Heather plants (Calluna vulgaris) have become beloved for their bright colorful flowers and stunning leaves. But, there’s more to these plants than their beauty – they’re steeped in symbolism, with each color flower meaning different things, and the flowers are vital to Scottish culture. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the heather flower’s meaning and symbolism.
The name Calluna likely comes from the Greek word Kallyno, which means to sweep clean. This is because heather branches were often used in brooms.
The species name vulgaris comes from the Latin word for common. While “clean common” doesn’t exactly spark much emotion, the flower’s historical importance and cultural significance do.
Heather Flower Symbolism in Scotland
The Heather plant has long been valued in Scottish culture. It’s not only a Scottish symbol of luck, but it’s also been used in Scottish myths and folk tales for a long time.
References to how lucky the heather plant is, specifically the white variety, have been seen throughout Scottish history, too. For example, in the 16th century, a Scottish clan, Clan Ranald, believed they won a battle thanks to them donning white heather flowers in their bonnets.
Today, it’s still common practice in Scotland to add white heather to a bride’s bouquet for good luck on her wedding day.
Many people trace white heather’s association with good luck to the story of Malvina and Oscar. The sweet Celtic tale is perhaps one of my favorite stories showcasing the symbolism of flowers.
The Story of Malvina and Oscar
According to the tale, Malvina, the beautiful daughter of the Celtic bard Ossian, was set to marry a strong warrior named Oscar. But, before their wedding, Oscar died in battle.
One day, as Malvina sat outside, waiting for Oscar’s return, a limping messenger met her with the terrible news of her betrothed’s death. He handed her a sprig of purple heather, which he said Oscar picked for Malvina as he lay dying.
Upon hearing this news, Malvina began crying, and her tears hit the heather. Immediately, the heather flowers transformed from purple to white!
Despite her sadness, Malvina thought of others, saying, “Although it is the symbol of my sorrow, may the white heather bring good fortune to all who find it.”
And, that is how white heather became known as a symbol of good luck.
However, the ancient tales of the heather plant don’t end there.
The Myth of the Heather Ale
One legend involving heather relates to the prized recipe for heather ale. While the details vary depending on who is telling the tale, it goes something like this.
A Scottish father and his son were cornered by an enemy. This enemy demands the recipe for the revered heather ale.
The father demands that the enemy kill his son first, as the father doesn’t believe his son will keep the recipe a secret. After his son is dead, the father refuses to share the recipe. He is also killed, taking the secret recipe with him to the grave.
This tale inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write the poem, Heather Ale. The ending of the poem describes the following:
“True was the word I told you:
Only my son I feared;
For I doubt the sapling courage
That goes without the beard.
But now in vain is the torture,
Fire shall never avail:
Here dies in my bosom
The secret of Heather Ale.”
Heather Flowers in England
The popularity of heather flowers grew during the Victorian era, as Queen Victoria loved Scotland, its culture, and its traditions. As such, she popularized the lucky symbolism of this plant throughout England.
Victorians, and the language of flowers, may have also linked luck to these flowers as heather plants tend to be rare in England – just like we think of rare four-leaf clovers as lucky symbols.
Heather Flower Meaning By Color
While most of the lore surrounds white heather, each color has a different meaning.
Purple Heather Flower Meaning
Purple heather flowers are a symbol of strength, admiration, love, and respect.
Pink Heather Flower Meaning
Pink flowers have been associated with love and affection. You can easily extend this symbolism to pink heather flowers.
White Heather Flower Meaning
White heather flowers are a symbol of purity, innocence, good luck, and protection.
Suitable Gifting Occasions for Heather Flowers
Due to its association with good luck and protection, heather flowers make good gifts for a variety of occasions. Consider giving them for graduations, weddings, housewarmings, and at the start of a new job.
Heather Flower FAQs:
What does a Heather flower symbolize?
The heather flower symbolizes good luck, protection, and prosperity. It can also represent love and respect.
Are Heather flowers lucky?
Many people consider heather flowers symbols of good luck. Therefore, they can make good gifts for occasions like graduations and housewarmings.
Does Heather come back every year?
Heather is a perennial, so it does come back every year.
How long do Heather flowers last?
Heather flowers bloom for a few months. They begin blooming in mid to late summer and continue blooming into the fall.
Does Heather flower more than once?
Heather plants flower for up to five months each summer and fall and will form blooms simultaneously the following year.
The Final Word
Whether they’re covering Scottish hillsides or adding color to your gardens, heather flowers remain beloved by many. With their added meaning and symbolism of protection, good luck, and love, and you’ll see why these flowers are easy to love.