Blue Flowers: Their Meanings, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance

Across eras and cultures, blue flowers have graced myths, literature, and artworks and have long carried the symbolic meaning of serenity, calmness, and peace, thanks to associations with the sky and the water. Historically, rare blue blossoms have also symbolized intimacy, safety, trust, and openness. Join me as I explore the rich history and symbolism of blue flowers.

Symbolic blue flowers in bloom

The Color Blue

Bright blue flowers in bloom against a blue sky

The color blue has long played a prominent role in mythology, literature, and artistic traditions worldwide, perhaps due to its association with the sky and water. The symbolism and meaning attached to blue differ from culture to culture. From serenity and tranquility to safety and masculinity, from inspiration and hope to depression and sympathy, blue has had multiple meanings across cultures since ancient times.

Scientific research into the evolution of sight reveals that humans probably started making blue pigment about 4,000 BC. Though cave paintings date to about 20,000 years ago, none contain blue pigment, probably due to the lack of available blue colorants in plants, rocks, and other natural materials.

The Color Blue in Ancient Egypt 

Egyptians are thought to have developed blue pigment using lapis stone in about 2200 BC. Known as cuprorivaite, the pigment was used in glazes that decorated the tombs of pharaohs, ceramics, and statues. Over time, they combined lapis with other minerals, such as limestone, silica, and copper, to create a spectrum of blue shades.

The rare nature of the ingredients needed to create blue meant the color was reserved for the rich, royal, and elites. This may have also caused blue to be associated with divinity, as it is in several Eastern cultures. In fact, no written languages mention blue until about 4,500 years ago, pointing to the color’s rarity.

This gap in languages caught the attention of a 19th-century British researcher, who noticed that Homer’s Odyssey described colors in a strange manner. Homer described honey as “green,” iron as “violet” and, famously, wrote of the “wine-red” sea, rather than the blue sea.

Blue Symbolism in Ancient Greece and Rome

Even descriptions of rainbows omit the color blue. Though they had no word for blue in their languages, historical records indicate that ancient Greeks and Romans had quite a few associations with the color blue. To them, blue meant their barbaric enemies: the Celts, who painted their bodies with blue pigments in war, and women with blue eyes were thought to be immoral.

Over time, blue dyes slowly spread worldwide, reaching beyond Egypt and the Roman Empire to Europe, Asia, and Mesoamerica. Early Europeans created blue dye using the leaves of a flowering plant called woad. These pigments were so expensive that only the nobility could afford them. Blue clothing was a status symbol, as evidenced by the illumination of kings wearing blue silk robes.

The Color Blue in Art and Literature

A painting featuring a vase of blue flowers

The expense of pigments meant painters only used blue for the most important — i.e., holy — subjects. During the Renaissance, this meant the Virgin Mary. In the art of this time, she’s often depicted wearing blue. The color became associated with divinity, purity, and humility. The color was so expensive it’s said that Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer sent his family into debt to purchase it.

In China, blue pigment was highly prized for its use in porcelain. Starting in the 9th century, “blue and white ware” was produced at a significant cost and eventually sold to rich patrons worldwide. Cobalt from the Middle East was used to produce ceramics; at the time, cobalt was worth more than gold.

Blue pigment remained out of reach for all but the rich for many centuries. In the 1500s, though, a blue dye called “indigo” was cheaply made from the Indigofera tinctoria plant. Finally, the color was accessible to all.

The Cultural Significance of the Color Blue Today

Today, blue is ubiquitous. It’s one of the most, if not the most, popular colors used in marketing and advertising. Blue can be found everywhere, from sports teams to company logos, official uniforms, flags, and government symbols. But it doesn’t mean the same thing in every culture.

In Europe and the U.S., polls show blue is the “favorite” color of both men and women. What’s more, in Western cultures, blue is most commonly associated with a range of symbols, some seemingly contradictory:

  • authority
  • calm
  • cold
  • concentration
  • confidence
  • depression
  • distance
  • divinity
  • faithfulness
  • harmony
  • imagination
  • infinity
  • innocence
  • intelligence
  • intimacy
  • knowledge
  • masculinity
  • purity
  • trust
  • sadness
  • safety
  • security

In some parts of Asia, blue also represents masculinity and is used to announce the birth of a baby boy. In China, though, blue represents femininity. Plus, in some Eastern cultures, blue symbolizes heaven, immortality, and spirituality.

In parts of the Middle East, blue also symbolizes heaven and spirituality. It may also stand for safety and security. In Judaism, blue is tied to holiness.

Latin American cultures tend to associate blue with divinity and purity. Blue is closely tied to the Virgin Mary in these majority Catholic countries. Blue may also represent wealth, hope, and good health here.

About Blue Flowers

Blue flowers are among the rarest colors of blossoms. Though botanists have hybridized blue varieties, blue flowers count for a fraction of color variants compared to the likes of pink or purple flowers.

Most naturally occurring blue flowers grow in the world’s temperate zones or climate conditions that fall within USDA zones 4 to 8.

A plant’s pigments determine flower colors. There are three types of chemical compounds found in plant pigments: anthocyanins, carotenoids, and betalains. These compounds are responsible for colors ranging from orange and red to purple and blue. Other factors also come into play, such as soil acidity and cell shape.

Blue Flowers in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome

The ancient colosseum in Rome with plumes of blue flower bushes in the front

To the ancient Egyptians, blue flowers were considered sacred. The blue water lily, also known as the blue lotus, played a special role. This bloom is featured on pillars, alters, and arches of many temples. In Egyptian mythology, this flower symbolized rebirth and the sun.

Blue water lilies played a role in religious rituals, as well. When ingested, the flower contains alkaloids that cause euphoria and hallucinations.

The ancient Greeks held several blue flowers in high regard. Monkshood or wolfsbane was applied to the tips of arrows and used to slay wolves that threatened flocks. The flower is featured in Ovid’s myths.

Blue iris was gathered by the goddess Persephone and her nymphs and served as the namesake of the goddess Iris. Blue delphinium is featured in several myths and was sacred to the god Apollo.

The ancient Romans treasured the blue borage flower. Pliny the Elder named it Euphrosinum, or merriment and believed it cured depression.

The 1700s and Victorian Times

To the Victorians, blue flowers had several potential meanings. Depending on the flower type, in floriography, blue symbolizes affection, desire, love, inspiration, trust, purity, tranquility, or sympathy.

During the Romanticism period, the blue flower was the central symbol of inspiration. When gifted or used as an artistic motif, it stood for hope, beauty, and a striving for the unreachable or infinite.

Blue Flowers and Spiritually

A blue water lily sits atop the surface of water

To Hindus, blue is the color of Krishna. Blue flowers symbolize the divine, as well as joy and love.

In Judaism, blue hyacinths stand for constancy and sincerity. Blue roses symbolize the impossible.

For Buddhists, the blue lotus symbolizes intelligence, wisdom, knowledge, and the dominance of spirit over the senses. It’s often depicted as a partly opened bud.

To Catholics, blue flowers are often associated with the Virgin Mary. Blue columbines are used in art to represent the Virgin’s sorrow in childbirth and connections with the Holy Spirit.

Art and Literature

Blue flowers feature prominently in the art and literature of the Romantic movement and beyond. Van Gogh famously painted blue flowers in Still Life with Irises.

Goethe wrote of a search for the “original plant,” and, in his autobiography, C.S. Lewis used a blue flower to symbolize the feelings of longing caused by beauty. Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie uses blue roses to stand for fragility.

Several Robert Frost poems feature blue flowers, and Heinrich von Ofterdingen associated blue flowers with heroism. Contemporary authors Penelope Fitzgerald and John Le Carre reference blue flowers in their novels.

Modern Symbolism

A bride holds a bouquet of blue and pink flowers

Today, blue flowers symbolize a range of meanings and messages, depending on the species. This flexibility makes blue blossoms an ideal addition to floral gifts for a range of occasions.

An association with inspiration and hope makes them a perfect choice for congratulation or achievement gifts. Their association with intimacy and love makes them a beautiful choice for Valentine’s Day or a romantic gift. The 10th wedding anniversary flower is associated with silver and blue, making blue blossoms a natural choice for this important milestone.

They’re also popular for wedding bouquets and centerpieces. Blue may also be associated with sympathy.

Though blue flowers are rather rare in nature, they’re a wonderful choice for floral giving and the home garden. Among the most popular species are:

Iris

Blue iris flowers in bloom

This lovely spring flower blooms in a range of blue shades, from the palest baby blue to the deepest navy blue to almost black. When given as a gift, blue irises symbolize love and deep trust.

Delphinium

The delphinium gets its name from the dolphin-like shape of its blossoms. This stunning spike of blue flowers may symbolize strong attachment, new opportunities, and expansion, and it has a positive connotation when given as a gift.

Hydrangea

A cluster of blue hydrangea flowers

Hydrangea’s gorgeous blue color and dramatic round shape make them a perfect addition to wedding bouquets and arrangements; they’re also the flower of the fourth anniversary. Ironically, to the Victorians, hydrangea symbolizes having difficulty finding a suitor, but to the Japanese, hydrangea symbolizes forgiveness and honest intent.

Bluebells

With their beautiful bell-shaped clusters of blossoms, bluebells are associated with undying love and gratitude. Their sweet, delicate fragrance makes them a welcome addition to floral gifts.

Morning Glory

A bright blue Morning Glory flower in bloom

Not only are morning glory the official flower for those born in September, they also symbolize a pure, strong heart. These vining flowers come in a range of blues, from soft and pale to strong and deep.

Lungwort

Lungwort or pulmonaria stands for joy, devotion, and admiration. A gift of these bright, funnel-shaped blooms says, “You are my life.”

Blue Poppies

Soft Blue Poppies growing in a garden

The bold, bright blue poppy has an equally bold meaning: Success, luxury, and imagination. Use blue poppies to commemorate a significant event or key achievements.

Flax

The ancient Egyptians prized this bright blue flower as a source of oil. Flax flowers are short-lived but beautiful; they’re the national flower of Belarus.

Sweet Pea

A dark blue Sweet Pea flower in bloom

In the language of flowers, sweet pea stands for blissful goodbyes and delicate pleasures. Either way, a gift of sweet peas offer a lovely scent along with delicate blooms.

Scabiosa

Scabiosa or pincushions attract butterflies with their long-lasting, almost periwinkle blooms. They also symbolize love and peace.

Wrap Up

Throughout history, the color blue has played an important role in mythology, religion, and popular culture. With meanings that range from inspiration to security, joy to wisdom and the divine, blue blooms run the symbolic gamut. Blue flowers make a perfect gift for so many occasions, from a special romantic date to an important anniversary, a get-well gift to congratulations for a job well done.

Contributing Editor | linsay@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.

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