, and dry in Chinese philosophy. While it’s hard to picture flowers representing metal, these blooms would qualify.
Pure, white lilies present a striking image and would look stunning in a metallic vase to truly embrace the element of metal.
One of the most popular fall flowers, chrysanthemums come in a variety of colors and work well to represent metal.
Easy to grow and extremely drought-resistant, yarrow comes in white, pink, red, orange, and yellow. White varieties may best represent metal.
Flowers for Each Element – and Every Occasion
Now that you’ve seen some examples of flowers by the elements, you have more ideas of what flower arrangements would be appropriate for the people in your life.
Want to learn more fun flower facts? Check out these superstitions about flowers!Shop All