Plant and Floral Symbolism

Flowers convey love, grief, happiness and other emotions. These symbolic connections of flowers with emotion are cross-cultural and their origins are unknown. During the 1800s, the use of floral symbolism became so popular that almost every flower known had a symbolic gesture attached to it. The following are some symbolic references to common plants and flowers:

Acacia– immortality of soul

Bamboo the emblem of Buddha. The seven-knotted bamboo denotes the seven degrees of initiation and invocation in Buddhism. On Japanese memorials, symbolic of devotion and truthfulness.

Acanthus– heavenly garden. One of the oldest cemetery motifs, acanthus is associated with the rocky ground where most ancient Greek cemeteries were placed. It is the most common motif found on memorials.


Buttercup– cheerfulness

Cinquefoil– maternal affection, beloved daughter

Crocus– youthful gladness

Daffodil– regard, death of youth, desire, art, grace

Daisy– innocence of child, Jesus the Infant, youth, the Son of righteousness

Dead leaves– sadness, melancholy

Fern– sincerity

Fleur-de-lis– flame, passion, ardour, mother

Forget-me-not– remembrance

Ivy– memory, immortality, friendship, fidelity

Hawthorn– hope, merriness, springtime

Holly– foresight

Honeysuckle– bonds of love, generosity and devoted affection

Lalla– beauty, marriage

Laurel Leaves– Special achievment, distinction, success

Lily– majesty, Virgin Mary

Lily of the valley– return of happiness, purity, humility

Morning glory– resurrection, mourning, youth, farewell

Mystic rose– Mother

Moss– merit

Mulberry– I will not survive you

Passion flower– the elements of the passion of Christ: the lacy crown – the crown of thorns; the five stamens – the five wounds; the 10 petals – the 10 faithful Apostles

Pineapple– hospitality, good host

Palm– spiritual victory, success, eternal peace

Pine– fertility, regeneration, fidelity

Poppy– peace, rest

Plane tree– The all-covering love of Christ

Oak– hospitality, strength, honour, eternity, endurance, liberty. It is believed to have been the tree from which Jesus Christ’s cross was made. In smaller pioneer cemeteries, it is common to place children’s graves near oak trees. The oak tree was the tree of life in pre-Christian times. The Druids worshipped the oak. 

Rose– love, beauty, hope

Broken rosebud– life cut short, usually found with a young person’s grave

Joining rosebuds– strong bond between two people (e.g., mother and child who died at the same time)

Rosette– the Lord, messianic hope, promise, love

Shamrock– Ireland as country of origin

Thistle– earthly sorrow, Christ’s crown of thorns, Scotland as country of origin

Vine– God’s blood, God

Bushel of Wheat– body of Christ

Wheat– resurrection, bread and wine (Christian), fertility

Yew tree– sadness

Weeping Willow– mourning


Garlands and Wreaths

Another commonly inscribed or carved motif is the garland or wreath. The use of garlands, wreaths and festoons dates back to ancient Greek times. The laurel wreath is usually associated with someone who has attained distinction in the arts, literature, athletics or the military. The ivy wreath is symbolic of conviviality (gaiety or joviality). The wreath and festoon together symbolize memory.