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The Meaning of Funeral Flowers

by Linnea Crowther

What symbolic feelings can you express with different flowers?

Sending flowers to a funeral is a lovely, classic way to express your sympathy to the bereaved. But did you know you can send a very specific message with your choice of flowers? Certain flowers have traditional meanings, and they can communicate feelings like love or strength in addition to your condolences. 


Lilies are among the most commonly chosen flowers to express sympathy. They go hand in hand with funerals, because they represent the soul restored to innocence and purity after death. If you send white lilies to a funeral, you’re offering your wishes that the deceased is at peaceful rest. Other colors of lilies carry additional meanings — yellow lilies may not be as appropriate for a funeral, symbolizing happiness and lightheartedness. But pink lilies can be a good alternative to white in some situations, evoking love, compassion, and femininity.



Carnations are also frequently included in sympathy arrangements. Pink carnations are especially appropriate, because they represent remembrance. White carnations symbolize pure love and innocence, while red carnations stand for admiration.


Roses are well known for symbolizing love, especially red roses. But they’re just as appropriate in a funeral arrangement as in a Valentine’s bouquet. When sent in sympathy, red roses represent respect, love, and courage. Other colors of roses are also beautiful choices in sympathy arrangements. White roses, just like lilies, symbolize innocence. Deep crimson roses stand for grief. A single rose indicates enduring love, while yellow roses, symbolizing friendship, are a perfect choice when remembering a dear friend.


Gladioli are both visually striking and deeply meaningful when used in a sympathy arrangement. The gladiolus represents strength of character and moral integrity. The tall, slender flower takes its name from the Latin for “sword,” and because of that fact and its symbolic meaning, it’s an ideal choice when sending flowers in memory of a soldier.


Orchids bring delicate beauty to a grouping of funeral arrangements, and when sent in sympathy, they symbolize everlasting love. They generally are not placed in a bouquet but rather sent as potted plants. Only white and pink orchids are traditionally considered appropriate for funerals. 


Chrysanthemums commonly represent truth in U.S. culture, but elsewhere around the world, they’re a strong symbol of death and grief. Particularly in parts of Asia and Europe, mums can be almost exclusively associated with death and are common choices for funeral flowers. They’re appropriate for funeral flowers in the U.S. too, keeping in mind their international symbolism.


Forget-Me-Nots say it all with their name. This delicate flower, often found in shades of blue, symbolizes everlasting remembrance. Since they’re fairly small and unassuming, they work best as part of a larger sympathy bouquet.


Tulips are cheerful harbingers of spring, so when they’re included in a funeral arrangement, they symbolize renewal and rebirth. Red tulips are a particularly good choice, symbolizing perfect love. You may want to take care before choosing other tulip colors for a sympathy arrangement, especially white, which represents forgiveness – and therefore might send a message you didn’t intend. Purple tulips symbolize royalty, while yellow tulips evoke cheerfulness.


Daffodils stand alongside tulips as early spring bloomers, representing renewal and a fresh start. It’s worth keeping in mind that traditionally, a bouquet of daffodils is considered positive, while a single daffodil is said to bring misfortune.


Hyacinth, another spring flower, takes its name from a Greek myth. Hyakinthos, a young boy admired by the gods Zephyr and Apollo, was accidentally killed by Zephyr while Apollo was teaching him to throw the discus. As his blood spilled on the ground, a flower grew from it, and Apollo named the flower for the boy. Thanks to the myth, the hyacinth now symbolizes deep sorrow over a death.


Violets are associated with youth and innocence, especially white violets, but these symbols are also connected to purple violets. As funeral flowers, this translates to a life taken too soon, so they’re a meaningful choice when offering condolences on the death of a young person. Because violets are small with short stems, they might be sent as a potted plant rather than in a bouquet.


Hydrangea is another option that’s more likely to be sent as a potted plant. It symbolizes heartfelt sincerity, which is a meaningful emotion to convey alongside sympathy. 


Rosemary may sound like an unusual choice in a funeral arrangement, since it’s an herb rather than a flower, but it has symbolized remembrance for hundreds of years. In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Ophelia says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” It can be worked into a sympathy bouquet as part of the greenery, or given as a potted plant.


Statice is a popular garden flower that remains beautiful even after it’s been dried – and because of its long-lasting beauty, it has come to represent remembrance. This makes it a meaningful choice to include in a sympathy arrangement.


Peonies have a number of meanings, but two make them especially perfect for a sympathy arrangement: healing and compassion. The peony can also represent less appropriate emotions, including bashfulness, but its showy beauty and connotation of healing makes it a good choice for funeral flowers.

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