Flowers have long been a central part in every culture around the world, applied to many occasions and discussed in popular culture. Whether found in the wild or carefully grown in gardens, they appear in our significant rituals and traditions. The Virgin Mary is connected with the white lily, Buddha is often represented sitting on a white lotus, and Hindu deities’ eyes are depicted as flowers. When we pray, love, hope, or celebrate – we do it with a flower in our hands. From east to west, from ancient times to present day, we use flowers to remember the deceased, to celebrate weddings, births and christenings, and to say thank you. While everything around us is changing, these traditions have remained constant. So what is it about flowers that we are so drawn to? Maybe it’s their sweet fragrance, their alluring appearance, or their representation of the cycle of life. We plant, we grow, we nurture and we give different flowers for different moments in life. Representing the essence of life itself, even poets, painters, novelists, and composers spoke the language of flowers. Delicate and aromatic, glorious and abundant, read on further to discover the ten most beautiful flowers in the world, their meaning and their symbolism.
Discovered by the Europeans during the Spanish conquest of Mexico, dahlias grew in the gardens of the Aztecs. Named after the Swedish botanist Andreas Dahl, Victorians soon became enamored with this sensational flower and nurtured it in their English aristocratic gardens. In the Victorian era, dahlias were used to decorate clothing, jewelry, hair accessories, and in home décor to express dignity and elegance. One of the most fashionable flowers in the world today, they come in almost every color but blue. Generally blooming from midsummer to first frost, dahlias can brighten up any home and beautify any garden.
Admired for its sensational colors and immense variety, the dahlia consists of various delicate petals that encircle a central yellow core. Even the impressionist painter Claude Monet loved dahlias and grew them in abundance in his garden at Argenteuil. His sensational painting A Corner of the Garden with Dahlias beautifully captures their magnificence and color against the autumn sky. Continuing to be used today to express personal sentiments, the dahlia flower symbolizes staying graceful under pressure, standing out from the crowd, and remaining kind despite being tested by certain life events.
Signifying elegance and grace, the orchid is a delicate floral pleasure. A colorful flower with a rare form and quality, they are often grown as houseplants, or added to floral displays. Hypnotically beautiful and exquisitely appealing, they can be distinguished from other flowers by their bilateral symmetry of the flower, many upside-down flowers, a highly modified petal, and extremely small seeds. Arriving to Europe from Central America, Africa, and India, orchids were well-known and abundant in the Victorian era.
Being in a high demand due to their exotic beauty and timeless elegance, orchids were worn in the hair, put in vases to create floral arrangements, and as a home décor. Some Victorians went as far as to build their own orchid houses which never failed to impress. During the 19th century, the Veitch Nurseries were the largest group of family-run plant nurseries in Europe where you could have walked and admire their vast collection of 232 orchids. In Jacques-Emile Blanche’s portrait of Marcel Proust, the famous writer can be seen wearing a white orchid on his lapel. The most popular orchids today are the Phalaenopsis – a common choice among beginner growers, Cymbidium – also known as boat orchids, and Paphiopedilum – that produce only one very unique and elegant flower. These delicate, exotic and graceful orchids represent refined beauty, love, luxury, and strength.
A South African annual that will liven up your indoor and outdoor spaces, the Gazania flower is also known as the treasure flower. Featuring large, daisy-like flower heads in vivid shades of yellow and orange from summer to frost, they bloom even under the hardest conditions. Gazanias are commonly used en masse as a colorful groundcover and look exceptionally picturesque when grouped together. Attractive to various kinds of wildlife including bees, butterflies and birds, the most glamorous types of gazania include the Aztec Queen, Apricot Queen, Lemon Soda, and Sunset Jane.
The Aztec Queen Gazanias showcase beautifully striped petals centered in red, fading to pink and then cream, all of which surround a yellow disk. The Apricot Queen Gazanias feature pastel-toned soft apricot, daisy-like flowers, while the Lemon Soda ones display soft lemon, fully double flowers that are a must for every sunny garden. Moreover, the marvelous Sunset Janes have dark honey-colored, double flowers that contrast beautifully against its grey-green foliage. A brilliant symbol of richness, these beauties laugh in the face of droughts. Let your garden burst in full color by planting the Gazanias in full sun where they’ll be the happiest.
Found in a multitude of colors, most commonly in a striking white enhanced with purple, the Passion Flower was discovered by the Spanish Jesuits in Peru in the 17th century. Gaining its name for its resemblance to the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during the crucifixion, it is said that nature itself is grieving at the crucifixion and that the passion flower is a floral apostle. This brilliant climbing plant entwines as it grows, providing a solid support for its exquisite flowers and fruit. Unusually beautiful and outstandingly fascinating, it is native to the southeastern parts of the Americas.
A miracle for all time, the European cultivation of the flower slowly grew, as well as its meaning as an emblem of religious faith. Frequently used in many celebrations, draped around holy statues, and printed on title pages of Bible books, the flower signified the triumph of Christianity. Distracting its observers with its exquisite natural beauty, the Passion Flower is also popularly known for its healing properties. Used by the Peruvians as a sedative, it helped treat restlessness, agitation, seizures, and indigestion. Relaxing the mind and body, its alkaloids and flavonoids are strong sedatives and relaxants. Maintaining mental and physical wellness and equilibrium, the passion flower can be brewed into teas, made into tinctures, and added to bath blends.
#6 Indian Lotus
A symbol of supreme reality, serenity and purity, the Indian Lotus is an aquatic plant with wide floating leaves and bright aromatic petals that open to reveal a crown of dazzling yellow stamens. Described as the queenliest flower that blows, it blossoms gradually and spectacularly and reaches full bloom when the rays kiss the flower. Influencing Asian art and religion for centuries, both Hindu gods and Buddha are often depicted seated on fully bloomed lotus flowers.
With multiple medicinal and culinary uses, the Lotus flower is also edible. The flower is used to brew lotus teas, the roots of the plant help in getting rid of the body’s toxic wastes, and its large leaves are used as plates for taking meals. Useful in treating small pox, throat complications, pigmentation problems in skin, and diarrhea, the cooked lotus root is good for the stomach and the reproductive organs. The Indian Lotus conveys a message to humanity as well: Just as the lotus leaf is untouched by water, work incessantly but be not attached to the work and to the surroundings. This world is not our habitation but one of many stages through which we are passing through.
An ancient and elegant flower, the Chrysanthemum has been cultivated for over two thousand years in its native East. One of the most commonly used cut flowers for bouquets and boutonnieres, years of artful cultivation have produced a full range of colors, from white to purple to red. Brought to Japan by Buddhist monks, it is said that the Japanese emperors were so impressed by it that they often sat on thrones of Chrysanthemums.
Symbolizing long life, joy, and optimism, the words Chrysos, meaning gold, and Anthemon, meaning flower, were combined to reflect the beauty and value of this blossom. With an immense palette of colors, it soon became the favorite Victorian flower in the 19th century. A popular buttonhole flower, the Chrysanthemums made splendid bedding displays in parks and were placed on porches to welcome guests. The French craze for this flower began in the 1880’s with the publication of the bestselling novel of that time, Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti. Glorious and dazzling, this flowering plant does more than just livening up the gardens. Known for clearing the air of benzene – a dangerous chemical used in plastics, glues and detergents – the Mums are also efficient air-purifying plants. Fun fact: It’s said that a single petal of this admired flower placed at the bottom of a wine glass will encourage a long and healthy life.
Once upon a time, there was a French botanist named Pierre Magnol who devised the botanical scheme of classification and gave his name to an astonishing star-shaped flower, the magnolia. One of the most ancient flowering plants, people have admired magnolias for thousands of years. Growing as large shrubs or trees, they have extravagant, fragrant blooms that are white, pink, red, purple or yellow.
Worldly known for its exquisite flowers, form, and shape, fossilized specimens of plants belonging to the Magnoliaceae date to 95 million years ago. Appearing before bees did, Magnolia is a significant flower in Chinese and Japanese culture. Among the most popular types of magnolias are the Sweetbay magnolia, Southern magnolia from North America, Star Magnolia from Japan, and Campbell’s magnolia from the Himalayas. Magnolia is a common ingredient in floral perfumes and its scent is creamy sweet with a slight citrus nuance. Symbolizing Yin, or the feminine side of life, purity and dignity, gentleness and nobility, magnolia flowers today can be found in pills, powders, teas or tinctures. A traditional Chinese medicine used since 100 A.D. to nurture well-being, the magnolia bark has been used for weight loss, problems with digestion, constipation, stress, depression, fever, headache, and asthma. One of the first flowering plants to evolve on Earth, clearly magnolias have found a great way to survive. And who knows, they may even survive the human extinction.
Adorning midsummer gardens and bouquets for generations, the gladioli are dazzling flowers that open from the bottom and work their way upwards forming a long spire of colorful blooms. Deriving from the Latin word “gladius,” meaning sword, African Gladioli were brought from South Africa to Europe in large quantities during the 18th century. Symbolizing faithfulness and constancy, strength of character, and honor, gladioli also represent infatuation.
The blooms vary in color from solid orange and red to pastel pinks, blues and yellows with many alluring bi-colors. Frequently used in wedding ceremonies, funerals, body art, and paintings, many African herbalists state that the Gladioli are magical plants capable of treating constipation, diarrhea, dysentery, and colds. The English used the powdered roots of the British and Mediterranean gladiolus to make a poultice for wounds, and gladioli were also mixed with goat’s milk to treat colic in babies. Capturing the heart and soul with its timeless beauty and ever-lasting elegance, there is a gladiolus color for nearly every occasion.
Signifying richness, opulence, beauty, honor and high social status, the peony is also a metaphor for female beauty and reproduction. The perfect wedding flower, it promises good fortune, and a long and happy marriage. Among the longest-used flowers in Eastern culture, they grow from small buds to strong, glorious blooms. Admired for their sumptuous beauty and fragrance, peonies may bloom for 100 years or more with little or no attention. Coming in all colors except blue, the Chinese peony is probably the best known and most widely grown, cultivated for hundreds of years.
With thick ruffled blooms, peonies play a big role in many holidays and religious traditions. The Peony takes its name from the mythological Greek character Paeon who studied with the god of medicine Asclepius, but had to be transformed into a beautiful flower for showing more promise than his teacher. Producing compact flowers with many layers of petals for a beautifully lush look, the peony has various color meanings. The pink peony is the ideal color for wedding bouquets and table arrangements, the white is a good choice for communicating your regret, while the red one has strong ties to honor and respect. Appearing not only in painting but poetry and literature as well, peonies are a much-loved subject of Japanese, Chinese, and European artists. Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Vincent van Gogh also beautifully captured the peony’s beauty on canvas.
The sweetest and fairest flowers of all, the rose is a dazzling blend of freshness, fragrance, delicate colors, and gracefulness. Beatifying every home, garden, and the whole earth in general, it is the interpreter of our feelings and emotions. Mingling with our joys and festivities, it is a synonym of love, passion, and lust. The most frequently cultivated species are the Gallica Rose, Bourbon Rose, Alba Rose, Yellow Tea Rose, and Damask Rose, blooming in delicate pinks, whites, scarlets and reds.
A major motif in art, the most notable impressionists like Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne and Pierre-Auguste Renoir have paintings of roses among their works, and appear in many portraits, illustrations, stamps, as ornaments or as architectural elements. During the Victorian era, white roses were given to young maidens, crimsons were used as a message of passionate love, while the yellows denoted infidelity. The tender rosebuds were given to girls, while the fully-bloomed ones for a woman whose beauty is at its peak. Used in wedding bouquets, lavish displays, and Valentine messages, rose hips are occasionally made into jam, jelly, and marmalade and are brewed for tea for their high vitamin C content.
So whenever you’re feeling under the weather, take a walk in your garden, in the park or through the fields, notice the lovely colors, unique shapes and interesting textures of the flowers surrounding you, and pick one to show your love for that special someone.
Dahlias fill a wondrous garden;
Peonies from the land of palms.
Radiant in their musky splendor;
Tulips with their gaudy charms.
Ah! for me spring’s daffodillies,
Not the summer’s tiger lilies.
For the gorgeous tiger lilies
Are the dark-eyed belles of Spain;
And the peonies, Eastern maidens
With their passionate cheeks aflame.
What care I for tulips slender,
With their oriental splendor!
But within the gorgeous garden,
In an angle of the wall,
Where the dew-drops still were clinging
In a grassy tangle tall,
There I spied a rosebud hiding,
In its weedy bower confiding.
Modest bud, still fresh with morning,
You are like a maid I know;
I will pass those gorgeous beauties;
They would stain a breast of snow.
I will pluck thee; – go, sweet blossom,
She shall wear thee on her bosom.
– Fred Lewis Pattee