The Meaning of Lilies, Roses and Other Flowers

Ancient civilizations in Greece and Rome viewed the tiger lily as a symbol of both innocence and fertility. In part this was because the ancients also saw the perfect symmetry of this lily as symbol of the creation and harmony. The rise of Christianity brought a new meaning to the tiger lily and by the Renaissance it became a representation of the Virgin Mary as a connection to its ancient connection to purity and innocence. The tiger lily is also a sign of resurrection due to the legend that Mary’s tomb was empty but for lilies and roses three days after her burial.

Water Lily

The water lily is similar in spirit to the tiger lily as being a symbol of purity. It is actually known as the sinless flower and women in medieval times would carry a water lily in their hands to ward off the effect of love potions and maintain their chastity. The water lily is also a symbol of secrets because it opens at sunrise and is closed by the afternoon. In the Orient, the water lily is endowed with the power to dispel grief and melancholia.


The lotus is a very important flower for Eastern civilizations. The Hindus believed that Brahma, their creator god, was born from a golden lotus and so the flower is often associated with the spirit being elevated from one realm to another.


The rose is the traditional flower of lover and romance. The praise of roses goes back to ancient times and across many civilizations. A Roman legend claims that this flower received its color when Jupiter caught Venus bathing and a white rose turned red in her reflection. The Greeks believed that red roses sprang forth from the ground where Adonis and Aphrodite spilled their blood. By Christian times, the red of the rose had come to also symbolize the blood of martyrs.


The name peony is derived from a mythical Greek physician named Paeon and so the flower has long been considered to have healing properties. Later this ability to heal developed into a belief that the flower was sacred enough to ward off evil spirits. As Christianity spread, medieval people would wear peony seeds around their neck like a chain as a superstitious antidote to evil curses.


Holly is the goodwill ambassador of the flower world. During the ancient Roman festival, holly was exchanged as a symbol of health and happiness. Early Christians appropriated the pagan myth of the holly king killing the oak king at midsummer. Eventually Jesus Christ was conflated with the holly king and the flower became a symbol of peace and goodwill. Another legend states that holly first came into being in the places where Jesus walked. The red berries of holly have also come to symbolize the blood of Jesus during his suffering on the cross.