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Symbolic Flowers in Art and Design

Symbolic flowers are everywhere in art and decor! Flowers are among the most ancient objects used for decorative purposes. They are an endless source of inspiration for poetry, stories and myths. Symbolic flowers have been important as far back as we can trace the life of man. All forms of art have involved flowers! 

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Flower Symbolism in Decor

Symbolic Flowers in Ancient Times

Flowers appear to have been around practically since the beginning of time. Flower remains and essential oils have been found in ancient burial sites. Paleobiologists have found flower fossils dating back 120 million years.

Most importantly, archeologists have uncovered a grave site in a cave in Iraq that included flower remains. Neanderthals of the Pleistocene cave-dwelling epoch appear to have placed bunches of flowers on grave sites.

This may indicate that symbolic flowers were part of major rites of passage in the earliest possible social structures. The pollen found at the grave site indicates that a wide range of flowers were present as part of the burial ritual.

Flower Symbolism in Ancient Times
Flowers and Ancient Art

Symbolic Flowers in Roman Times

For the Romans, the rose was associated with the goddess Venus. Nero, the Roman emperor in the 1st century AD, literally used tons of rose petals to impress his dinner guests.

Cleopatra had her living quarters filled with rose petals to impress Marc Anthony. Roman women believed that roses would remove wrinkles if used in poultices.

Rose petals were also dropped in wine to counteract drunkenness. Victorious Roman armies were showered with rose petals as they paraded through the streets.

In ancient Rome, flower festivals were held in honor of the goddess Flora. Both men and women were awarded flower wreaths for victory in athletic competitions.

Rose Wreath Flower Symbolism

Symbolic Flowers in Religion

Rose wreaths have been unearthed in ancient Egyptian tombs. The flower symbolism of the lotus played an important role in the ancient Egyptian religion. In addition, Confucian and Buddhist religious documents contain references to roses. 

During the Medieval and Early Renaissance Ages from the 13th to the 15th century, flower symbolism and plant symbolism developed as a way of teaching religious truths.

For example, the ivy is an evergreen and symbolized eternal life. A peach symbolized truth and salvation and was used in place of the maligned apple of Adam and Eve.

Flower paintings gained in popularity in the 17th through 19th centuries. Historically, flower symbolism emphasized the notion that the delights of this world are transitory and perishable.

This was in keeping with many centuries of religious art utilizing symbolic flowers that focused on the joys of the next world and the trials and tribulations of this one.

The Victorian Language of Flowers

The significance of symbolic flowers increased in the Victorian era and with advent of the Impressionists. Symbolic flower paintings were everywhere: murals, fabrics, costumes, calligraphic art, illustrations, interior accessories and more. The unending variations of flower forms kept the interest in flower paintings high as new flowers were imported from the East and the New World.

The Victorian language of flowers is an example of detailed symbolism invested in a particular subject. Keep in mind that artwork for interior decor can be chosen with symbolic flowers in mind. Choosing an image or gift based on symbolic flowers for yourself or someone you love encapsulates the values or feelings that you want to convey.

Read a full article on The Language of Flowers.

Symbolic Flowers in Art, Decor and Healing

The appeal of flower paintings and flowers in all forms of decor is timeless and crosses all national boundaries. Top publishers continue to find that flower paintings are successful in nearly all markets and in nearly all price ranges. Not only do flower paintings cross all demographic groups by income and education, but flower paintings appeal to people in all age groups as well.

Over sixty percent of all decorative retail art is flower paintings. The wide range of forms from the simple and bold to the complex and delicate ensure a remarkable diversity in flower paintings. Although roses are a perennial favorite, retailers agree that just about any flower painting will appeal to a certain segment of the population. It appears that flower paintings will continue indefinitely to be a “growing” market.

With the advent of modern reproduction techniques and the ability to create mass-produced clothing and housewares, symbolic flowers continue to be utilized in all aspects of self-adornment and interior design. Their inherent beauty and the mystical qualities expressed in their symbolic meanings ensure the ongoing popularity of images and objects featuring flowers!

Researchers are now also discovering the therapeutic value of positive visual symbols in healing art. This symbolism can be a part of healing art due to the colors utilized, the subjects depicted or the patterns of eye movement created in the viewer. Symbolic flowers are among the more prominent forms that can add healing value to art.

Flower Symbolism in Art and Decor

The Biological Role of Flowers

Flowers have practical purposes as well as symbolic and religious ones. Flowers are the reproductive part of angiosperms or flowering plants. Flowers consist of the exterior petals, the central pistil and the surrounding stamen. Some flowers are self-pollinating, while others require insects, wind or other means of cross-pollination.

Flowers are sources of food for both animals and insects. The incredible beauty of many flowers have given them their added importance as decorative objects. Flowers have been grown in gardens and arranged in bouquets on virtually every continent on earth. Symbolic flowers have also been used as adornment for centuries. 

Ivy Plant

Famous Flower Quotes

Flower Quote from Emma Goldman


I’d rather have roses on my table
than diamonds on my neck.

Emma Goldman

Flower Quote from Tennessee Williams


The violets in the mountains
have broken the rocks.

Tennessee Williams

Flower Quote from Edna St. Vincent Millay

I will be the gladdest thing
under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
and not pick one.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Flower Quote by William Wordsworth


‘Tis my that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

William Wordsworth

Flower Quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson


Flowers… are a proud assertion
that a ray of beauty outvalues
all the utilities of the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Flower Quote from Abraham Lincoln

We can complain because rose bushes have thorns
or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

Abraham Lincoln

Flower Quote by Heinrich Heine


Perfumes are the
feelings of flowers.

Heinrich Heine

Flower Symbolism Quote Lady Bird Johnson


Where flowers bloom,
so does hope.

Lady Bird Johnson

Flower Quote William Shakespeare


Of all flowers,
methinks a rose is best.

William Shakespeare

Flower Symbolism Quote from Kahlil Gibran


Be like the flower,
turn your faces to the sun.

Kahlil Gibran

Kathleen Karlsen Profile Pic Home

Kathleen Karlsen

Author of Flower Symbols and Vocal Medicine

The information in this article has been excerpted from the book Flower Symbols: The Language of Love by Kathleen Karlsen. This book includes ancient and modern flower meanings and folklore about the world’s most beloved flowers. Buy one for a flower lover in your life. Learn to “say it with flowers” for any occasion! 

More About Flower Symbols Book

  • Over 100 of the world’s most beloved flowers
  • Information about traditional uses of flowers
  • Famous quotes about flowers
  • Selected flower-related poetry
  • Flower remedies and essential oils for healing 
Flower Meaning Decoration

Floral Art & Gifts

Brighten up any space with gifts and decor featuring beautiful flowers! Find posters, canvas prints, coffee mugs and more. All products made in the United States. Selected products below. See all floral art & gifts.


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