From Forest Floor to Folklore: The Mystical Meaning of the Arbutus Flower

Trailing Arbutus isn’t part of the widespread Arbutus genus but is known as Epigaea repens. It’s widely popular despite being a delicate wildflower native to North America. Not to be confused with the shrubs such as the Strawberry Tree that make up the Arbutus genus, this flowering plant is low-growing and takes up little space in a forested landscape. There are more profound levels of meaning to this plant among both native people who lived with it for centuries and mythology linked to it through its scientific name. Learn what makes the Arbutus flower special with this in-depth guide to its meaning and symbolism.

Arbutus Flower Meaning: Unveiling Cultural Stories, Myths, and Symbolism

Arbutus Flower Meaning & Symbolism


The common name of Trailing Arbutus isn’t the only one regularly used for this plant. You’ll also find it listed as the Mayflower or the Ground Laurel. 

The scientific name is Epigaea repens, and using it eliminates confusion. The common names all reference its growth habit and similar appearance to laurel or arbutus tree foliage. 

Even the name Epigaea means “crawling” and “on the earth,” referring to its spreading tendencies.

Arbutus Meaning in The Victorian Language of Flowers

The Arbutus familiar to the Victorians of England was likely the Arbutus unendo, or Strawberry Tree native to Ireland and most of the Mediterranean. 

However, some sources claim that the Trailing Arbutus was well-introduced into the gardens of Europe before the Victorian period. 

Either way, many sources covering the Victorian Language of Flowers associate Arbutus flower meaning with devotion to God. That makes it a potent Christian symbol, especially in certain Catholic sects. 

Other sources attribute to it a meaning of loving devotion to just one person. This makes it more romantic than religious.

Common Arbutus Flower Colors and Their Meaning & Symbolism

Common Arbutus Flower Colors and Their Meaning & Symbolism

Both true members of the Arbutus genus and the Epigaea flower known as Trailing Arbutus produce primarily white flowers

White is a color associated with innocence and purity, not to mention healing and recovery after grief. 

It’s a common color for funeral and wedding flowers alike. Some people prefer white flowers for bouquets celebrating the arrival of new children as well.

The Meaning of Arbutus Flowers in Ancient Times

The Trailing Arbutus wasn’t known to ancient cultures like the Greeks or Romans since it’s native to North America instead. 

It does figure in the mythology of the Ottawa native people. The flower was created in the group’s mythology when a powerful spring maiden transformed the old man Manito from a god of winter into a cheerful wildflower with an icy white color. It’s considered a symbol of the Ottawa people.

The Meaning of Arbutus Flowers in Religion and Spirituality

At least during the Victorian era, many Catholics associated white Arbutus flower meaning with a true belief in God. It was often used in Christening or Confirmation bouquets to celebrate the entrance into the faith. This association is less common today, but it’s still worth exploring if you’re a follower of Christian spirituality.

May Birth Flower

Some other birth flower lists include Trailing Arbutus as the May birth flower because it blooms then and is known as Mayflower.

Suitable Occasions to Gift Arbutus Flowers

Arbutus flower meaning can transmit a very romantic message when combined with roses and other flowers linked to passion and love. Yet it’s also a symbol of pure devotion as well to others. 

Try sending it as part of a bouquet that convinces someone that you care or celebrates a new devotion to faith.

Uses and Benefits of Arbutus Flowers

Uses and Benefits of Arbutus Flowers

Native people and early settlers used to use the Trailing Arbutus flowers to treat kidney and bladder problems. However, it’s unknown whether it’s safe for long-term consumption and is best avoided today. It’s not edible, but the small flowers attract butterflies and moths.

About Arbutus Flowers

Epigaea repens is native to much of North America, including both the United States and Canada. 

The plants generally have white flowers, but sometimes they can appear pink instead. They have a strong sweet smell, especially when they first start blooming in May and June. 

The leaves are leathery and lightly hairy. It’s an evergreen plant but tends to become hidden by dry leaves in the fall. Small white berries can form after the flowers dry out at the end of summer. 

The plant is somewhat rare, but it’s sometimes cultivated in USDA zones 3 through 8 gardens.

Arbutus Flower FAQs:

Are Arbutus Flowers Poisonous?

The flowers themselves are technically edible, but they’re mostly enjoyed for their sweet scent. The other parts of the plant are too irritating for anyone to accidentally eat.

Are Arbutus Flowers an Annual or Perennial?

Trailing Arbutus is a perennial wildflower that will return year after year when planted in the right conditions. It can handle cold winter temperatures. It just needs a shady area and rapidly draining soil to thrive over the summer.

How many different types of Arbutus Flowers are there?

There is just the one Trailing Arbutus or Epigaea repens. In the true Arbutus genus, there are at least 12 flowering plants.

Where does Arbutus typically grow?

It’s generally found in the Eastern part of North America, including everywhere from Florida all the way up to Newfoundland. The plant stretches West to the Northwest Territories in Canada.

Do Arbutus Flowers Attract Certain Types of Wildlife?

Multiple moths need the plant as a host for larvae, while deer eat it, and the berries feed chipmunks.

Are Arbutus Flowers Suitable for Cut Flower Arrangements?

The white or pink flowers are pretty small, but they can last for at least a few days when mixed in with longer-stemmed blooms. They add a sweet aroma to any arrangement.

What Symbolic Meanings are Associated with Arbutus Flowers?

Depending on the exact type of Arbutus you choose, the symbolic meaning could include romantic devotion to one person, religious affirmation, or even the power of spring to overcome the harshness of winter.

What are Some Companion Plants that Grow Well with Arbutus Flowers?

Wintergreen is a natural companion for this plant that prefers a slightly shadier area. Spotted pipsissewa is also an attractive and low-growing pairing. Consider mixing clumps of Trailing Arbutus with a range of delicate ferns for a planting perfect for a shady area with moist soil.

Arbutus Flower Meaning – Wrapping Up

Trailing Arbutus is a small wildflower you must seek to enjoy, but it’s worth searching. The Arbutus flower is rich in meaning and can symbolize innocence, peace, and beauty in many ways. Consider cultivating it or using it in your floral arrangements not only for its symbolism but also for its sweet scent.

For more, see our in-depth guide to burdock flower meaning and symbolism.

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