The Language of Flowers

Daylilies = Chinese emblem for “mother.”

It’s not unusual to head to a flower shop to show the special mom in your life how much you care. But this Mother’s Day, you could add some extra meaning by taking floriography into account.

Flowers have had symbolic meaning in plays, sonnets and myths for centuries, but it wasn’t until the Victorian era that floriography (the “language” of flowers) started being used as a way to communicate. Rather than saying certain things out loud and thereby risking a violation of the era’s strict rules of etiquette, people could use flowers to send each other messages. Tulips, for example, signified passion; roses meant devotion; and yellow carnations indicated disdain. And everything from the presentation of the flowers to which hand – right or left – delivered or accepted the flowers carried meaning for the Victorians.

Today, thankfully, there aren’t really any rules. But if you’re looking to add a little extra significance to the bouquet you give mom this year, here are the meanings behind a few popular flowers. 


Photos by Rachel Lukas taken at Jerry’s Flowers, Bonnie Brooke Gardens and Sunnypoint Gardens.

Flowers for Your Mom

Purple columbines = resolution.
Dwarf sunflowers = adoration. Tall sunflowers = haughtiness.
Magnolias = nobility and love of nature.
Hydrangeas = gratitude for being understood.

Flowers for Your Wife

Hibiscuses = delicate beauty.
Daisies = innocence and loyal love.
Violets = faithfulness.

A Note on Roses

It’s still early in the year for rose plants to start blooming, but once they do, their color dictates their meaning. Choose carefully!

  • Bright red = love.
  • Dark red = mourning.
  • Pink = happiness.
  • White = innocence or heavenliness.
  • Yellow = jealousy or infidelity.

If Flowers Aren’t Your Mom’s Thing

Basil = good wishes.
Oregano = substance.
Sage = wisdom and immortality.
Parsley = festivity.
Rosemary = remembrance.
Mint = virtue.

Probably Not For Mother’s Day

Marigolds = jealousy.
Red columbines = anxiety.
Geraniums = stupidity and folly.

Most Popular Mother’s Day Flowers

According to a 2021 study by Breck’s, a mail-order flower company, 60% of the 700 moms surveyed named roses as the flowers they most wanted to receive on Mother’s Day. Runners-up were tulips at 46% and lilies at 40%.

Poppies are the most popular Mother’s Day flower in Wisconsin, according to the study, which aggregated Google trends by state during the week leading up to Mother’s Day.

We talked to staff members at a few local garden shops about popular picks for Mother’s Day flowers, and here’s what they said: 

  • Hanging baskets, roses and hydrangeas, as well as veggies such as tomatoes and herbs. 

— Kori Zawojski of Sunnypoint Gardens, 6939 Hwy 42 in Egg Harbor 

  • Because it’s often too cold to plant flowers on Mother’s Day, many people go for houseplants and succulents as gifts. If you’re set on an outdoor plant, you can grab a hardy, cold-weather annual.

— Paul Kell of Bonnie Brooke Gardens, 337 N. 14th Ave. in Sturgeon Bay

  • Orchids and succulents are two of the best-selling indoor plants, and azaleas and gerbera daisies are popular outdoor plants.

— Nate Lang of Jerry’s Flowers, 2468 S. Bay Shore Dr. in Sister Bay

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