The Rich History and Symbolism of Dapnes

Daphnes are gorgeous scented shrubs that flood the garden with fragrance during winter and spring. These deciduous or evergreen plants produce clusters of delicate-looking flowers that give off a famously heady smell. But daphnes aren’t just rich in fragrance – these stunning shrubs have some beautiful meanings as well. Daphnes are associated with qualities like honesty, immortality, and innocence. In this article, we’ll explore the various meanings and symbolism of daphne flowers.


The Meaning & Symbolism of Daphne Flowers – The Essentials

Daphne flowers symbolize honesty and innocence. These shrubs are associated with Daphne, one of the mythical Greek naiads. Different daphne colors also convey various meanings. White daphnes symbolize purity, while yellow daphnes represent joy and happiness. Pink daphnes are associated with love.


About Daphne Flowers

About Daphne Flowers

Family, Genus, & Taxonomy

Daphne plants belong to the Thymelaeaceae family of shrubs and trees. Daphne flowers are also incorporated into the Thymelaeoideae sub-family. As a genus, Daphne includes approximately 70 to 95 individual species and cultivars. 

Botanical Characteristics

Daphne shrubs are divided into two broad categories – deciduous varieties and evergreen varieties. Deciduous daphnes shed some of their leaves during the fall before growing them back the following year. Evergreen daphnes retain their foliage all year round. 

Most daphnes grow well in USDA Zones 6 to 9. These shrubs are considered to be reasonably slow growers, taking between seven and ten years to reach their full mature height. Daphnes rarely grow higher than 5-feet tall.

Daphne flowers come in several beautiful colors. Green, yellow, pink, purple, and white daphnes are the most common. Deciduous varieties are more likely to have pink or purple flowers, while evergreen daphnes usually have green blooms. These flowers have a tubular shape.

Although they look delicate, daphne flowers don’t actually have true petals. Instead, they have sepals – tougher leaves that look like colored petals. Each flower usually has four of these sepals. Flowers grow in clusters near the tips of the shrub’s stems.

Daphnes are highly prized for their rich, heavy scents that add some interest to the colder seasons. The fragrance often has notes of sweetness and spice. This can vary slightly depending on the variety. Some daphnes have scents similar to nutmeg, while others can smell like honeysuckle.

Despite their beautiful flowers and stunning fragrances, daphnes are completely poisonous. All parts of these plants are toxic to humans and pets, such as cats and dogs. 

History & Origin of Daphne Flowers

Daphnes are versatile plants and grow natively in many areas of the Eurasian continent. Daphnes were classified by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the 1750s. A few species have also been introduced to parts of North America.

Popular Types & Cultivars

There are approximately 70 to 95 species and cultivars of daphne, including some hybridized specimens. Some of the most popular types and cultivars of daphne flowers are:

Which Regions are Daphne Flowers Native to?

Daphnes are indigenous to large regions of the Eurasian continent. Some species are endemic to parts of southern Asia, especially China and Japan. Others are native to central and southern areas of Europe. Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria and Slovakia are common locations for daphne shrubs. Two species have also been introduced to North America.

When are Daphne Flowers in Season?

When are Daphne Flowers in Season?

Daphne flowers are in season during the late winter and early spring. Their intoxicating scents and bright flowers help provide backyard interest before other spring flowers emerge.

Uses & Benefits of Daphne Flowers

Daphne flowers have some surprising uses. These plants have been an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Various poultices and medicines made from daphnes can be used to ease aches and pains, especially backache. Daphne can also be used medicinally to alleviate coughs and sore throats.

For gardeners, daphne flowers are a great way to add color and fragrance at an otherwise dull time of year. Daphne shrubs flower towards the end of winter and the beginning of spring. These deciduous or evergreen plants are excellent as ornamental shrubs. Some of the more compact daphne varieties suit rock gardens very well.

One of the most surprising uses of daphne is as an ingredient for making paper. In Bhutan and Nepal, two daphne varieties known locally as lokta are grown as a sustainable source for paper. These species are Daphne bholua, also known as the Nepalese paper plant, and Daphne papyracea.


The Meaning, Symbolism, & Cultural Significance of Daphne Flowers

The Meaning, Symbolism, & Cultural Significance of Daphne Flowers

Etymological Meaning

Daphnes received their name from an ancient Greek myth. Daphne was a naiad or water nymph. In most versions of the myth, her father was Peneus, the river god. Apollo, the god of the Sun, desired and pursued Daphne. To escape his unwanted affections, Daphne pleaded with her father to save her. Peneus responded by turning Daphne into a beautiful shrub – either a daphne or a laurel.

Daphne flowers have some beautiful meanings and associations. These fragrant flowers are frequently associated with honesty and innocence. The story of Daphne’s escape from Apollo may also explain why daphnes represent immortality. Daphnes are also thought to symbolize fame and glory.

Daphne Flower Color Meanings

Daphnes come in several beautiful colors such as greens, pinks, purples, yellows, and white. Each of these colors can have a series of prominent meanings. Let’s take a look at some in more detail.

White Daphne Flowers

White Daphne Flowers

White daphne flowers traditionally represent innocence and purity. Because of these associations, white daphne blooms are a good choice for wedding bouquets. Weddings held in later winter or early spring can take advantage of the natural flowering season for daphnes.

One of the most popular white daphne varieties is the winter daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’).

Green Daphne Flowers

Green daphne flowers are likely to belong to evergreen varieties. This color ties in with the associations between daphne flowers and immortality. Green daphnes can also represent health, vitality, good fortune, and youth. Daphne laureola, also known as the spurge-laurel, is a popular green daphne variety.

Pink Daphne Flowers

Pink daphne blooms typically represent affection and love. However, this doesn’t just mean romantic love. Pink daphnes can symbolize platonic love and affection as well. Some common pink daphne varieties include Daphne cneorum (Rose daphne) and Daphne genkwa.

Purple Daphne Flowers

Like many purple flowers, purple daphnes have long been associated with dignity and nobility. Purple is often considered to be a royal color. Daphne mezereum (February daphne) and Daphne bholua ‘Peter Smithers’ are two gorgeous purple varieties.

Yellow Daphne Flowers

Yellow daphne flowers are bright symbols of happiness and joy. Even the ancient Maya attributed yellow flowers to positive emotions. One of the more popular and widespread yellow daphne flowers is the Daphne gemmata.

Daphne Meaning in Victorian Floriography

Daphne Meaning in Victorian Floriography

The Victorians loved flowers so much that they created an entire language of gestures based on flower meanings. Victorian flower language, officially known as floriography, was mainly used as a method of sending secret messages to people. These messages were usually exchanged between lovers.

Certain daphne flower species have specific meanings in floriography. Rose daphnes (Daphne cneorum) were traditionally used to say, “I desire to please you.” Winter daphne (Daphne odora) was a way of telling a love, “I would not have you otherwise.”

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Daphne Flowers

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Daphne Flowers

Daphne flowers make beautiful gifts for many occasions. The intoxicating scent of these flowers will be admired by recipients, while the colorful flowers are also pleasing. The colors of different daphnes make them suitable gifts for various occasions.

White daphnes make excellent winter or spring wedding flowers because they symbolize purity and innocence. Yellow daphnes are good gifts for people who need cheering up or are recovering from illness. Yellow daphne flowers can also convey sympathy for someone grieving a lost loved one. Pink daphne flowers are a lovely way to show platonic or romantic affection for someone, such as a friend or partner.


Daphne Flowers FAQs

What does a Daphne flower symbolize?

Daphne flowers can symbolize honesty, innocence, and immortality. Different colors can also convey various meanings. Yellow daphnes are symbols of joy, while pink daphne flowers represent affection. White daphnes are associated with purity.

Are Daphne flowers lucky?

Green daphne flowers can symbolize luck and good fortune, but daphnes aren’t specifically known for being lucky.

Do Daphnes come back every year?

All daphnes, whether deciduous or evergreen, will come back every year as perennial shrubs.

How long do Daphne flowers last?

Daphne shrubs produce flowers during late winter and early spring. If used as cut flowers, daphne blooms should last for a week or two.

Do Daphnes flower more than once?

As deciduous or evergreen perennial shrubs, daphnes can flower more than once.


Wrapping Up

Gifting Daphne flowers are a lovely way of conveying messages and meaning. Their rich, powerful scents and beautiful, colorful flowers make these shrubs extremely popular. Daphne flowers typically represent innocence and honesty, especially in white varieties. Daphne flowers also have romantic meanings in Victorian floriography – making them a good gift for a partner.


Author

I’ve long been fascinated with the world of flowers, plants, and floral design. I come from a family of horticulturists and growers and spent much of my childhood in amongst the fields of flowering blooms and greenhouses filled with tropical plants, cacti, and succulents from all over the world. Today, my passion has led me to further explore the world of horticulture, botany, and floristry and I'm always excited to meet and collaborate with fellow enthusiasts and professionals from across the globe. I hold a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and have trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris.

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