Meaning of roses, carnations, lilies for Valentine’s Day

Greg Stevens
The language of flowers: What certain Valentine's Day flowers say about your relationship

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If you’ve ever bought someone a gift for Valentine’s Day, chances are you’ve presented them with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. This may come as a surprise to you that various types of flowers are associated with specific meanings: enter floriography, or the “language of flowers.” Modern floriography can be traced back to the 19th century, when the etiquette standards of the day meant that flowers were sent to communicate messages that could not be said aloud. Floriography continues to be used to this day by enthusiasts, and it could be used by you, too.

While sending a bouquet of roses is a standard way of saying “I love you,” sending a varied spread of flowers to say something more specific can come across as more meaningful. Flowers can say “I love your strength and gracefulness” or “you’re my best friend and I’ll love you always.” 

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Your Valentine is sure to appreciate your message, whether they understand floriography already or if you take the time to explain it to them. You can even make a fun game out of deciphering the bouquet. Here are some flower meanings to help you get started.


A classic rose is a Valentine's Day staple, so make sure you choose the perfect color to convey the right message.

Roses are widely known as the flowers of romance and love. When it comes to floriography, color is important. White roses are associated with purity, innocence and new beginnings.

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As such, when paired with red roses, the combination can express excitement over a new relationship. Lavender roses are one of the flower’s most striking variants and their meaning is fittingly grandiose, associated with love at first sight.

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Irises and red tulips 

If you want a bouquet that offers a more full and plentiful look, opt for an iris and tulip combination.

Premade bouquets can save you money instead of buying individual flowers, and they can still come with a wonderful message. Take, for example, this bouquet of tulips and irises from 1-800 Flowers. Among other things, an iris can symbolize trust and faith, while red tulips symbolize passion. Combined, these flowers make a bouquet that says, “our passionate love is based on trust” or “I have faith that our passion will continue to thrive.” 

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Want to take your sweetheart's breath away? Go with an orchid arrangement that has vibrant colors.

Some flowers are beautiful yet hold negative meanings. This is not the case with the orchid, which has a meaning just as beautiful as its look. Orchids symbolize love, beauty and refinement, a fitting meaning for one of the loveliest flowers you’ll ever see. 

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Carnations have plush petals that you'll love gazing at.

Carnations, in general, symbolize “fascination.” Like roses, a carnation can take on a more specific meaning depending on its color. Red carnations denote a deep love as well as a sense of longing. Pink carnations are used to tell the recipient that they’ll never be forgotten. Both red and pink carnations can be found in this wonderfully eye-catching bouquet.   

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Calla lily  

Show your loyalty and commitment with stunning calla lily flowers.

As the song by James Blunt goes, the calla lily emphatically says, “you’re beautiful.” Give a bouquet of calla lilies to your Valentine to tell them how stunning you find them. Calla lilies are sometimes used in weddings; in that context, they often denote marital bliss and devotion.  

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Know someone that deserves to be recognized for their strength? Gift them with a Gladiolus flower.

Both “gladiator” and “gladiolus” are derived from the Latin word for sword “gladius.” With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that in the language of flowers, gladioli represent “strength.” It can either be used to praise your Valentine for their strength, describe how deeply you love them or describe your relationship as a whole. 

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If you're giving someone an amaryllis arrangement this V-Day, you can take pride in its beautiful appearance and heartwarming symbolism.

Amaryllis is a beautiful, crimson flower with several behind it. Thanks to its height and sturdiness, the amaryllis has been associated with strength and determination. Those same traits have led it to be a symbol of pride and success.

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Add a little sunshine into your special someone's life this Valentine's Day.

Dwarf sunflowers (a.k.a. the kind you can fit in a bouquet) are classically associated with adoration. Many sources further specify them to mean adoration and appreciation towards friendship. If you have a platonic Valentine, a sunflower would make for the perfect bouquet. That said, sunflowers are still appropriate for a romantic Valentine’s Day gift as any great relationship is rooted in a deep friendship. If you’re wary of them getting the wrong idea, you can create a bouquet of roses and sunflowers to ensure they know that the friendship is mixed with romance. 

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Forget what you know about cacti, these plants are both untraditional and charming, great for anyone who's not a fan of flowers.

They’re certainly unorthodox, but as they’re flowering plants, cacti are fair game to be used in the language of flowers. Cacti are hardy plants, as they’re able to thrive in the brutal desert with minimal water and deter predators with their countless spines. Thanks to these traits, in the language of flowers, cacti are often said to represent an enduring love that can weather any storm. A cactus will make for a unique gift for your Valentine. If you want to commit to a more “flowery” cactus, we recommend buying a Christmas cactus. 

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Weeping fig 

A weeping fig can be used as a positive affirmation to anyone who needs it.

Flowers aren’t the only plants that have been ascribed meaning. Many trees have symbolic significance—one of them is the weeping fig. Don’t let the name scare you; the tree sheds tears of joy and is associated with peace and abundance. As a message, it can be used to say, “I feel at peace when I’m with you.” A tree makes for a perfect gift for someone who isn’t into flowers and loves growing things. If you still want to give flowers, you can present the tree alongside a bouquet. With a more mature tree, you can even incorporate the bouquet into the leaves or at the base of the plant. 

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Flowers to avoid 

If you’re paying enough attention to the meaning of flowers to care about their positive associations, you must take caution to avoid flowers with negative associations. That said, in many instances, you can get away with presenting a flower with a negative meaning as long as you can give it a positive meaning when you present it. For example, a yellow rose can symbolize jealousy and greed, but it can also symbolize friendship.  

As innocuous as orange lilies may appear, they carry a highly negative association: hatred. Cyclamens are often associated with forging a new path after separation, which is nice to give to a friend who’s going through a breakup, but to your significant other it’s akin to a resignation letter. Yellow carnations make for a similarly awkward gift to your significant other, as they mean disdain and rejection. Black roses might be a very cool rose variant, but—and it pains me to say it—they typically shouldn’t be used in a romantic context. Why? They send a morbid message: death.   

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