The hidden meanings behind your favorite blooms

As anyone who has been on the receiving end of a bunch of carnations can attest, flowers often carry meaning—for better or worse—far beyond their aesthetic appeal.

Most of us know that red roses are a classic symbol of romantic love (hello, Valentine's Day bouquets), but did you know that forsythia flowers represent anticipation of an exciting moment? Or that a geranium symbolizes stupidity? Or that a gift of a spider flower could be a call for an elopement?

Peonies are a popular request for weddings and carry hefty symbolism, says Liz Kemmerer, wedding and event coordinator for Bloomtastic Florist in Upper Arlington.

“They're a lush, full sort of rounded-bloom flower,” Kemmerer says. “They usually mean romance, prosperity; they also can represent an omen of good fortune and a happy marriage.”

But if you want a peony in your wedding, be aware: “Sadly, they're only available for a very short time period, so we work mostly with May and June brides with peonies,” Kemmerer says.

“Almost anything goes” when it comes to wedding flowers, says Kim Meacham, owner of The Paper Daisy Flower Boutique in the Short North. However, “roses are still super traditional, especially beautiful garden roses, because they have such a lovely scent,” she adds. “Roses in general just evoke that feeling of love.”

Roses as a whole symbolize beauty, says Kemmerer, adding that specific colors have other nuances associated with them.

“Red, obviously, means love, romance,” she says. “Then white can mean purity or innocence. ‘Bridal white,' as we would call it, means happy love; light pink is admiration, joy, sweetness. And coral means desire,” she says.

Kemmerer says her favorite floral meaning comes from the anemone. “Their symbolism basically means excitement for the future, anticipation. So that's a fun flower to involve in a wedding,” she says. And with 120 different species, to-be-weds will have plenty of variety to choose from when including anemones in bouquets, centerpieces and boutonnières. A winter-spring flower, anemones typically are available as early as October and as late as April.

Other in-demand blooms, says Kemmerer, are the ranunculus (symbolizing charm and attractiveness) and the dahlia. “That's really popular come fall,” she says. “It represents a lasting bond and a commitment between two people,” she says.

While some blooms' symbolic meaning dates back hundreds of years, others have been imbued with significance more recently.

For instance, the color lavender has long been associated with the LGBTQ+ community. Now, with the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S., Meacham has seen a growing number of people request floral lavender for their weddings. “I don't think it's necessarily because it's a flower or an herb; I think it's the color,” she says.

In similar fashion, sunflowers have grown in popularity as blooms for weddings or gift bouquets, Kemmerer notes. The flower has long represented loyalty and long life, but its meaning has expanded in recent times, she says.

“We had a lady who came to get sunflowers for her friend with breast cancer, and I was speaking to her about it, and she said in more modern times they symbolize strength and happiness and positivity, and I thought that was sort of nice,” Kemmerer says. “ ‘Sunflowers,' she told me, ‘just warm the soul'—and that sort of stuck with me.”

And the flowers themselves can have personal significance. Brides “may want to include something because it was their grandma's favorite flower and she's not there. It's not necessarily within the theme of the wedding, but they want to include it because it's special to them,” says Meacham.

Beyond blooms themselves, brides and grooms have found other ways to incorporate additional symbolic heft into their wedding flowers. Meacham says anything meaningful to the couple can be incorporated into floral arrangements; Paper Daisy has tied a grandmother's pin to a bouquet handle or wrapped a mother's veil around the stems.

Similarly, Kemmerer says Bloomtastic often will hook small photographs onto bouquets or boutonnières; rosaries are also commonly included in a bride's bouquet.

“I had one bride, we wrapped a rosary from Jerusalem that her aunt had brought back around her bouquet, so that had a different symbolism,” she recalls.

The very act of including flowers has its own meaning, says Meacham. “We send flowers and we think of flowers when we're thinking of people on an emotional level, so … when people see flowers, they know something significant is happening,” she says.

“It's amazing, it's beautiful, actually, that we can connect on such a personal level with this living object,” Kemmerer adds.