The Symbolic Meanings of Funeral and Sympathy Flowers

The type and color of flowers you send can carry different meanings

2 lilies
Lilies often feature prominently in funeral, memorial and burial services. Photo © Juanita Turner Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images

According to archaeological evidence, flowers have played an important role in the traditions surrounding the death and funeral/burial rituals and traditions of human beings across numerous cultures for at least the past 11,700 years, for a variety of reasons. Today, sending flowers to a funeral or memorial service, or directly to the grieving family, is a commonly accepted and even encouraged form of expressing sympathy and support.

This article offers a guide to the most common types of funeral and sympathy flowers sent these days, as well as an explanation of the differences that a flower's color can make to its meaning and symbolism.

Carnations

Because of their array of colors, lovely fragrance and tendency to last for a long time, carnations often feature in sympathy flower arrangements, although florists also use them when crafting funeral sprays and wreaths. Like many flowers, the color(s) you select can convey different meanings:

Pink: remembrance

Red: admiration, love, yearning

White: faithfulness, innocence, purity, sweetness, untainted love

Yellow: friendship (although it can also symbolize disappointment or rejection)

Chrysanthemums

Also known by the abbreviation "mums," chrysanthemums feature prominently in funeral flower arrangements around the world, but their symbolic meaning can vary widely according to each culture.

In Japan, for instance, mums symbolize death and appear almost exclusively at funeral services, whereas other areas of Asia associate mums with rebirth. In the United States, chrysanthemum colors generally mean:

Red: love

White: innocence, purity, truth

Gladioli

Derived from the Latin word for "sword," gladioli can grow quite tall and often feature in funeral arrangements and sprays because of their height.

Regardless of their color, gladioli generally symbolize integrity, morality, sincerity, strong character, etc.

Lilies

Probably the flower most commonly associated with death, funeral homes and funeral services, lilies feature a strong fragrance, a dramatic petal arrangement and convey a sense of peace. Generally, you should stick with white lilies, which symbolize purity, regaining innocence and the rebirth of the soul. Two lily varieties -- the Stargazer and the Oriental -- additionally signify sympathy and eternal life, respectively.

Orchids

Not only prized for their graceful elegance, cut-flower orchids also last quite a long time in floral arrangements and bouquets, and families often select these funeral flowers to take home after the service. Moreover, a living orchid plant makes a thoughtful sympathy gift because of its long-lasting beauty. Generally, orchids of any color symbolize everlasting love, but funeral flower arrangements typically feature pink and/or white orchids to convey sympathy.

Roses

Most people probably think of a rose when they hear the word "flower," and roses often feature prominently in funeral arrangements and sympathy flowers alike. While typically associated with romantic love, roses can convey a wide variety of symbolic meaning depending upon their color:

Pink: admiration, appreciation, elegance, grace, love (often used at the funerals of women or children)

Purple: dignity, elegance (often chosen for the funeral services of grandparents)

Red: courage, love, respect

Red, Dark: grief, love, sorrow

White: humility, innocence, purity, reverence, spirituality, youthfulness (often used at the funerals for children)

Yellow: devotion, friendship, loyalty

Many other types of flowers appropriate for use at a funeral or memorial service exist -- such as daffodils, hyacinths, hydrangeas and tulips -- and you should ask your florist or floral provider for guidance if you remain in doubt about what type/color to send. In general, however, you shouldn't worry too much about getting the meaning "right" because the immediate family will appreciate any funeral or sympathy flowers you send during this difficult time in their lives.

Related Articles You Might Enjoy:
What's the Difference Between Funeral and Sympathy Flowers?
Uses for Funeral Flowers After the Service
Alternative Phrases for "In Lieu of Flowers"
The 3 Best Things to Say After a Death

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