Flowers play a huge role at funeral rituals in different religions and societies. The language of flowers is called floriography, and the Victorians formalized it. Most flowers that mean death and mourning pulled their modern symbolism from this era. However, the links between flowers and death existed far before this period, way back in ancient times. In ancient Egypt, for example, flowers were laid on pharaoh tombs to mean certain concepts.
In England in the post-Elizabethan period, tributes at funerals were evergreen wreaths instead of flowers. Cut flowers started getting popular for use as sympathy gifts to mark graves. In some religions, the significance of flowers goes beyond the time of death to days where the dead get remembered, especially in Mexico at Dia de los Muertos and at All Souls Day in Eurasia.
Flowers that mean death can vary from culture to culture, so we’ve picked out the 18 most common and popular flowers that mean death, mourning, or that are sent to express sympathy below.
Funeral Flowers Origins
Arranging and putting flowers around a deceased person is arguably one of the oldest forms of mourning. This activity was very well documented in 1951 by Dr. Ralph Solecki during the famous excavation in Northern Iraq of the Shanidar Cave. He discovered burial sites at this cave and uncovered flower fragments and pollen from several different wildflower species.
Later, it was discovered that these flowers had been in these graves since 62,000 B.C. Soil samples of the sites found that these flowers were placed on the burial site, and this marked them as the first flowers that were used at a funeral. The Guinness Book of World Records eventually noted this discovery as the oldest form of human ritual in the world.
Ancient Uses Funeral Flowers
Using flowers that mean death for funerals is a tradition that has lasted for centuries. Today, they serve a slightly different role than they previously had. Since the art of embalming bodies has slowly evolved over the past centuries, flowers were first used to cover the odors of the decaying body.
Depending on the condition of the body, the environment, and the time of burial, flowers were placed around the body in varying quantities as a way to mask the odor so people could stand to come around and pay their last respects to the deceased.
Modern Uses Of Funeral Flowers
Today, you send flowers to funerals for several reasons. They are a great means to express yourself. Since it can be very difficult for anyone mourning a death to put words to their feelings, flowers can serve as an expression of comfort, love, respect, and sympathy. Flowers also create a background of beauty and warmth, and this adds to the consolation and dignity of the service. They create a welcome softness, and the beauty of each flower helps to balance out death’s sadness and heaviness.
Funeral Flower Symbolism
Flowers have an important funeral significance, and they’ve always been an important way to symbolize the entire life cycle from birth to death. They represent sympathy and love, but they also symbolize immortality and eternity. The flower’s fragility symbolizes life, and it needs the proper conditions to blossom and grow.
18 Flowers That Mean Death and Mourning
While there are arguably hundreds of flowers that symbolize mourning and death, we’ve picked out some of the most popular options that are readily available all year-round.
There is a long history of superstition attached to the Anemone. Ancient Egyptians believed that this flower that means death was the emblem of sickness, and the Chinese called it the flower of death. The meanings of this flower include withered hopes, abandonment, death, and suffering, so Eastern cultures believe that it’s a symbol of bad luck.
The anemone name comes from the Greek word anemos, and this means wind. So, it’s also common to hear it called the windflower. In Greek mythology, it is said that this flower that means death came from Aphrodite’s tears when Adonis died. In the West, this flower can symbolize anticipation, and it’s commonly used to remember the deceased.
In Homer’s Odyssey, you can find this flower that means death in the Plains of Asphodel, and this is a space in the underworld where the souls rested. The Greeks claim that Hades’ wife Persephone, wore a garland crown of this flower. So, it’s widely associated with death, mourning, and the underworld.
If you look in the language of flowers, this flower that means death also represents regrets beyond the grave. It means, “My regrets follow to the grave,” or “I will be faithful until death.” These star-shaped flowers are very symbolic, especially when death anniversaries come around.
In Western culture, having bouquets of one color or mixed carnations in pink, white, and red are a commemoration for someone’s passing. This flower that means death is very popular, and red carnations symbolize love. White represents purity, and the pink carnation stands for remembrance. In Elizabethan times, wearing this flower was popular because it was widely believed that it would help stop you from being put to death on the scaffold. Today, carnations are popular in sympathy flower arrangements, funeral wreaths, and funeral sprays.
When it comes to bouquets you put on graves, chrysanthemums are the single most popular flower that means death used. The symbolic meaning varies depending on the culture. In the United States, this flower represents purity and truth, and they’re a nice way to honor someone who lived a full life. In southern Germany and France, they have links to autumn rites for the deceased and you can’t offer them to living people. In Italy and Malta, it’s unlucky to have this flower in your home.
Also known as the key of heaven, this flower that means death is symbolic of both death and birth. In myths, people were finding ways to sneak into heaven’s backdoor, so St. Peter got angry and dropped the key to heaven to earth, and it turned into a key flower or cowslip. In Wales and Ireland, this flower is considered a fairy flower, and touching them will open the door between humans and fairies. However, you have to carefully arrange them with the correct flower numbers to prevent doom from following whoever touches them.
Daffodils are also known by Narcissus, or the latin name. They’re largely associated with death and vanity due to the myth of Narcissus who died by staring at his reflection. In medieval times, this flower was a symbol of death if it drooped if you were looking at it. Today, this flower that means death now symbolizes resurrection, new beginnings, the promise of eternal life, and rebirth. They’re nice to send to families who are suffering from the loss of a loved one.
Since daisies have links to childhood and innocence, they’re usually given to parents who lost young children. They’re also a very popular flower to put in memorials or at funerals for newborn babies. Daisies are given to the mourners as a sign of sympathy and compassion, but they also invite brightness into the home with the goal of cheering the family up a bit.
8. Enchanter’s Nightshade
Better known as Circaea, this flower that means death was named after Circe. She is the daughter of Helios, the sun god, and a sorceress. Homer describes Circe as being cruel for luring shipwrecked sailors to her island before turning them into swine, wolves, and lions before she killed and ate them. So, the smaller flowers became a symbol of doom, death, and trickery.
You may know this flower that means death as Asian magnolia, and you get very delicate flowers in white and yellow with a fragrance that makes you think you’ve smelled it before. So, some cultures consider this a mourning flower because it brings remembrance and nostalgia. In Polynesia, some cultures use it in a mourning corsage during the funeral service. Outside of this, this flower has links to the supernatural world and to many Asian goddesses and gods.
Just like chrysanthemum, this flower that means death is popular to give to a sympathetic party who is grieving the loss of a family member. This bulb flower represents character strength, and as a mourning flower, if you get one, it means that you have to find the strength to pick yourself up from your loss. In a trying time, this flower is a great way to convey compassion.
Hyacinth is a container plant that many people give to a person or family who are still mourning or grieving the death of a loved one. It means that you’re willing and able to extend your presence or help every step of the way through the grief process while showing unwavering support for the family who the departed left behind. It also symbolizes that you’re one with them in their grief.
The lily is one of the most popular flowers that means death or mourning. The delicate color and simplicity evoke serenity and peach and have close links to the paradise that is waiting for the departed. It also symbolizes comfort for those left behind with the thought that the departed is already in a better place, free of pain. Lilies symbolize that the soul has reached the original, innocent state. Oriental lilies are popular to commemorate the life of the deceased, and stargazer lilies represent sympathy to the family.
Throughout Latin America and Mexico, marigolds are a flower that means death, and it’s a popular fixture during Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. As a combination of Catholicism and Aztec belief, this holiday falls on November 1 and 2. The bright hues of this flower in yellow and orange are meant to keep the celebration vibrant and cheerful instead of somber and fixed on death.
Marigolds are often spotted on elaborate altars that honor a person called ofrendas. The flower is also put in crosses and garlands, along with calaveras and calacas, or skulls and skeletons. You’ll also find them pressed into candied sweets. In Canada and the United States, you won’t see Dia de los Muertos widely celebrated, but this tradition continues to exist within the Latin American population.
In Hawaii, you’ll find orchids in leis and floral garlands. They’re a popular way to welcome someone to the islands, but they’re also a flower that means death at funerals. You’ll typically put them in places that were important to the deceased, worn by mourners at the funerals, and given to the family. The flowers widely symbolize refinement and beauty, but they also work as a nice expression of sympathy and love, especially when you use pink and white blossoms.
Poppies are a partial shade perennial that symbolize oblivion and eternal sleep, and the flower petals are very recognizable as they look like crepe paper. The Romans put this flower that means death on graves because they thought they granted immortality. Egyptian tombs that are over 3,000 years old also have evidence of these flowers. In Flanders and Northern France, poppies sprung up from battle-torn craters after World War II in the fields. Legends claim that these flowers came from the blood that was spilled during the battle, and this makes them red. They’re also a remembrance symbol for the war dead.
Today, poppies are very popular for use during military remembrances throughout the world. In Australia, it’s an emblem that means sacrifice. It means the life given in the service of the country. During the 75th anniversary of France’s D-Day landings, Prince William of Britain laid a wreath of poppies to help honor the fallen.
Bringing a bouquet of roses can be a nice memorial for the deceased. This flower that means death can express a huge array of meaning, depending on the color you pick out. White roses generally have a place at funerals for children because they symbolize purity, innocence, and youthfulness. Pink roses, on the other hand, symbolize admiration and love. Peach roses have ties to sincerity and immortality. Sometimes, purple-hued roses are used during funeral services for grandparents due to their symbolism of elegance and dignity.
Red roses can symbolize respect, love, and courage. However, they can also represent sorrow and grief. In some cultures, red roses represent the blood of a martyr, and because they have thorns, death itself. Black roses, which are actually a very dark shade of purple or red instead of true black, are linked to mourning, farewell, and death.
Since 1979 with the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, tulips have been a flower that means death to martyrs. According to the Shi’ism tradition, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Husayn, died in a battle against the Umayyad dynasty. As he died, red tulips sprang up from his blood. However, you can trace this flower’s cultural significance in Iranian culture back to ancient times.
During the 6th century, tulips came to symbolize sacrifice and eternal love. In Persian legend, prince Farhad heard rumors that Shrin, his beloved, had been killed. When he heard this, he rode his horse off a cliff, and red tulips came up where his blood landed. Since this time, tulips symbolize love that would last forever.
18. White Lilies
Since this flower that means death has a strong scent and a dramatic look, white lilies have links to purity, innocence, and rebirth. The link to purity comes from the medieval images of the Virgin Mary where she was holding the flower, so it’s also called the Madonna Lily. In some cultures, this flower symbolizes that the soul returned to a peaceful state and is innocent. There are dozens of lily types, but the oriental lily conveys peace. Another lily will signify eternal life and sympathy.
Arranging Flowers for Funerals
How you choose to arrange the flowers says a lot about how your message of mourning and grief comes across. The following are what message you’ll covey, depending on how you arrange your flowers that mean death and mourning:
- Flower Basket: Since it’s portable, the flower basket is a nice choice for a flower arrangement for a funeral. They’re very practical at memorials and funerals, or you could send them right to the family.
- Potted Plant – This is a more intimate offering that allows you to extend sympathy to anyone who is grieving. Giving one specific flower can be more symbolic than giving a full arrangement.
- Standing Flower Spray – This is a lot like a wreath, but the arrangement stands on a tripod. You’ll typically put it right next to the casket, so it’s the ultimate symbol of remembrance, love, and respect. It’s also one of the most traditional offerings you can give the family.
- Wreaths – Since they have a circular shape, people associate wreaths and flowers that mean death with rebirth and eternal life. Picking the best flowers helps magnify this arrangement. Heart-shaped and cross wreaths are nice choices when it comes to mourning and death.
Flower Colors That Mean Death
The following flower colors are almost always a representation of death, even with different cultures:
- Blue or lavender
Flowers That Symbolize the Death of a Loved One
If you’re specifically after flowers that symbolize the death of a loved one, you should consider looking at the following and how to arrange them:
Dos and Don’ts of Sending Flowers That Mean Death
Many people don’t think of the dos and don’ts of sending flowers that mean death or sympathy arrangements before they send them. However, a few general guidelines to keep in mind include:
- Do Order the Proper Arrangement – The arrangement you send will depend on how well you know the departed. It’ll also depend on which religion the family follows.
- Don’t Lose Sight of the Departed – It’s not about the ones who are left at a funeral. Instead, you want to focus on the departed.
- Do Know Flowers Aren’t Just for Funerals – Flowers make a wonderful gesture of oneness and compassion. They’re not exclusively used for funerals. Send as much flowers as you can, when you can, especially to close relatives, friends, and family.
- Don’t Forget Florist Brands – Do a little research and go for florists who can pull the arrangements together in time for the service. Ask and see if the departed or the family has a preferred or favored florist and try to use them.
- Don’t Forget the Card – To make the whole thing more personal, endearing, and intimate, don’t forget to include a handwritten card to express your presence and sympathy.
What Flowers Mean at Funerals
The coloring on the flowers doesn’t change if you bring them to the funeral instead of sending them to the wake or after the funeral. Below are the most common meanings of flower colors when you think of mourning and death. They include:
- Blue or Lavender – Pain and sadness
- Crimson – Extreme sorrow and grief
- Pink – Peace, harmony, and grace
- Red – Devotion, love, and nobleness
- White – Respect, adoration, rebirth, and reverence
- Yellow – Hope and friendship
We’ve outlined 18 popular flowers that mean death and mourning. You can decide which ones to put in arrangements and send to the family or to the funeral when the time comes. Be sure to keep the family’s religious affiliations in mind and the culture when you order your flowers to ensure that they convey the message you want to get across. If you do, you’ll get a stunning arrangement that is very meaningful.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.