A month before her mother, Evelyn, died following a long-term illness, Dynelly del Valle got a tattoo on her shoulder to pay tribute to her: a queen of the night flower with “daughter of Eve” inscribed in Evelyn’s handwriting.
“My grandmother had the flower in her garden in Puerto Rico,” says Del Valle, owner of the Long Beach plant shop Pippi + Lola. “It only blooms at night.
“When my mother moved into my grandmother’s house, she would always send me photos of the plant whenever she caught it blooming. Now that my mother has joined my grandmother, this flower stays with me always and reminds me of them. It’s like a brief little hello. She was able to see it before she passed.”
For many plant lovers like Del Valle, botanical tattoos commemorate more than just the plants they cultivate at home.
From delicate peonies designed to mask self-harm scars to marigolds and Monstera deliciosa leaves imprinted to memorialize loved ones lost to COVID-19, plant tattoos offer “self love and power,” says Los Angeles tattoo artist Sam Leng of Mateo Street Studio L.A.
“Sometimes I get requests to cover up scars and marks that my clients don’t like. To me, it gives my tattoos more depth, because I get the chance to make people feel beautiful and powerful. I really appreciate that I can do this kind of art.”
San Diego tattoo artist Saya Arriaga of Silk X Tattoos says plants and flowers offer healing properties during her intuitive ink sessions — a two-day process where she combines reiki healing with the art of conceptualizing a tattoo. “They are folks that come to me during a point of transition in their life or are experiencing some sort of turmoil or angst and are in search of healing,” she says. “The plants I choose have a specific kind of healing property.”
Here, 12 Southern California tattoo artists share photos of their favorite plant tattoos and the stories behind them. More than just decorative, they carry meaningful stories that provide comfort to those who wear them.
“There are some people who get tattoos simply because they like them. But the majority of my clients get them because they are meaningful. Ninety percent of my clients have emotional stories behind their tattoos. When I do a tattoo, I talk to the client about their story and why it is attached to their tattoos.
“I’m an immigrant and new to Los Angeles so I appreciate how people have different backgrounds and diverse interests. I like how people appreciate their cultural roots and take pride in them. This woman chose a Japanese camellia because she wanted to represent her Japanese culture.” — Jingxi Gu of Patch Tattoo Therapy
“There’s not one type of plant that is popular, but people tend to get tattoos of plants that they have feelings about or are emotionally attached to. They all mean something to the client. They might have raised the plant for a long time, or the plant has been their company through tough times. It’s like having a dog tattoo — to these people, their plant is like their pet.
“The woman who requested this tattoo is a very peaceful person and works with children. Maybe there is a connection? Plants have been good for people during COVID-19 because they needed something to do and could nurture them. Plants provide positive energy to their owners.” — Jingxi Gu of Patch Tattoo Therapy
“I prefer tattooing botanicals over anything else because they’re the most timeless type of art. I use a lot of vintage references (some even dating back to the 16th century), and the fact that people still want those illustrations on their body hundreds of years later is a testament to how timeless they are.
“This is one of my favorite botanical pieces, evening primroses, wildflowers native to Southern California. This piece is part of a larger project I’ve been working on with my dear client Emily for the last year and half. She’s a paleontologist and wanted a sleeve featuring SoCal native plants, animals and insects, and it has been by far my absolute favorite project I’ve worked on yet. Evening primroses are thin and crinkled with a tissue-like texture, which is one of my favorite textures to incorporate in my work. I love tattooing wildflowers and typically opt for more unique florals rather than your standard peonies, poppies, roses, etc.
“In fact, I typically don’t accept requests for common flowers these days — there are so many other interesting flowers out there to get tattooed, and I love the idea of clients wearing tattoos that are uniquely theirs. This client has a sleeve full of things that few people have tattooed, and I think that’s the whole point of getting tattoos; to wear permanent art that is unique to you and makes you feel beautiful and at home in your body.” — Adeline Engeman of Stabs & Scabs.
“I was so honored when a client named Tom reached out to me regarding this tattoo, which we created to represent his struggle with chronic illness and also serves as a nod to fond memories of his mother. Tom specifically reached out to me because I also am chronically ill. We chose a day lily design (a flower close to his heart since he used to help plant them with his mom) and made sure to include a complex root structure to signify that, while something may look ‘normal’ from the surface, there may be pain underneath that’s not as visible. If you look closely, you’ll also see a little tree frog to represent Tom’s mother, always present.” — Lauren Potts, who also tattooed Del Valle’s queen of the night tribute to her mother.
“I did this tattoo for Geoffrey, who is an avid plant collector. His favorite plant is the Philodendron camposportoanum, and his tattoo shows a cutting being propagated in a jam jar. Since I specialize in realistic tattoos, the glass jar was a fun challenge. Geoffrey and I are both very happy with how it turned out.” — Ian Robertson-Salt of June Jung Art tattoo studio
Flowers for lost loved ones
“Nicole got an ephemeral tattoo of flowers to represent the personal loss and suffering she has endured over the last year. Within a two-month period, Nicole had to deal with a breakup, her aunt whom she idolized passed away and then, her family was diagnosed with COVID-19.
“As a nurse, Nicole became the natural caregiver to her family. Her mom’s health was quickly declining and she had to be put on a ventilator. It was a very scary time for Nicole and her family. The flower on the left represents Nicole’s mother, the spiral inside the flower symbolizes her mother’s declining health during her COVID-19 diagnosis. The flower on the right with ‘curly’ petals represents her aunt who passed and her curly hair. Nicole didn’t want to make the tattoo so melancholy by asking for a wilting flower to resemble the loss of her aunt. Instead, Nicole asked that we use stippling to create a gradient and a ‘sunset’ effect. Something much more calm and uplifting. The flower in the middle is a representation of herself. The falling petal off the middle flower could represent a tear or even the process of growth. The quote ‘The most beautiful flowers get picked first’ surrounding the vase resonates with her feelings during these extremely emotional times.
“Nicole chose to get her tattoo as a Made to Fade specifically as a way to figuratively see herself healing from her experiences in the last year.” — Blue Poulin of Ephemeral Tattoo Los Angeles
Marigolds, cherry blossoms, spider lilies and monstera leaves
“Maria Athena is a nurse who works in critical care and saw a lot of loss during the pandemic. She decided to get flowers and plants tattooed on her leg, which symbolizes the patients she has lost. She chose plants and flowers that remind her of those patients: marigolds, cherry blossoms, spider lilies and monstera plant leaves.
Big pieces are fun, because I get to think about how the design will flow on the body. The piece wraps nearly 360 degrees around the leg. Wrapping pieces are a unique challenge, because I also need to think about the design looking good from every angle.” — June Jung of June Jung Art Tattoo Studio.
“Brad and Emily wanted to get matching tattoos that incorporated the flowers from their wedding: roses, thistles, peonies and ranunculus. Because these were matching tattoos for a husband and wife, we added some geometric designs to each [that] added a little ‘masculine’ feel to balance out the pure femininity often associated with florals.
“I accentuated the geometry in Brad’s design, while using it more as a frame in Emily’s. With matching tattoos, I always try to make the tattoos similar without being copies of one another, and I am pleased with how that worked out for Brad and Emily.” — June Jung
“I would say that the majority of my booking inquiries are botanical or plant-inspired. Nature and plants are definitely some of my favorite things to tattoo, and I feel they lend themselves really nicely to the medium. I made this bloodroot plant tattoo in February for my client Bree. She had reached out to me to help her create a piece to be representative of her new graphic novel that was coming out.
“This piece, in particular, felt really special to get to make, because I was able to help Bree celebrate this amazing accomplishment of publishing her book by giving her a tattoo. I love being able to make a tattoo for someone that they get to have and enjoy and keep for themselves, because a tattoo can be a really great gift to yourself when you’re proud of an accomplishment that you’ve made.
“Being able to make a physical representation of that accomplishment, even in a small way, that the client then gets to carry around with them is such an amazing feeling, and I am so thankful that I am entrusted to make these pieces.” — Emma Thompson, Earth Altar Studio
Garden sage and lavender
“The plants that I choose have a specific kind of healing property. For this one, [the client] came to me during a career and school transition period in her life and was feeling a lot of guilt, shame and anxiety around it. I chose garden sage to help her release that guilt and shame, and lavender to calm and soothe her anxiety.” — Saya Arriaga of Silk X Tattoos
Children’s birth flowers
“A mother requested this small bouquet of birth flowers for her children: daisy for April, violet for February and cosmos for October. It symbolizes newness and growth.” — Murphy McCormick
“When I see scars or self-harm scars, I never ask why. I think it’s private. To me, it’s just important to apply something beautiful to cover it and detract from the scar. As a tattoo artist, I am willing to listen, not just ask a lot of questions.
“It’s really rewarding when I finish and clients love what I’ve done and appreciate the art. It makes me feel really good. I want to make them feel beautiful. — Sam Leng of Mateo Street Studio
“I did this one for a friend who let me design whatever I wanted, and this is what I came up with. She really loves it, and it healed great. I’ve always loved Greek and Roman art and recently went to Pompeii, so I was on a little kick designing some different pieces based on that trip.
“This piece is meaningful mostly in the way that someone trusts me and likes my art enough to allow me to come up with something I’d like to do and put it on their body forever. I’m lucky when clients ask me for a dealer’s choice tattoo, because then I get to lean into a subject or style I’ve been dying to work on.
“I have a painting and sculpting background (I majored in fine art), and this more realistic/slightly illustrative style allows me to feel like I’m sculpting and painting all at the same time. It’s so much fun.” — Erin Raeman of Supersweet Tattoos & Coffee in Echo Park.
Narcissus and gladiola
“When Catherine, the client who requested the dragon, contacted me, she began her email apologizing for requesting a project that would fall a little outside my regular portfolio. This was my first dragon. She wanted an elegant, dainty dragon flying with flowers twirling around it. She specifically chose narcissus and gladiolus to symbolize personal and professional growth.
“Having tattooed Catherine before, I felt I knew what she wanted, and luckily, she fell in love with the design immediately as soon as she saw it.” — Eleonora Balducchi of Fleur Noire Tattoo.
Leaves, flowers and berries
“This was another first time for me. My friend and also tattoo artist Marlaina asked me to create a composition including leaves, flowers and berries for this placement on the side of her head. Even though I felt pretty comfortable with the subject, I was a little intimidated by the placement. Nevertheless, I made the most of her trust, and the rest is history.” — Eleonora Balducchi of Fleur Noire Tattoo