When words fail us, we turn to symbols to convey our emotions. A common symbol that has been used since ancient times is flowers. Funerals were green before they became floral, and cut flowers quickly became sympathy gifts and grave markers.
Flowers that symbolize death differ in every culture, but this article will round up the most common flowers used in situations of grief and mourning. So stick around as we answer “which flower represents death?” and why!
Carnations are delicate and beautiful flower that represents death (and comes in various colors).
Some cultures believe that the word carnation is borrowed from the Latin term Incarnation. Incarnation translates to God in the flesh. That is why the flower is associated with rebirth, renewal, and hope in life after death.
White, pink, and red carnations are used to honor and commemorate someone’s passing. It is common to see mixed-color carnation flower arrangements in funerals, such as sprays and wreaths.
Contrary to this, people also believed that wearing a carnation can prevent you from death at the scaffold. This was during Elizabethan times and is no longer the case today.
Roses are one of the most versatile flowers, representing almost everything from love to death.
The black rose is associated with someone’s death to show that someone is in mourning. This is because the color black (which is deep shades of purple or red for the rose) demonstrates grief and sadness.
Other rose colors like pink, yellow, peach, and white also make great sympathy gifts for grieving family or friends.
Pink roses symbolize your appreciation of the departed and their impact on your life.
Yellow roses represent an enduring friendship bond even in death.
Finally, the white rose symbolizes the full life and innocence of the departed.
Chrysanthemums have a lot of meanings. In America, the flowers symbolize healing, but chrysanthemum flowers mean death across Europe and other nations. When you marry the two meanings, chrysanthemums are the perfect symbol for end-of-life moments.
Today, chrysanthemums are common on the graves of the departed or as funeral wreaths. In France and Germany, chrysanthemums are not offered to the living. Instead, they are used for autumnal rites for the dead.
In Japan, the chrysanthemum flowers represent reincarnation. Japanese Buddhists place white chrysanthemums and money in coffins to help dead souls cross the Sanzu river to the afterlife.
In China, white and yellow chrysanthemums are sympathy flowers given to mourning families.
Did you know that evidence of poppy flowers has been found in old Egyptian tombs?
Poppies have symbolized death for centuries. That is why you see them on cemetery fences to this day.
Historically, poppies grew on the graves of fallen soldiers in Flanders, Northern France, during World War II.
Today, red poppies are still used to honor and commemorate soldiers during Memorial Day and Remembrance Day. Although red poppies are the most common during these events, all other colors can symbolize death, sacrifice, and sympathy, among other things, in the context of death and mourning.
Read more about poppy flower meaning.
The gladiolus is a sympathy flower usually given to a grieving family. The flower represents strength and courage and is perfect for encouraging grieving people to persevere.
Gladiolus also shows your compassion towards those who are mourning because you acknowledge the pain of loss.
Going through grief is difficult, but the gladiolus is perfect for reminding people of their strength and motivating them through this journey.
Hyacinths mainly symbolize sorrow and regret making them perfect for funerals. But, like the gladiolus, hyacinths are also sympathy flowers. These flowers show a grieving family that you acknowledge their suffering and care.
You can give a bouquet of purple hyacinths to someone who is still in mourning or has recently experienced a loss.
Giving a grieving family hyacinth shows your unwavering support for them during a difficult time. It also shows that you are willing to support them through the grieving process regardless of how long it takes.
Lilies are our next flower representing death.
The lily is a summer flower commonly used to symbolize peace, serenity, renewal, and rebirth. Peace and serenity are often the adjectives used to describe the paradise where souls go after death.
Giving a grieving family a lily flower arrangement helps comfort the departed’s family. The flowers help to cement the thought that a loved one has gone to paradise.
Oriental lilies are also a great option for funerals and mourning. They are used to honor and commemorate someone’s life. Stargazer lilies are sympathy flowers that represent eternal life.
Forget-me-nots are another flower associated with death.
The forget-me-not flower has tiny blooms that represent remembrance and memory. As the name suggests, giving this flower to a grieving family shows that the memory of the departed will live forever in your heart.
Forget-me-nots also symbolize that people are mourning or processing their emotions in silence. This means that you cannot share or say how the loss of the departed impacted your life.
Marigolds are the flower of death in Mexico and throughout Latin America. The flower is mainly used during a celebration called Day of the Dead or Dia de Los Muertos, which takes place on November 1st and 2nd.
The yellow and orange marigolds are significant in keeping the mood positive while people are mourning. The flowers are used along with skulls and skeletons to decorate crosses, graves, and images of loved ones during the ceremony.
Besides marigolds, people also use other yellow flowers like sunflowers during the Day of the Death celebration. The main goal is for the celebration to be cheerful and vibrant rather than sorrowful.
In modern times, tulips represent eternal love, but this meaning is correlated to death and mourning. This meaning comes from a Persian legend in the 6th century about Prince Farhad. The prince heard rumors that his lover, Shirin, had been killed.
Unfortunately, he believed the rumors and rode his horse off a cliff. After his death, red tulips grew on the ground where his blood spilled. Since then, the flower has been used to represent eternal love that lasts even after death.
Red tulips symbolize a lasting love or bond between the departed and their loved ones. Furthermore, the flowers represent all the good things and memories that the dead have left behind.
In Iran, tulips represent the death of martyrs.
The meaning is tied to the death story of Husayn, Muhammad’s grandson, in the battle against the Ummayad dynasty. Like the Persian prince, red tulips sprang up from the ground where Husayn’s blood was spilled.
Daffodils have a variety of meanings in death.
This meaning originates from the myth of Narcissus, who died while staring at his reflection. The daffodil’s Latin name is Narcissus, and in the medieval era, a daffodil dropped while someone stared at it.
Since then, the flower has been seen as an omen of death.
Today, daffodils are also sympathy flowers, widely used in funeral wreaths.
The flowers also bloom during spring, so they represent rebirth. Mourners usually associate daffodils with eternal life. Giving a grieving family daffodil signifies the hope and promise of a new beginning after death.
Hydrangeas are some of the most common sympathy flowers in funerals and during mourning.
They represent the utmost sympathy, empathy, and sincerity of love, support, and respect you have for the family of the departed.
They are a perfect gift for a family that has experienced the sudden death of a loved one. It shows that you acknowledge the deep loss and how difficult it is for the family to move on.
The anemone is also called windflower, and they derive their meaning mainly from Greek mythology. However, in eastern cultures like Chinese, windflowers are also called the flower of death. This is because they represent suffering, death, broken hopes, and abandonment.
In Greek mythology, the flower grew from the ground where Aphrodite’s tears fell when she was mourning the death of her lover, Adonis.
Today, the flower is used to commemorate the dead.
White and pink orchids are widely used in funerals and during mourning. They are sympathy flowers used to signify the bereaved family’s love, devotion, and remembrance of the dead.
In other cultures, orchids are used to make decorative garlands for mourners to wear during funerals. People also put orchids in places or items that were significant to the dead.
15. Red Spider Lilies
Red spider lilies are flowers native to Asia that grow during the summer.
These bright red flowers have long been associated with final goodbyes. The meaning stems from old legends that a red spider lily grows where you saw your loved one last before their death.
It is also very common to see these flowers planted along cemetery fences.
According to old Buddhist literature, red spider lilies help guide the dead through samsara. The samsara is what Buddhists believe to be the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.
16. Red Camellia
Red camellias symbolize death and mourning, especially among the Japanese.
The flower symbolizes a noble death common among samurais, Japanese warriors, and revolutionaries.
TL;DR: Flowers That Symbolize Death (and Are Good for Showing Sympathy for Grieving Families)
For you skimmers (like me :-)), here’s the shortened version of “what flower represents death?”.
An arrangement of flowers is a thoughtful gift for many occasions, or a way to brighten up your own space. Flowers are a traditional symbol of love, affection, and gratitude, in many instances. However, flowers also have symbolic meanings which can help us to choose the right bouquet for the recipient.
If you want to comfort a grieving person, consider these flowers that represent death:
- Red Spider Lilies
- Red Camellia