Cornflower Meanings and Symbolism

Cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) provide a rare, natural glimpse of blue in living nature. These familiar yet striking flowers aren’t just pretty to look at; they also have a rich history of meaning and symbolism that spans the ages throughout human civilization.

Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) Meaning and Symbolism

Cornflower Symbolism – Key Takeaways

Cornflowers symbolize love, fertility, tenderness, unity, the future, hope, anticipation, devotion, fidelity, reliability, remembrance, delicacy, prosperity, and wealth. In the Victorian language of flowers, they represented celibacy.

Etymological Meaning

The genus name, Centaurea, is a Latinate derivative of the Greek word kentauros which means centaur. The specific name, cyanus, is a Latinate form of the English word cyan which is a vibrant color of greenish aqua blue. This particular name was assigned to the cornflower, even though the most common cornflower blossoms tend to be more of a pure blue or bluish purple.

The plant earned its common name, cornflower because it tended to grow alongside corn (and other grain-type crops such as oats, rye, wheat, or barley) as a weed. So, since these flowers tended to pop up alongside corn plants, they became known as cornflowers.

The common name bachelor’s button refers to the button-like shape of the plant’s inflorescence. It may also have come from the practice in which young, eligible bachelors would wear cornflowers in their buttonholes during the Victorian era.

The Modern Meaning of Cornflowers

The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Cornflowers

Cornflowers have a long list of symbolic meanings associated with them. These include love, tenderness, fertility, unity, the future, hope, anticipation, devotion, fidelity, reliability, remembrance, delicacy, prosperity, and wealth.

Common Colors and Their Symbolism

The different colors of cornflowers have their own symbolic significance.

Cornflowers in the Language of Flowers

The Meaning and Symbolism of Cornflowers in the Language of Flowers

Several different Victorian-era texts provide references for the language of flowers (floriography). Two of these list bachelor’s buttons (another common name for Centaurea cyanus) as representing celibacy.

An earlier language-of-flowers text references a “corn flower” as representing perseverance. However, this “corn flower” is denoted with an abbreviated scientific name, “Githago.” This is likely referring to the Agrostemma githago, an entirely different plant from the carnation plant family that is today commonly called corn-cockle.

Cornflower Meaning in Victorian Times

The symbolic association of cornflowers – or bachelor’s buttons – with celibacy is perhaps why bachelors often wore the flowers in their buttonholes. This signified their status as bachelors and subsequent availability/eligibility for marriage. As a result, bachelor’s buttons have also come to symbolize love and have become a popular flower choice for men’s wedding boutonnieres.

Cornflower Meaning in Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, cornflowers symbolized fertility and life. Artistic depictions of them have been found on walls, floors, earthenware, and jewelry dating back as far as the stone age (4 millennia B.C.E.).

Along with olive branches and poppies, cornflowers were included in floral collars and burial wreaths adorning King Tutankhamun’s tomb. It is believed that cornflowers were placed in graves at this time to help the deceased reanimate.

Cornflowers in Greek Mythology

Cornflowers in Greek Mythology

According to Greek mythology, the centaur, Chiron, used cornflower plants to heal Achilles after a poisoned arrow wounded him.

Cornflowers in Christianity

Cornflowers are poisonous to slugs, which are a common symbol of the devil in Christianity. As a result, cornflower plants became a powerful symbol of Mary and Christ. They’re depicted in famous Christian artwork and are commonly present in church architecture and decor.

State and Official Symbolism

Cornflowers have a long history of official and state symbolism in Europe. They are or have been the official flower and/or symbol of the following countries and organizations:

  • Estonia
  • Estonian Conservative People’s Party
  • Austrian Freedom Party
  • Finnish National Coalition Party
  • Liberal People’s Party of Sweden
  • Winchester College
  • Dulwich College
  • German-American Steuben Parade

The cornflower is also the national symbol of the November 11, 1918, armistice in France.

Cornflowers in Art

Cornflowers have historically been a popular subject in fine art. Consider these famous works of art depicting cornflowers:

Suitable Gifting Occasions

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Cornflowers

The symbolic meanings associated with cornflowers really run the gambit, making them a suitable choice for almost any occasion. Thanks to their blue color, they’re commonly included in congratulatory bouquets for new baby boys in addition to celebratory bouquets for Father’s Day.

The Meaning and Symbolism of Cornflowers: The Final Word

Popular for what seems like the entirety of human history, cornflowers have traveled with our grain crops and spread throughout the world. Whether you stop to appreciate them growing wild in a field by the road or cultivate them in your own garden, take a moment to appreciate their long and rich history.

Editorial Director | andrew@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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