Bright Blooms with Deep Meanings: The Buttercup Flower Symbolism Story

Buttercups are more than just the focus of cheerful childhood rhymes and games. Most of the plants in the large Ranunculus genus are called buttercups, so the meanings can vary based on the color and shape of the bloom. However, the classic yellow Buttercups found in Europe and North America are steeped in symbolism that dates back to the medieval era.

Buttercup Flower Meaning & Symbolism Meaning and Symbolism

Buttercup Flower Meaning: The Essentials

In the language of flowers, the Buttercup traditionally carries the symbolic meaning of growth, youthfulness, good health, and attraction. The Buttercup flower featured prominently in myths and tales of love and loss spanning the Persian Empire and Native American folklore. 

Etymological Meaning

The common name Buttercup refers to the flower’s yellow color and the mistaken belief that the yellow color of butter came from cows eating it. Ranunculus is the Latin name for the Buttercup genus, meaning “little frog”. It’s a reference to the low-growth habits of the green leaves of these plants.

Buttercup Flower Meaning & Symbolism

A field of buttercups in bloom

Common Buttercups are primarily yellow in color. The yellow flower has secondary meanings of joy, happiness, youthfulness, and good health. 

Persian Buttercups showcase a more diverse spectrum of different colors which have unique meanings and symbolism in the language of flowers:

  • Pink: Romantic interest, happiness, platonic love, youthfulness.
  • Purple: Dignity, wealth, success, royalty, grace.
  • Green: Rebirth, a fresh start, money, success, health, growth.
  • Orange: Energy, power, enthusiasm, friendship, recovery.
  • Red: Passion, romantic love, devotion, healing, wealth.

The Cultural Significance of Buttercup Flowers

Bright yellow flowering buttercups against deep green grass

With a long history of cultural use, it’s unsurprising that Buttercups worldwide share common and overlapping meanings.

Rhymes and Games

The most common symbolism for Buttercups comes from its use in many childhood games and rhymes. Among them, the best known is the game of picking a fresh buttercup flower and holding it under your chin. 

Some games claim that a yellow color reflecting on your skin means you’re in love, while others say it just means you like butter. Most people should find that the flowers reflect on their skin because they’re highly reflective and tend to bounce yellow light off any surface when held close enough.

Persian Mythology

Persian buttercups are bold and beautiful, especially the double-flowering varieties that resemble peonies. Thus, it’s no wonder the flower inspired a myth in its home country, the Persian Empire. 

Legend claims that a wealthy prince fell in love with a beautiful nymph who rejected all of his advances. When he died of a broken heart, he was transformed into the beautiful Ranunculus so that the nymph would have to look upon him and regret her decision forever.

Native American Origins

Since many Buttercups are native to North America, it’s not surprising Native American mythologies also include the plants. 

One such story involved the mythical figure of Coyote, who was known as a trickster. Coyote liked to take his eyes and toss them up into the air, enjoying the view. When Eagle swooped down to steal them, he had to use Buttercups as his new eyes. 

Thus the plants earned the name Coyote’s Eyes among some bands that encountered them.

Victorian Flower Language

Thanks to its association with milking cows and childhood games during the Victorian era, the flower earned an association with childishness. 

In the Victorian language of flowers, buttercups were often featured in floral bouquets to send a message that they appreciated a person’s youthful nature, or they used it as an insult by sending it alone.

Shakespeare’s Cuckoo-Buds

Shakespeare may have even mentioned Buttercups in some of his plays. He mentions Cuckoo-Buds in Love’s Labour’s Lost specifically. 

Some scholars associate Buttercups with this common name and others even claim it was due to its belief that the flower could cure mental illness. There’s little evidence to back up this story, however. It’s much more likely the author intended for the name to reference the bird known as the cuckoo rather than any link with mental health.


Suitable Gifting Occasions

A floral arrangement featuring buttercups

As a flower symbolizing youthfulness, attraction, and childhood whimsy, it’s a great flower to include in a bouquet to someone you want to send a playful message. 

Buttercup Flower FAQs:

Why is it called Buttercup?

With most species featuring a bold yellow color, it’s not surprising people have long associated the flower with butter.

What is the spiritual meaning of a buttercup?

Buttercups symbolize the child side of yourself, which must be nurtured spiritually to thrive.

Wrap Up

Buttercups are bright, bold, and cheerful. They also send a complex message when used in a bouquet or planted in a garden. Make it part of your next gift or landscaping design to add a message of romanticism and youthful energy to the flower beds.

Contributing Editor | madison@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Madison is a writer and editor with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. She writes and photographs for various online and print publications in the gardening sphere and is the author of the book The Next-Generation Gardener.

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