What Do Funeral Flowers Mean?

One of my favorite books is Gaskell’s Compendium of Forms, a social, educational, legal and commercial etiquette book published in 1882. While this self-teaching course in penmanship and bookkeeping is almost a century-and-a-half-old, it can provide some insight into how certain customs are followed, even today. And, no self-taught person would be fully complete without learning the language of flowers.

While this book does not address funeral flowers directly, it contains eight full pages on the meaning of flowers, beginning with a quote from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (also known as Montague), who wrote about how flowers were used as messages in Eastern society:

“There is no color, no flowers, no weed, no fruit, herb, pebble or feather, that has not a verse belonging to it; and you may quarrel, reproach, or send letters of passion, friendship or civility, or even of news, without even inking your fingers.”

Additionally, the way a flower is presented might send a message. A rose without thorns, for instance, would say, “There is everything to hope,” while a rose with thorns and stripped of its leaves would say, “There is everything to fear.” While many people today don’t think about the messages that flowers send, let alone how they’re presented, you might want to say something special in your funeral flower arrangement. Here are some flowers and plants to consider and the messages they send:

  • Agrimony (A common herb; Agrimonia¬† parviflora, Agrimonia Striata): Thankfulness and gratitude
  • Asphodel ( Asphodels are popular garden plants with a number of species): My regrets follow you to the grave
  • Balm (Also known as Lemon Balm, Melissa): Sympathy
  • Black Swallow-wort (Dog-strangling Vine, Climbing Milkweed; Vincetoxicum nigrum; syn. Cynanchum louiseae): Cure for heartache; also an invasive plant and difficult to find through a florist.
  • Burdock (Also known as thistles with a number of varieties; this plant led to the development of velcro, which is another immortal object): Immortality
  • Carolina Jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens): Separation
  • Cypress (Cypress is the name applied to many plants in the conifer family Cupressaceae): Death and mourning
  • Daphne (A flowery bush with a number of varieties): Glory and immortality
  • Flowering Reed (I couldn’t find information, but I did find plenty of photos; possibly an orchid or calla rather than a grass?): Confidence in Heaven
  • Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa): Unfading love
  • Hawthorn (A tree, member of the rose family; Crataegus): Hope
  • Helenium (Also known as Sneezeweed with a number of varieties): Tears
  • Lilac (Shown in the image above; Syringa vulgaris): Memory
  • Marianthus (found only in Australia; also known as red billardiera): Hope for better days
  • Marigold (Tagetes): Grief
  • Red Poppy (This is the small-size annual species, also known as Shirley, Flanders, American Legion or Corn poppy): Consolation
  • Red Rose: I love you
  • Rosemary (a perennial herb; Rosmarinus officinalis): Remembrance
  • Spring of Spruce (A conifer, or pine, tree): Farewell
  • Thrift (Phlox subulata): Be assured of my sympathy
  • White Lily (Lilium candidum): Purity and sweetness
  • Wormwood (Artemesia; many varieties): Absence
  • Zinnia (many varieties): Thoughts of absent friends

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