Beyond the Petal: Symbolism and the Traditional as well as Societal Context associated with Roses and Carnations

It is undoubtedly the case that flowers are often bought for their sumptuous and bright colours, their attractive petals and the way they complement their intended surroundings. However, how often is a thought spared for the historical significance, symbolism and meaning behind the plethora of flora we enjoy today? Perhaps in its most obvious guise plant symbolism rears its head during certain periodic events such as Valentines Day, with the presentation of a rose, and in American culture at Mothers Day with wearing a carnation. A pertinent question to ask, however, is why these flowers have come to hold certain meanings, and whether one meaning permeates all cultures, or whether the meaning of flowers differs in different historical and cultural contexts visit Richard Mathews Florist?

The Rose

Although roses are bought and displayed throughout the year they are most commonly associated with Valentines Day. In the UK certainly they are given between partners either as a result of social convention or with a general notion that giving a rose pertains to the emotion of love. To credit the rose with such a meaning would not be mistaken; roses are ancient symbols of beauty and love and are often linked to the Greek goddesses of love, beauty and sexuality Aphrodite or the Roman equivalent Venus.

However, in going beyond its most familiar association the rose in fact has a myriad of meanings which have developed in different historical contexts. Roses, for example, represent the blood of Christian Martyrs in Christianity, are a symbol of socialism for social democratic parties in Europe, in Bulgaria are a symbol of national pride in respect for its tradition of producing Rose Oil, and in England are also used as an emblem for England Rugby. It can only be speculated why one meaning has risen above others: a cynic would suggest it is the commercial viability of associating roses most strongly with an event which social convention dictates requires the purchase of a gift, whilst others would say that as a thing of beauty it is only natural roses should be used as a symbol of love. To add further complication different coloured roses are deemed to mean different things; where red roses pertain to many of the meanings highlighted above, white roses symbolise purity, yellow roses joy, and pink roses gentility via Florists Abingdon by Richard Mathews Florist.


As with roses, carnations hold a deeper meaning and contextual significance beyond their obvious aesthetic attraction. Carnations are often used for a specific national occasion in the United States and Canada, namely Mothers Day. Carnations are worn to represent a mothers love, a notion which is often attributed to Christian Legend. The legend goes that carnations appeared during the time of Christs crucifixion as Marys tears touched the ground. In the UK carnations hold further meaning depending on the colour of the flower given. It has been suggested that receipt of a red carnation represents a message of longing for another or missing them, receipt of white carnation says the sender is still available, and a yellow carnation can mean rejection or disdain.

However, once again it is interesting to look to how the flower is used and understood in different contexts and cultures. In Korea for example carnations are used as a way of looking into the future: young girls stack carnations in their hair to the end that if the bottom one dies first then it means all her life will be hard for her, if the middle one dies it means her middle age will be difficult, and if the top one dies it means only the later years of her life will be problematic. Elsewhere in the world, in Mexico, carnations take on a somewhat different role in that they are known as the flowers of the dead, and are placed around a corpse before burial.

In examining just two of the numerous variety of flowers we have in the UK it has been revealed that in going beyond the attractive petals, flowers often hold a symbolic meaning based on certain myths and historical events which can differ amongst different cultures.

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